Friday, April 06, 2001

(Not so) Hotline

Friday, April 06, 2001

Back in September 1997 before Napster was even a twinkle in its mother's eye and Gnutella was nothing more than a chocolate spread an application known as Hotline emerged opening the flood gates to a world of file sharing opportunities. Sadly while Hotline's radical approach to internet communication created quite a stir in its infancy, the program is now little more than a fancy FTP client with a few superfluous bells and whistles.

Clearly I'm not exactly Hotline's number one fan. If I am to cut the developers any slack at all it would be for having the foresight to recognise the problems that go hand in hand with centrally indexed networks, and for leaping over this pitfall by opting to take the much more future-proof decentralised network path. This feature alone is perhaps the one thing to have kept the program afloat over the years.

To cut a long story short, the software consists of two components; the client and the server. Nevertheless, the backbone of the system is the tracker software which allows users to locate servers and then search for files by name. The client, server, and tracker software can be downloaded from the Hot Springs Inc home page. The client works much like an FTP client in that it allows you to connect to a remote server in order to exchange files. Unlike modern file sharing clients, however, Hotline allows you to choose what you wish to upload. So what exactly does Hotline have to offer over and above your average FTP client? Well you can chat to other users, post messages, read news and ...yadda, yadda, yadda. Who really cares? If people want to interact they'll go to a Yahoo chat room or use an instant messaging program. If they want to download files they'll use an FTP client. The two things, in my opinion, just don't mix.

The server software, in contrast, allows anyone with an Internet connection to turn their computer into a file server, which other people can log onto to exchange files. Pfff, big whoop! You'll have to excuse me for not dancing on the table with excitement, it's just that I've been able to do this for years using Serv-U, and with much less hassle. I wouldn't be such a cynic if the Hotline software had helped to create a community where people actually made files available out of the goodness of their hearts rather than to try and make a quick buck. In the beginning this is exactly how the servers were run, but now they have become nothing more than banner FTP sites where in order to gain access you have to trawl your way through porn sites clicking on banners left right and centre to locate username and password combinations. What makes this worse though is that often, once you have gone through this tedious process you discover that the whole thing was a money making scam. Analogous to no ratio FTP sites, free access servers do exist, but they are very few and far between. If you are to get any benefit from this program at all you would be best advised to set up a private server between a group of friends. That way you can freely exchange files while side stepping the inevitable banner click scams.

But wait, there's more! More moaning from me that is. Whenever a client upgrade is available, your present client automatically gives up the ghost and refuses to work until you have upgraded it to the latest version. While this makes sense in theory, very often you are unable to connect to the upgrade server leaving you stranded up the creek without a paddle. To boot the program is riddled with spyware and the whole network is carefully monitored by Hotline Communications Ltd. As the years have gone by Hotline has gradually become more and more commercialised - aptly demonstrated by the implementation of excessive banners, pop-ups, spyware and other information-gathering tactics. Subsequently the Hotline client has become more and more bloated and its stability has declined beyond belief. You'd think the developers would have learnt from their mistakes, but no, they still insist on opening every aspect of the program in a new window as though they are all independent applications. This creates a cluttered mess on your desktop and generally makes the whole interface awkward to navigate.

If you've got any sense you should be running for the hills by now, but for the masochists amongst you who actually still want to give this a whirl, here's how to get started. Once you have installed the software you will need to add a group of servers, known as a tracker, to your bookmarks. Tracked.group.org is currently one of the biggest hosting nearly 2000 servers, so this is a good place to start. You can also find an up-to-date list of active Hotline trackers at Tracker-Tracker if this one doesn't meet your requirements. Having added the tracker you now need to click on it so that the available servers become visible. Once the server list has appeared pick one you would like to connect to and double click on it. A dialog box should now pop up. If the server requires a username and password enter this information into the relevant fields and click on the connect button.

Now that you're in the clutches of the merciless Hotline server nerds you can download files simply by double-clicking on them. Any uploading you wish to do is taken care of by the button sporting the upwardly pointing arrow - if you click on this a browser window will pop up allowing you to select the files you wish to send to the server. To search for files first choose a file category from the pop-up menu and enter some search terms in the field next to it. Search queries make use of actual file names rather than keywords, so the search term 'music' won't return any hits unless someone has a file with a name like 'music.zip' on their server. To make it easier to find accessible servers there are also check boxes to limit search results to servers that are online, and servers that allow you to download without a special account. Happy hunting!

So that just about covers Hotline's disadvantages and... erm, disadvantages. Personally I think Hotline has had its day. File sharing clients are getting better all the time, but sadly Hotline has been forsaken in the race to fill the gaping hole left in the market by the demise of Napster. It was good-ish while it lasted, but there are now far better clients around, and since they are all free to download there's no reason for you to settle for second best.

0 comments:

 
◄Design by Pocket, BlogBulk