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File-sharing smackdown
In offices, dorms, and other high-bandwidth communities around the world, people are talking about which file-sharing service they like the most now that Napster and Scour have been sued into irrelevance. To help you settle arguments around the water cooler or the library, CNET Music Center's copy editor Brian Satterfield and I hunkered down to run a simple yet effective test on the top eight file-sharing applications. We ran searches for 18 band names using each of these clients, all of which are flourishing in the absence of Napster. According to CNET, the eight most popular file-sharing programs are: Gnotella, KaZaa, LimeWire, BearShare, Gnucleus, Audiogalaxy, MusicCity Morpheus, and WinMX. It's important to mention that we couldn't include Aimster in our testing, which took place behind a firewall (Aimster hates firewalls). However, from my testing at home, I'd wager that Aimster would have performed admirably had it been included.

Before you check out the numbers, here are the rules that we used for our testing: 

  • All search results from each term were counted, even if they were incorrect or duplicates.
  • Only MP3 search results were counted.
  • We limited our search times to one minute.
  • The latest version of every program was used, and the apps were installed with default options.
  • Testing commenced after programs were fully connected to their networks (important for the Gnutella clients: Gnotella, BearShare, Gnucleus, and LimeWire).
  • All programs were set to return 100 results.
  • The results
      Gnutella-based Centralized network
    Searches Gnotella LimeWire BearShare Gnucleus Audiogalaxy* MusicCity Morpheus WinMX KaZaa
    Britney Spears 7,655 684 125 194 23,114 151 2,337 117
    The Strokes 104 19 5 132 141 124 45 119
    Mogwai 424 84 14 366 1,501 135 30 118
    Beatles 23,929 803 455 10,231 48,557 103 2,528 101
    Run DMC 2,835 221 103 1,496 3,429 128 528 148
    Stravinsky 237 62 11 64 1,275 69 12 62
    Leonard Bernstein 90 4 7 107 856 62 7 48
    Randy Newman 746 86 70 501 1,447 114 120 155
    Megadeth 1,451 54 47 812 6,345 111 447 137
    Metallica 14,486 947 1,160 6,439 38,571 115 3,228 183
    Pixies 344 338 276 1,415 3,851 112 237 126
    Radiohead 10,337 1,544 640 6,917 23,442** 137 1,106 200
    American Analog Set 10 0 0 5 1 10 10 14
    Miles Davis 3,318 579 159 2,324 4,217 139 242 111
    Johnny Cash 4,536 198 273 3,913 5,425** 125 526 120
    Yo La Tengo 1,023 103 25 414 1,403 131 23 103
    Rodan 221 13 8 87 77 1 1 0
    Delgados 64 1 0 29 107 20 13 15
    Displayed statistics Connected to 10 hosts, 4,900 hosts visible Connected to 1,000 hosts, 321,000 files, 20TB available Connected to 3 hosts Connected to 4 hosts, 5TB available Connected to server 257 506,639 users N/A 550,443 users, more than 60 million files available

    *In Audiogalaxy, some percentage of search results are not downloadable due to copyright-based blockades, so these numbers are a bit higher than they should be.

    **Radiohead and Johnny Cash in particular have the vast majority of their search results blocked on Audiogalaxy.

    From the numbers alone, it looks like Audiogalaxy takes the brass ring. But some users don't like having to disable the three spyware applications that try to install themselves on your machine along with Audiogalaxy. When you add the fact that some Audiogalaxy results are blocked due to copyright, I think you have to give the edge to Gnotella. It returned tons of results, did well with the more obscure stuff, and can't be shut down as easily as network/client programs such as Audiogalaxy, which has centralized servers routing files from user to user.

    It's an amusing side note that there are so many Metallica songs on these networks, as if the first people to embrace them were those looking for a way to get what they couldn't find on Napster. (Metallica, as you might remember, was the first band to ban itself from Napster.) Everyone involved in the next-generation major-label online music services (MusicNet and Pressplay) would do well to heed this information. The same goes for the folks who thought it was such a good idea to stamp out Napster without even contemplating offering the company compulsory licenses. When Napster offered to pay $30 million in fees, the record companies should have jumped at the chance to license their content for file sharing. Now, while the suits pay the lawyers to clog up the courts and the major labels cluelessly lumber toward the present, programmers and users have happily moved on. It's as easy to find copyrighted songs as it was in Napster's heyday, as long as you know what to use.

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