Saturday, December 13, 2003

How do I delete frames from a movie?

Saturday, December 13, 2003 0

You've probably gathered by now that I'm quite fond of Virtual Dub. Unsurprisingly this is the program I'm going to recommend you use here too. Run the program and open the movie you wish to edit. Use the tracking slider bar to locate the start of the scenes or frames you would like to delete, click on the 'edit' menu and choose the 'set selection start' option to place a marker on the slider bar.

Now repeat the process to find the end of the scene or frames you would like to delete, but this time select the 'set selection end' command from the 'edit' menu to place a second marker on the slider bar. The segment of the movie you intend to delete will become highlighted on the slider bar - this can now be cut out using the delete key on your keyboard or by selecting 'delete selection' from the 'edit' menu.

All that remains to be done now is to save the movie as a new file. In order to do this you first have to decide which video and audio codecs you would like to use to encode the movie (if you do not choose to compress it you will end up with a file so cumbersome that it becomes useless). Codec selections can be made by choosing the 'compression' option from the 'video' and 'audio' menus. If you select 'direct stream copy' from the 'video' and 'audio' menus before commencing you can save a lot of time. The final step is to select 'save AVI' from the 'file' menu, choose a filename and location to store the file and press OK.

Note that we saved the edited version of the movie as a new file just in case our changes didn't go according to plan and we needed to revert back to the original copy. Also, it is very likely that trying to overwrite the original file while it is being accessed by Virtual Dub will fail, or worse still, result in file corruption.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

It's a pirate eat pirate world

Thursday, December 11, 2003 0

Subsequent to Sharman Network's recent Google-bullying exploits, the company responsible for developing the only file sharing client your granny can put a name to, have been moralising once again on the subject of copyright infringement. This time round they've succeeded in having the hacked client removed from the most eminent peer to peer sites and hammered the final nail in the coffin by blocking its further development by lodging a complaint with the DMCA.

Download sources across the globe vanished overnight and the official-unofficial home of Kazaa Lite has been replaced with an off-the-peg 'no-one's home message'. Though it will still be possible to distribute the client via peer to peer networks, K-Lite fans will be flogging a dead horse (while they possibly should be riding a donkey) as Sharman only have to make minor changes to their protocol in order to lock them out of the network.

Now that pilfering pest, Random Nut, has been taken out of the equation, Sharman Networks will be free to sell their $29.95 piracy licenses to decent, upstanding members of the file sharing community, and quite rightly so. At least for the time being, non-licensed Kazaa users can download the ad-and-heaven-only-knows-what-else-ware version of the client and decontaminate it using Diet Kazaa, though I wouldn't be at all surprised if the architects of this gem have already been tattooed with Sharman's infra-red crosshairs.

More adventurous file seekers may like to jump ship whilst sailing on the same ocean, if you catch my drift.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Are you (bulletin) bored with typing?

Saturday, November 29, 2003 0

My favourites (or bookmarks if you like) consist mostly of forums which require a username and password to gain entry. Because it's not a good idea to use the same password for each forum I must remember which password is associated with which forum, otherwise I'll find myself locked out. Each time I clear my cookies, this information is lost and as a result I have to re-login to the forums on my next visit.

If you find yourself in the same situation, rather than hammering away at your keyboard trying all the various password possibilities, what you can do is store this information within the actual URL of your bookmark file. For instance, if you're a member of the vBulletin Forum, the URL you need to store in your bookmark file would take the following format:

http://www.vbulletin.com/forum/?loginusername=yourusername&loginpassword=yourpassword.

This format works for all vBulletin forums, but not for all forums. The URL for an UBB forum will take a different format, but because I'm not a member of very many UBB forums I can't be any more specific than this (answers on a postcard!).

This technique will also work with lots of non-forum sites for which you are required to enter a username and password. For non-forum web sites the URL you need to save usually takes the form: http://username:password@whatever.com.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The lamb they couldn't silence

Monday, November 24, 2003 0

Just recently I had an email from a Kookosity reader informing me that Clone CD had been discontinued. This isn't actually the case though you'd be forgiven for thinking so judging by the terminal 'game over' message left in place of the section of the Elaborate Bytes web site devoted to the no. 1 CD duplication tool.

Owing to the introduction of new copyright laws in Germany, where Elby are based, Clone CD could no longer be sold and supported within the country of its origin. Therefore to keep the project alive, the rights to continue developing the software were sold to Antiguan-based company, Slysoft Inc, who will not have to operate under the duress of such stringent copyright laws. Two of the three programmers responsible for creating Clone CD have relocated and continue to update it on behalf of the new owners. It doesn't take a genius to join the dots - Ollie, the founder of Elby, likely has a very conveniently placed finger in the Slysoft pie... allegedly. ;)

As a consequence of the legal ping-pong between Elby and The Powers That Be, Clone CD has fallen behind the competition, though loyal fans can rest assured that Slysoft fully intend to make up lost ground to re-capture the no. 1 spot in the CD protection bypassing biz. An updated and re-badged version of Clone CD has already left the starting blocks and the word is that it represents a step in the right direction.

The most significant change in this rendering is that Virtual Clone Drive, the CD emulation software integrated into previous versions of Clone CD, has had to be omitted as the rights to distribute it were not included in the deal agreed upon between Elby and Slysoft. Slysoft, in recognition that this is a popular component of the software, plan to code their own CDless ISO mounting gadget in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

It was so colossal the line snapped!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003 0

According to the developers of Earthstation 5, their file sharing client offers water-tight anonymity, is more secure than Fort Knox, has been translated into 12 languages, downloaded 22 million times and supports more than 15 million simultaneous users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Operating from a refugee camp in Palestine, the pioneering company responsible for bringing P2P bliss to the masses are so successful that they are able to keep 1500 staff on the payroll!

This is undoubtedly the most elaborate fairy story since the bible was cobbled together! It's not unusual for software developers to over hype their beloved progeny, yet few would stoop so low as to deliberately introduce malicious code which could allow remote attackers to delete critical Windows files from the computers of unsuspecting file sharers. This is precisely what clued-up peer to peer junkie, Random Nut, alleged last month.

The predictable, official ES5 response came in the form of a half-denial of the accusations. The lead programmer conceded that while it may be possible for a hacker to exploit the client in this way, providing the means to do so was not a deliberate attempt to compromise the security of computers connected to the ES5 network. 'Filehoover' goes on to assert that what Random Nut has exposed is not a booby trap, rather an essential part of the software's auto-update feature. Nevertheless, a hastily released update of the ES5 client, minus this component, was made available to reassure users of the network, while Random Nut's vitriole towards the developers was put down to bad blood emanating from previous clashes.

I'm aware this is old news, however, as I suggested not so long ago that if you are at all concerned about the lack of anonymity offered by the majority of file sharing clients you should check out ES5, I felt I should bring this information to your attention. I don't know if the allegations are justified or not, though judging by ES5's dubious PR history and the developer's misuse of the Zero Paid forums I'd advise you to think twice about installing the client if you value the data stored on your computer.

Monday, November 17, 2003

What is a .par file?

Monday, November 17, 2003 0

If you've ever dabbled in a spot of spanned archive downloading you'll know that getting them to work isn't always plain sailing. Several bytes are often lost on the long journey from remote servers to your computer, and even more infuriating, sometimes the uploaded files are corrupt to begin with. Par files are designed to combat these problems as they are capable of rebuilding partially intact archives.

For instance, if you have downloaded twenty rar files, yet one of them is corrupt, rather than downloading that file again, providing you have the accompanying par file, you can rebuild the missing file to complete the set. Making use of such a technique is obviously subject to your ability to get hold of your archive's accompanying par file. If there isn't one available you will have to re-download the rogue files as you would normally. The 'par donor' doesn't necessarily have to be the person who created the archive originally since anyone with the complete set can construct an accompanying par file and then pass it on to anyone who is having problems extracting the set. For more information refer to the Quick Par home page.

The future's bright, the future's... the past?

Two of my most enduring passions are radio and classic gaming, so imagine my elation upon discovering that the two had been married together in the form of www.retrogamingradio.com. Lovingly crafted by the entertainingly opinionated Shane R. Monroe, the show has been 'on air' since 1998 and is broadcast at monthly intervals. Weaved into the proceedings are retro hardware and software reviews, emulation news, IT fueled rants and interviews with the people who helped to sculpt the modern gaming industry we all know and l... well let's quit while we're ahead shall we? ;) Since their inception the shows have consistently been growing lengthier - so much so that the latest edition clocks in at a whopping three hours! Each of these presentations are accessible over the internet for a limited time before being archived and made available for purchase on a series of CDs. As they are encoded using the highly versatile MP3 format, you are free to choose between downloading the complete files to be sampled offline at your convenience, or listening to them there and then as they are streamed over the web.

Computer games, past and present, receive so little coverage on mainstream TV and radio stations here in the UK so it's really refreshing to see this arm of the entertainment industry getting the attention it deserves via alternative mediums. Of special interest to die-hard Amigans this month is the commencement of a new series of Amiga segments which will focus on the history, hardware, emulation, games and demos of this seminal platform. If you want to skip straight to it you can slide Winamp's 'seeking bar' to 127 minutes, 16 seconds.

Shane, not only do you passionately speak your mind unswayed by the media hypeobabble associated with modern gaming, you're the only person I know over the age of 15 who can impart the idioms, "that game so owns", "x requires tons of leet skillz" and "I'm a slut-pig-whore for genre x", and mean them in all seriousness... and for that, sir, I salute you. Actually, that's a lie. Stop it, it's irritating! By copying immature, brainless, hacker-wannabe school kiddies, future generations of brainless, immature, hacker-wannabe school kiddies will copy you copying them and soon enough we'll have leet hacker freaks running amok and irritating people who know how to use the English language. :p That minor quibble aside, great show! Keep the retro flag flying!

I'm your host and you've been listening to Kookosity Radio. That was me being a DJ. Nice touch, huh? I'll get my coat *hangs head*

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

eMule and the eDonkey network unwrapped

Tuesday, October 28, 2003 0

eMule, more commonly known as "that really difficult to configure file sharing client", is a reworking of its more recognisable older brother eDonkey, and contrary to popular belief it's no more taxing to use than any other piece of peer to peer software. Let's face it, if you're prepared to entrust your file transfers to a ladybird and a chocolate spread and are still not satisfied with the results, what have you got to lose by putting your faith in the humble, patient and hard working donkey? If you pass up the opportunity to discover eMule's hidden depths based on mere folklore without first putting it through its paces then the biggest ass in this story will be you.

Unlike archetypal file sharing tools like Napster, eMule doesn't depend on a single, central server to function making it much trickier for big brother to stomp on. Instead it is the users themselves who operate the hundreds of independent servers on which the eDonkey network is founded. These servers are not designed to host all the files available to the network, but do store indexes of the files which users of the network have chosen to share. Whenever you conduct a search, it is these indexes and the servers they reside on which are called upon to provide the results and negotiate the transfer of files from one computer to another.

Even people who have never used eDonkey or eMule somehow instinctively know that its strength lies in the transfer of bulky files like CD images and movies. This isn't a misconception; although any kind of file can be exchanged, the eDonkey protocol is particularly well suited for handling the king-sized variety due to the way server requests are made. The more files a user decides to share, the more strain is put on the CPU of the server. If the server has to process thousands of smaller files, gigabytes worth of MP3s for example, then it can quickly be reduced to crawling speed and it is for this reason users are strongly encouraged to either only share large files or to compress their collections of smaller files into single archives before adding them to their shared folders.

In short, what you get with either of these pack horses is quality over quantity, something which if you've become accustomed to using Kazaa will undoubtedly come as a breath of fresh air. If used correctly you are far less likely to download falsely named files, viruses or trojans making for a much more pleasurable experience.

Aside from this, what sets eDonkey apart from most of the competition is its use of unique file identifiers, or 128 bit MD4 hash codes if you're into technical jargon. These codes consist of 32 case insensitive digits (of the form 0-9A-F) written in hexadecimal notation. So what? Well each file available to the network is assigned with a unique code. These codes are then appended to filenames and converted to ed2k links which can be listed on web pages, in emails or wherever. eDonkey, being the canny beast it is, is capable of recognising these files irrespective of their filename or file size ensuring that what you end up with is what you intended to download. An added bonus is that this allows you to download the same file from multiple sources making for much faster downloads. This works in the same way as some of the more advanced download managers; eDonkey creates dummy files full of empty space which is then gradually filled in with real data as and when it becomes available.

To add files referenced using an ed2k link to your transfer queue you simply have to click on them as you would with any other web site link. The Windows registry, having been previously instructed to associate such links with the eDonkey client, coordinates the transfer of the file information to the program. The client takes the reigns from this point and drops the filenames into its transfer window where relevant sources will be sought before the files commence downloading.

Another very welcome feature available to eDonkey and eMule users is the credit system. Each user is allocated a unique hash ID and whenever they allow other users to connect to their computer, whether it is to download or upload files, the number of bytes transferred is recorded in their clients.met file along with the ID of the users doing the sharing. If a user connects to your computer and it is detected that you have previously shared data then you are rewarded with superior access to his or her files. The more you share with a particular user the better your share rating becomes and as a result your queue ranking is lowered allowing you to download and upload sooner than other users who have never shared files with this user. The old aphorism "you reap what you sow" springs to mind - you are rewarded for sharing and punished for selfishly hoarding files away where no-one can get at them - a step in the right direction if you ask me.

While eDonkey offers previously unheard of features like file hashing it also provides all the techniques and gadgetry which you have come to expect from any half decent file sharing client; it can handle the automatic resumption of interrupted transfers, you can search the whole network no matter which server you are connected to, it supports simultaneous uploading and downloading, it lets you preview partially downloaded files (providing you have the first and last segments of the file) and it can operate using any port you specify making it effortless to configure so as to circumvent the restrictions imposed by firewalls and proxies.

You may be wondering why, if eDonkey is so wonderful, is there a need for another client based on the same protocol. Firstly, eMule is open source so anyone with sufficient programming knowledge can contribute to the project by either updating the core client or creating modifications for it. This allows its development to progress much faster than would otherwise be the case and the end product, at least in theory, should be superior because bugs and flaws are exposed to greater scrutiny. In my opinion it has a sleeker, friendlier and more intuitive interface. It hogs less system resources, contains no irritating adverts and tends to locate and transfer files faster because it is able to compress files as they are transferred and acquire further sources from other users (a feature which is especially handy if you happen to be downloading rare files).

The eMule coders recognise that not everyone is content to trust software installation routines to do what they claim to do, which I assume is why they offer their client in two flavours, an executable installation file and a zipped archive. The automatically installed version is aimed at people who don't want to create shortcuts to the program and the folder it lives in themselves or first time users, and the zipped version primarily targets people who already have the client installed and want to upgrade it to the latest release. This couldn't be more straightforward; open the zip file in your favourite decompression program and extract the eMule executable file to the folder where you previously installed the client overwriting the original file. Doing this allows you to maintain all your preferences, your server list, credits, partially transferred files and so on and also ensures that no junk is left over from uninstalling and reinstalling the application. If you chose not to use the installation routine, you may at this point like to create a shortcut to the client and place it in your start menu or on the desktop for quick access.

Before running the client I would recommend that you edit the addresses.dat file found in your eMule installation directory to provide an URL from which your server list can be automatically updated each time you start the program. This can be done by opening the file in Notepad and simply pasting an URL into the otherwise empty space and saving it (the best place to locate such an URL is The Donkey Network - click on the 'server list' link and then copy the address of one of the server.met files listed). If you choose just "the nice ones" your client will be updated with the most popular servers, those with the most users connected and with the most files indexed. The purpose of this is to ensure that your client is kept up to date with lists of operational servers to maintain the fastest transfer rates possible. Note that it is advisable, but not imperative that you connect to the most popular servers as each server communicates with every other server to find out which files are available. Connecting to one of the "nice ones" simply allows you to speed up this communication process thereby reducing the time it takes to make source requests etc. For this to work effectively remember that once you have started the client you will need to enter the preferences menu and from within the 'server' tab tick the "auto-update serverlist at startup" option. With this taken care of you can forget completely about server lists and use eMule as you would any other file sharing client. This aspect of configuring eMule is what causes newbies the most headaches and with this out of the way you can look forward to an easy ride from now on. Not so complicated when you know what you're doing is it? Without the server list the client is totally useless and if you didn't read around the topic before taking the plunge you wouldn't know anything about this necessity. For this reason many people give up on the client before they have chance to see what it's capable of.

Now you are ready to run the client for the first time. To do this double click on eMule's shortcut and wait for a few seconds while the server list is updated. While eMule attempts to make a connection to one of the servers in the server list keep an eye on the variable icon in the bottom right hand corner to give you a rough idea of your success rate. A globe with two green arrows indicates that you have established a strong connection, a globe with two yellow arrows indicates that you have established a weak connection (i.e. you have a low ID rating) and a globe with two red arrows indicates that you are not connected to the network at all. If you have a low ID rating you may wish to make a note of it (see the 'serverinfo' box) and look up its meaning at the eMule home page. Knowing the source of the problem will aid you in finding a way to resolve it. When you are running the client minimized you can view your connection status by looking at the donkey icon in your task tray; a grey donkey denotes that you are not connected to a server and a brown donkey indicates that you have successfully established a connection to a server.

In the preferences menu the first thing to change is your nickname; the option which allows you to do this can be found under the 'general' tab. By no means is this essential to the operation of the client, but who wants to live life as a number? (or more accurately as the URL of the eMule home page). Before moving on to the next tab it's a good idea to click on the box marked 'ed2k' - this provides the means to associate eDonkey web links with eMule. If the box is greyed out it means that this has already been taken care of by the installation routine.

Next visit the 'connection' tab and click on the 'wizard' button to make sure eMule knows what kind of internet connection you intend to unleash the client upon. It is vital that you provide accurate information here otherwise you will find that you will not be able to utilize your full allocation of bandwidth or the client will attempt to transfer files at a rate which your connection is incapable of reaching - this will cause a jam with the result that you will not have enough free bandwidth to send file request data packets to eDonkey servers. Also, because eMule automatically regulates your download/upload ratio you could find that people are attempting to download from you at a rate which causes your connection to grind to a halt making it impossible to do anything else with it. The wizard should be able to provide optimum settings based on your connection, but if you find that eMule is using more bandwidth than you would like, you have the option to tweak these settings yourself. Remember though that if you decrease the rate at which people can download from you, you also decrease the rate at which you can download from other users. eMule is firmly founded on a "give and take" philosophy, which I'm sure you'll agree is good news for the network as a whole and is worth the inconvenience of having less control over the client. You may have noticed that there are two places to enter what seems to be identical information in the 'connection' section of the preferences menu. The values in the 'capacities' boxes are the upper limits of your upload and download connection speed and are used to construct the graphs in the 'statistics' window. The values in the 'limits' boxes, however, allow you to set how much bandwidth you would like eMule to utilize. For hands free operation, tick the "auto-connect on startup" and "reconnect on loss" tick boxes and move onto the next section of the preferences menu. Here it is wise to tell the client that you would like to update the server.met file each time eMule is started; this is done by ticking the relevant box as alluded to earlier in this tutorial. From the 'servers' window it is also possible to add individual servers manually or by providing the URL of a server list whenever you feel it is necessary, but this I feel merely complicates the issue unnecessarily.

The options accessed via the 'directories' tab allow you to choose which files you would like to share with other users on the network. By default your 'incoming' folder (where completed downloads are moved to) and your 'temp' folder (where partially transferred files are stored) are shared. To share other folders you are required to scroll through the explorer-like directory tree and put ticks in the boxes next to the folders you wish to become accessible to other users.

The remaining options are probably best left alone unless you are experiencing difficulties, so let's close the preferences tab and see what we can find. You can add files to your download queue in a variety of different ways; some are more effective than others. The built-in search engine, surprisingly, is not the best way to locate files; more often than not it will return zero hits even if the files you seek are available to the network. I sense this is one aspect of the client which needs serious development. But not to worry, the people who see eMule as a goldmine of files are not the ones using the built-in search engine. No doubt they are instead using an independent file database search engine such as the one at Share Provider. What these do is index all the files available to the network allocating each of them with a unique 'hash' code. If you know the hash code of a file you wish to download it can be pasted into eMule to be added to the transfer queue. A common misconception amongst newbies is that these files reside on the same server where they are linked from. If this was the case the service would quickly be shut down. Actually what they do is provide unique file identifiers which can be obtained irrespective of the availability of the files themselves. For instance, if you add these file identifiers into your download queue, eMule will attempt to download them by scouring the network for relevant sources. If no sources are available, the file will remain queued until someone sharing that file joins the network allowing the transfer to initiate.

The advantage of using such a system is that you can avoid downloading fake files because you know exactly what you are getting before the transfer commences. Was that a sigh of relief from the 56k-ers amongst us? Also far more information pertaining to the files is available than would otherwise be the case. Along with the hash link you get a synopsis of the movie plot or game or reviews of music albums etc, file sizes, popularity information, media length, quality ratings and there's even a place where users can post comments about the files they've just downloaded.

At Share Connector you can either use the search engine to track down files or you can browse through the category listings. Because it's not possible to list every single file in each category you will find that only the latest releases appear here. This is a great option if you don't really know what you are looking for but want to see what's new by window shopping. Once you've found something you want to download you can either click on the "add all files from this release to eDonkey 2000" link or you can add each link manually, if for whatever reason, your browser isn't capable of communicating with eMule. To do this, click on the link to be taken to the file details page, right click on the link and copy it into your clipboard. Now open eMule, click on the search button and paste the link into the direct download ed2k link box and press start. Again this will add the file to your download queue where you will be able to see it transferring providing sufficient file sources are available.

Share Connector is probably the best search engine of this kind, yet it is not the only one. File Donkey and eMoogle (German) provide eDonkey search engines, but without the accompanying information as you would find at Share Connector. Whenever you run a search query the keywords are matched with filenames and the most frequently occurring ones are chosen to avoid confusion. Share Virus and Share the Files are functionally very similar to Share Provider, as are more specialist search engine sites like Music Donkey and TV Underground.

When you have a selection of files queued to download switch to the 'transfer' window and have a peek at the pretty coloured bars - these are progress meters. These hues aren't random, they actually mean something. Who would have thought it, eh? The green bar at the top represents the total download progress of the file and the different shades of blue denote the current availability of various parts of the file (the darker the shade of blue the greater the number of available sources). Red areas indicate parts of the file which are missing in all available sources, black areas show the parts of the file you already have and yellow segments represent the parts of the file which are currently downloading.

If you click on one of the files a list of sources will drop down with yet more pretty coloured bars. Just to confuse matters further, the colours here have a slightly different meaning. Yellow indicates a segment of the file which is currently being uploaded to you, the green bits represent the segments of the file you already have, silver areas are the parts of the file which the source computer is also still searching for and the black sectors highlight parts of the file which you are still missing. Almost like swapping stickers or baseball cards at school isn't it?

If you look to the right of the progress bars you will see a column labelled 'sources'. In this column you will find a set of three numbers for each file which take the format 23/67(5). The first number represents the number of useful sources i.e. the ones which are available to you, the second value indicates the total number of sources for the currently downloading file and the value in brackets denotes the number of sources you are actually making use of at that moment in time (or the number of parts you are currently transferring if you like).

Click on a currently downloading file and a 'queue ranking' figure will be appended to the bottom of the 'priority' menu (QR: 100 for example). This value indicates how long you will have to wait before you can make use of this source - the lower the number the sooner you will be able to access the source.

So there you have it, you are now a fully qualified donkey rider - where you take your new pet is up to you. Like all fabled donkeys, this one just needed the right kind of carrot on a stick to get it plodding. In this instance, an up to date server list functions as the perfect carrot substitute - such a silly little thing to come between you and the open road, isn't it? Bon voyage!

Friday, October 10, 2003

My movie is too large to fit on a CD-R. Is it possible to chop it up and put it on two CD-Rs?

Friday, October 10, 2003 0

You can do this using Virtual Dub's 'save segmented AVI' option, but this is very slow because you have to recompress the file using the full processing mode for both video and audio streams. If you only want to cut the movie in two then it would be much faster to do it manually using the techniques described in my blog entry entitled, "How do I delete frames from a movie?"

What you need to do is open the file you wish to cut in half and place a marker at the point you would like to make the incision remembering to note down the frame number displayed in the status bar. Now move the slider to the final frame of the movie and place the end marker. Delete this part of the movie and save the remaining frames as name-of-movie part 1.

The second stage requires you to open the original file and repeat the process to highlight and delete the first half of the movie and save the remaining frames. To make the split perfectly precise use the 'go to' option situated in the 'edit' menu and type in the number of the frame at which you cut the file in the first stage described above. You can name this segment name-of-movie part 2 and proceed to burn the AVI files to separate CD-Rs.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The ants are my friends, they're blowin' in the wind

Saturday, September 20, 2003 0
Surely not? Find out for sure with Evil Lyrics. It's a tool of miniscule proportions which runs alongside Winamp, QCD Player, Windows Media Player 9, Foobar 2000 and Sonique. The idea is that as you play a music track, Evil Lyrics automatically downloads the lyrics of the song in plain text format so you can sing along or find out what your favourite band are babbling on about. Don't worry, the lyrics are only evil if you happen to be listening to Napalm Death or some other equally cheery optimists. Normally Evil Lyrics is only evil in the sense that fluffy bunnies and daffodils are evil.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Really alternative operating systems

Tuesday, September 09, 2003 0

Let's get the obvious out of the way from the outset - Microsoft is the absolute epitome of evil - they boil little children in hydrochloric acid, torture puppies and feed kittens to their blood sucking hell hounds. All are undeniable facts, but let's not dwell too deeply on Microsoft the company; what about their spawn-of-Satan operating system, Windows? In its defence, the latest version, Windows XP, is very stable, though it's still extremely buggy, bloated, needs updating constantly and is riddled with gaping security holes. This is just a small sample of the reasons which explain why many disgruntled Windows users are determined to jump ship. The obvious migration path would involve one flavour of Linux or another. Put Linux out of your mind; it's almost considered mainstream these days - I want to introduce you to some really alternative operating systems, some of which you are unlikely to have even heard about.

Admittedly most of them aren't yet mature enough to be considered 'Windows beaters', but that shouldn't stop you experimenting while still running Windows as your main operating system. The first thing you have to understand about really alternative operating systems is that they aren't designed to dominate the world - that's Bill Gate's territory. Believe it or not, plenty of people actually get a buzz out of coding their own OS and seeing it come to life before their eyes - to them it's a challenging hobby and the thrill of discovery is reward enough. To others, writing a new OS from the ground up forms part of a university computer science course and therefore they are driven by the desire to get good grades and go on to secure employment in their chosen field. Some of the most ambitious OS mavericks see their work as a means of 'curing' the existing solutions - they feel they are in some way inefficient, poorly implemented or aesthetically unappealing, for example, and that they can do better.

There is an entire smorgasbord of alternative operating systems out there, and if you were to systematically follow the links from a directory listing site you may quickly become disillusioned - many of them are extremely primitive, and are only intended to perform highly specific tasks which are of little interest to the average home PC user. What I'll be focusing on is those operating systems which are functional on desktop computers - those which can be used to send and receive email, browse the web and write documents for instance. Some of these are small enough to fit on a single floppy disk while others occupy hundreds of megabytes. Push your prejudices aside; quantity has no bearing on quality in the heretical realm of alternative operating systems no matter what Microsoft would have you believe. Similarly, contrary to popular belief, you don't need a supercomputer to run a modern, powerful operating system - you'd be surprised by how meagre the minimum specifications can be.

Zeta

When Be Inc. sold their soul to Palm in 2001 we witnessed the death of BeOS. Palm weren't interested in furthering its development because the financial incentive wasn't as alluring as their other ventures, and it was left to stagnate, neglected and unloved *aww*. That was until YellowTAB bought the rights to take the BeOS baton and breathe fresh life into the project, building on the foundations of version five of the personal edition.

Unlike many alternative operating system projects, Zeta is both a labour of love and a commercial venture (it currently retails for a very reasonable $39 for the home edition). The intention isn't to claw away at Microsoft's or Linux's foothold, but to provide a viable alternative to people seeking a fast, sleek, simple desktop OS with great hardware and software support. Of all the OSs discussed in this article, Zeta is the one to have progressed furthest along its developmental path - not surprising considering Be gave it such a tremendous head start. When Zeta finally debuts, it will have a ready-made fan base of BeOS-starved users waiting to adopt it, and as there is already a vast array of software, news and community discussion web sites devoted to its cause, it's unlikely to fade into obscurity as many wannabe OSs have before it.

It comes complete with a feature-rich office suite which is fully compatible with Microsoft Office, essential multimedia playback applications, internet and CD writing tools. The emphasis is on ease of installation and use - while many unorthodox OSs are quite rightly considered the domain of the computer geek, Zeta is aimed squarely at the newbie while still having plenty to offer the power user. You could say, it's OS X for the PC without being patronising.

Syllable

Like Zeta, Syllable wasn't built independently from the ground up; in July 2002 it was brought to life as a fork of AtheOS, a project largely inspired by BeOS. It is an open source OS designed with simplicity of operation and robustness in mind with a striking focus on aesthetics. While it remains in the early stages of its development, there are already a number of applications available for it, and support for common hardware is apparent. Syllable is designed primarily for the home and small business user, and although it still has a long way to go, it shows great promise.

SkyOS

The most amazing thing about SkyOS is that it has been coded from scratch, mostly as a one-man project. Its influences are clearly evident though it is not a derivative or fork of any existing operating system. Since its induction in December 1997 development has been swift - it is now clearly one of the more mature really alternative operating systems available today. It includes its own propriety web browser, an FTP client, music and video player, developer studio and provides the necessary scaffolding to allow it to run Quake I and II. The installation package even doubles up as a live boot CD to allow you to establish whether or not it meets your requirements before installing it to your hard drive. Performing the latter is actually a cinch - I installed it to an existing FAT32 partition in under ten minutes and the process was effortless from start to finish - it even managed to detect and provide driver support for my Geforce 4 graphics card, something many extremely mature Linux distros fail to do.

Originally SkyOS was an open source venture, but following the release of version 3.0, Robert Szeleney, the project leader, decided he no longer wanted to make his work available to the public and consequently withdrew the source. This decision was met with hostility by many open source advocates who believe that it should be possible to modify, improve and redistribute software for the good of the community. There would be a real danger of the project stagnating completely if development halted and no-one was able to take the reigns. That aside, closed source endeavours have long been associated with profit-making and Microsoft in particular where operating systems are concerned. In his defence, Robert explained that he was not opposed to taking new developers onboard and allowing such insiders to delve into the source code. He also commented that anyone with sufficient programming talent is welcome to contribute code to the project, but that he would modify it to fit in with the coding style of the operating system. This was met with further derision as people assumed he was angling to accept other people's work seemingly in good faith and then claim it as his own seeing as they would no longer be able to prove ownership of the resultant hybrid code.

Personally I think SkyOS is a remarkable achievement and I have great admiration for Robert's dedication. I wouldn't condemn him for taking the closed source route - it is his baby and it is for him alone to do with it as he sees fit. As for the allegations which have been levelled at him, in my eyes, he is innocent until proven guilty.

ReactOS

ReactOS is a very ambitious attempt to recreate the Windows NT kernel. When complete, it will provide full support for native Windows applications and drivers. It should be noted that although the aim is to emulate NT 4.0 technology, applications designed for more modern versions of Windows such as Windows 2000 and XP will also be supported as they are assembled upon the same core code.

Launched in 1997, progression has been excruciatingly slow, and as a result it remains limited as an everyday operating system - currently the only available applications are a basic calculator, a text editor and a handful of system utilities.

It may sound like a great idea in theory to have an open source version of Windows, but there are a number of inherent problems to consider. Firstly, why expend so much time and energy recreating the operating system that so many people love to hate and are desperate to escape from? What OS idealists are clamouring for is the antithesis of Windows, not an open source incarnation of it. Maybe if it could be tweaked to run more efficiently or more intelligently than Windows we'd have something to get excited about, but sadly cloning an operating system necessitates inheriting its faults. By the time ReactOS becomes operational, Microsoft will have abandoned the NT kernel in favour of something much more advanced. The only niche I can realistically see it serving is in the provision of support for applications which will only run on pre-Longhorn versions of Windows. In essence it would become an emulator for abandonware fans, which come to think of it is actually no bad thing.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The end of the line for tiny fonts

Sunday, September 07, 2003 0

Do you ever find yourself squinting at your monitor in a hopeless attempt to decipher the tiny fonts on a web page? No, I'm not going to suggest you start wearing glasses. Although that might not be such a bad idea, there is an easier way to make your screen text more legible. If you've got a scroll mouse and use Internet Explorer as your web browser, you can make the text on web pages grow or shrink by holding down the control key while you scroll back and forth with your mouse wheel.

Firefox users can achieve the same effect by holding down the control key (or Apple key for Mac users) while tapping either the + or - key.

You've only got one pair so make sure you treat them nicely!

Saturday, August 16, 2003

What are .srt files?

Saturday, August 16, 2003 0
Filenames annexed with the extension .srt denote subtitles ripped from a DVD movie. They are stored in plain text format so can be opened, read and edited using Notepad.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The demo scene; a forgotten art form?

Tuesday, August 12, 2003 0

Regular readers would be forgiven for thinking I've lost my footing, slipped into the Way Back Machine again and am now floating amongst the clouds in my well-travelled retro bubble. While it would be stretching the truth to say that the demo scene is alive and kicking today, it does still exist in a diluted format in limited and often overlooked net niches.

What am I babbling about, there's a scene for try-before-you-buy game tasters now? Well I'm sure they have their own set of fans, but this isn't an article about crippled games. Demos are highly sophisticated, audio-visual treats served in the form of executable programs which are designed to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the computers used to create and display them. They are composed of graphical wizardry synchronised with often frenetic hip-hop or techno rhythms, overlaid with scrolling text credits and acknowledgments to other respected sceners. Demos are non-interactive and are programmed to be played out in real time. Often inspired by themes of fantasy or science fiction, they contain little narrative content; incoherence is actually a welcome 'feature' of some of the best demos. The key ingredients are a combination of mathematical precision, solid programming skills and artistic flair.

Demos were originally coded in Assembly, and later in C, C++ or Pascal and their roots can be traced back to the early days of software cracking on the Commodore 64. Release groups such as Fairlight and Paradox would go to great lengths to reverse engineer the built-in copy protection mechanisms of games, and therefore were keen to make sure anyone playing their cracked games knew who was responsible for making them available to the game playing masses. The solution they devised were graffiti style introductions which were sneakily inserted into the game code to be executed whenever the game was loaded. The earliest embodiments took the form of very basic displays of scrolling text accompanied by repetitive melodies, though these rapidly evolved along with the hardware on which they were coded. Special effects such as parallax scrolling, simulated fire and morphing plasma were soon incorporated, and before long, anti-aliased 3D models were being created and animated complete with complex shading techniques and ultra-realistic features. Some of them are so mind-bendingly bizarre it's possible to recreate the experience of flying high on hard drugs, though without risking seizures, epileptic fits or delayed schizophrenia, which is always a bonus. ;) You can sample some of the best classic Amiga demos at Spoon Wizard. They have been converted to the DivX movie format so it isn't necessary to use them with an emulator (though you will have to install the relevant codec). If you'd rather view the originals you might want to familiarize yourself with my emulation tutorial and then search Google for the files - demos are, and always were free to download so you will have no difficulties finding them online.

People couldn't fail to be blown away by such stunning exhibits of electronic art as nothing of its ilk had ever been witnessed before. Interest in demos escalated, so much so that some crackers chose to leave behind their cracking careers to focus their attention exclusively on coding intros as front-ends for other people's work. In their infancy, demos were coded as one man projects, however, as they became more ambitious, the production process had to be stratified. Graphics artists took care of the visual aspects, musicians wrote and composed the background soundtracks and programmers were responsible for combining the latter elements to bring the demos to life. Long before the demo scene reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the mid-nineties it broke away from its cracking roots and became an entity in its own right.

Before then, demos received little mainstream coverage due to their associations with underground cyber culture; unsurprisingly enough popular computer magazines were reluctant to draw attention to the warez scene because their respective interests were working at cross purposes. Although the demo scene eventually became independent of the cracking scene, some would say that it hasn't yet managed to shake off the negative connotations forged by such an early partnership. Ultimately this is because many of the people involved have a foot in each camp, which explains why the demo scene has remained a computing subculture with a limited audience. That said, a small number of publications such as Amiga Power did eventually devote a monthly page or two to reviewing and promoting the most popular offerings from the demo scene.

Meanwhile, members of the demo scene didn't sit on their hands waiting for fame and glory to be handed to them by the popular press; they formed their own groups, wrote electronic magazines, coded 'diskmags' and distributed their work through PD (public domain) software libraries. Regular demo charts and competitions were the impetus for creating imaginative and original, cutting-edge eye candy. Demo sceners were driven by nothing more than the challenge of earning the adoration of fellow sceners. As the scene developed, formal rules for submitting entries to demo competitions emerged and various divisions were established. Intros had to be no larger than 64kb and 'megademos' could be anywhere up to 1mb in size, while other contests stipulated more extreme limits and 'wild' challenges allowed sceners to code 'free-style', liberated from the constraints of conventional boundaries. The transgression of such boundaries epitomised the demo scene because programmers were seemingly able to make the impossible possible. The resultant demos were far more advanced than any in-game sequences of the time because they were designed to make use of 100% of a given computer's CPU and peripheral resources, whilst games developers on the other hand had to conserve processing power for other essential functions demanded by interactive software.

Remote trading, BBS and later internet interaction lacked the human touch, the yearning for which gave birth to the 'demo party', the largest of which being The Party, Assembly, The Gathering and Mekka&Symposium. These get-togethers took place in gigantic auditoriums and were populated by as many as 5000 sceners at a time. The focus was analogous to that of the virtual demo scene; people would bring their computers along to work on their entries and these would be submitted for judgement. Demos were presented on a huge projection screen while mesmerized onlookers voted for the most technically advanced, aesthetically pleasing, musically creative and so on. Generally parties took place over the course of several days and visitors would bring their sleeping bags or even tents and camp out on the floor, not that sleeping was ever a top priority mind you. People would booze, eat pizza and write code into the small hours of the morning, kept awake only by endless cups of coffee. The demo scene was strictly a European phenomenon and the domain of almost exclusively male under 30s. To encourage more visitors of the fairer sex, party organizers were known to waive the entrance fee for females, though the impact was hardly staggering; most females were girlfriend's of those entering the competitions rather than independent entrants or even curious spectators.

Sadly, in modern times, demo parties suffer from dwindling attendance figures, and some are even being cancelled as a result of lack of interest and/or quality of the entries. While sceners, at one time, entered competitions for the mere thrill of having their work seen by their peers and gaining notoriety in the demo scene, today many have to be bribed into coding through the lure of cash prizes leading to disenchanted cries of "sell-out" from those who hold the glory days close to their hearts. Those that still exist are often blended with LAN gaming parties much to the exasperation of oldskool sceners, who do not appreciate having their hobby trounced by screaming kiddies shouting obscenities at each other whilst playing network favourites such as Counterstrike. Similarly, many demo parties have been infiltrated by people who only want to swap pirated software or watch porn. Recently, party organizers have hit back at this trend by imposing more stringent conduct regulations though it may be too late to turn back the tide. The principal impediment seems to be in financing such events; hiring venues of this magnitude requires sums of money which are simply out of reach of independent organisers. Getting demo parties off the ground necessities the investment of corporate sponsors, and these sponsors will only consider involving themselves if there is sufficient interest in the event. Network gaming is popular, the demo scene far less so.

It's not all bad news, however; two of largest demo web sites, www.scene.org and www.ojuice.net are still going strong. Both support a steady flow of new submissions and forum activity is brisk. While getting retro demos to run on a modern PC can be tricky, running those designed specifically for today's operating systems is child's play - it is simply a matter of double clicking an executable file in fact! If you've never had the pleasure of watching a well crafted demo by one of the major players, do yourself a favour and visit one of the sites above. You won't be disappointed.

Those people who have left the demo scene are often headhunted by games developers in need of creative computer professionals. What may have begun as "art for art's sake" has taken those involved far beyond their primary modest goals. Many of the techniques used in producing demos are directly transferable to other aspects of software development. You might be surprised by the number of people involved in producing today's blockbusting PC games that were enticed into programming by the demo scene. Many still code demos in their spare time, and those who don't, have used their talents as a spring board to other ventures.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

How can I disable anti-right-click web site protection?

Saturday, August 09, 2003 0

First up, you can just turn off javascript in your browser. Drastic perhaps, but very effective.

A second method is to keep your finger on the right mouse button after you have pressed it. When the "don't steal our links" warning message appears, press the enter key to close it and then release the right mouse button. You should discover that all the usual context menu functions will appear as though there is no right-click protection in place.

Another strategy is to press the right mouse button and hold it down while you use the left mouse button to close the dialogue box. Once this disappears, release the right button and ta da, up pops the menu.

If you're still having difficulties, try this procedure instead: right-click as usual to make the threatening message appear. Now press the enter key and right mouse button simultaneously. Once again the result is the appearance of the right-click context menu.

Some of these will work with some sites, but not others, and vice versa, so make sure you etch all of them onto the insides of your eye lids for future reference.

Monday, July 14, 2003

I've got a set of files with the extensions 001, 002, 003 and so on, but there's no ace or rar file. What do I use to open them?

Monday, July 14, 2003 1

Often these are just rar archives, only without the initial rar file. If you double click on the first file (001) nothing happens. This is because it hasn't been associated with the program, however, if you open Winrar using the shortcut on your start button or desktop you can browse through your directories until you find the file and open it that way. If this is part of a rar archive, the remaining files in the set will be processed and all the files contained within them will be displayed for you to extract in the usual way.

If in doubt you can try to open any file you believe to be a rar archive using Winrar. The worst that can happen if it isn't a compressed archive is that it won't open and an error message will be displayed, in which case you can try opening it in a different program, Winace for example. Remember that you can call a compressed file whatever you like and it will remain a compressed file. If it doesn't have the standard extension it won't be opened automatically when you double click it, but it can still be dragged into your decompression program or opened via the built-in browser.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

File Interrupted

Thursday, July 10, 2003 0

I've been downloading a large file from an FTP site for several hours and it has suddenly become inaccessible. Even though I can log in using the same username and password I cannot resume my download. What am I doing wrong?

This can happen when the owner of the FTP site has moved the files from one drive to another. When you log in, the layout looks identical so it can be difficult to spot the problem.

To correct the location of the partially transferred file and resume your download, search for the file using your FTP client and then right-click on it. Now select 'copy URL to clipboard'. Open the download status window of your FTP client or download manager, right-click on the half finished file and select 'change URL'. Finally, right-click in the dialog box and select the paste option. Now when you double-click it to resume downloading you should be able to continue from where you left off.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Share and share alike - file sharing clients uncovered

Monday, July 07, 2003 0

Following the immense success of Napster, it was only a matter of time before someone posed the question, why not develop a program that allows people to exchange other file types as well as MP3s?. A very good question, and one which was swiftly answered by a deluge of file sharing clients based on the now infamous Napster protocol.

For those of you who haven't been formally introduced to file sharing clients and are wondering what all the fuss is about let me explain. Despite the gamut of different interfaces and slogans, all file sharing programs share the same basic premise; they allow anyone with minimal computer know-how and an internet connection to become part of a gargantuan, global file sharing community. Once you've chosen your bandwagon and you're comfortably sitting on board, the sky's the limit; you can download any file format imaginable, no matter how large it is, or where in the world it's located. So in a nutshell, file sharing clients provide an efficient means of exchanging data over a digital medium.

While some clients hinge on the operation of a central server or servers and so are vulnerable to attacks from the lawyers of irate pop stars, others allow you to connect directly to the computers of other users and hence side step any legal wranglings which may ensue. The best example of the first variety of client is Napster. Whenever you connect to the Napster exchange, a list of the files you wish to share is automatically uploaded to one of the Napster servers. Your list is then juxtaposed with the lists of other users and hence can be searched by anyone currently logged into the network. Connecting to a central server inevitably means that you lose your privacy, yet it does have the advantage of providing faster searches and transfers.

On the contrary, peer to peer connections offer much greater privacy, but also bring with them the drawback of longer search times and slower downloads. These systems operate on the foundation that the computer of every user connected to the exchange becomes a client as well as a server. One of the most noteworthy examples of such a network is Kazaa, which we will be taking a much closer look at shortly.

Nevertheless, the story doesn't end there - your third option is to connect to a network without using a client at all. These 'gateway portals' are much like web search engines in that you simply pop along to a web page and enter your query into a search box. The results appear as direct links to files, which can then be downloaded using either your browser or a download manager. These aren't really exchange networks in their own right, nonetheless, the reason they have been included in this discussion is because they allow you to search other exchange networks set in motion by third party clients such as the ones made available by Napster and Lime Wire for example. While you can download files from other users via these portals, you are never really part of the community because you aren't logged into the network using a client, and hence you are restricted from uploading files in return. Although this might not worry you very much now, keep in mind that if everyone took without giving, there would be no files in circulation at all! Successful file sharing demands a symbiotic relationship, so make sure you do your bit to maintain the equilibrium. The real beauty of these portals is their simplicity - the only prerequisite to using one is that you can type, and as they tap into pre-existing exchanges they have an instantly accessible user base of millions.

Aside from the latter variety, file sharing clients tend to be a fairly homogenous breed so if you've dabbled in a spot of MP3 collecting, searching for other file types using one of the many Napster clones should be a breeze. So now that you have been acquainted with the basics, let us take a closer look at how exactly these clients operate while we consider the special charms of each particular program.

While some clients insist that you logon to their network using a unique username and password, Napster and Kazaa for example, others will let you jump in with both feet straight away without registering, take Lime Wire for instance. The advantage of obtaining your own username is that you become more involved in the community, you have a net name which you can use to identify yourself in chat rooms and you can recognise your friends (or enemies!) when they are on-line. Also you can make note of other people's net names so that you can contact them to organise file exchanges at a mutually convenient time etc. This is especially handy if the network is set up in such a way that your username forms part of the email address you will use to sign in. If you wish to contact a member of a file sharing network which uses this arrangement you don't even have to be connected to the exchange to send a message, instead you can simply send an email using your usual email client. Conversely, clients which do not require you to register before joining the network offer the advantage of being much more anonymous; each time you logon you are nothing more than a series of digits (AKA an IP address). Again, Lime Wire is a good example of such a system.

On connecting to your chosen network, to enable you to regulate the extent to which other users can explore the contents of your hard drive, you are initially asked to select a directory where your shared files should be placed. It is also possible to restrict the types of files which can be remotely accessed by other users so that you are safe in the knowledge that no-one can tamper with any data that you don't want them to have access to. Whatever you store in this directory can be searched and downloaded by other users on the network, and obviously this works vice-versa. Although, if you're a real party pooper you can disable this option completely. This will allow you to download files from other users while preventing them from accessing your goodies - not very charitable at all! To combat this abuse of the system some programs will allow users to prevent free loaders from accessing their computers, so if you're being a scrooge, it's quite likely that the library of files available to you will be restricted somewhat.

Kazaa

No doubt you're eager to get started so let's take Kazaa as an example, dip our toes in the file sharing pool and see what we can find. Now that Napster is six foot under and pushing up the daisies, Kazaa is looking like a better prospect by the day. Most noteworthy is the fact that it uses a decentralised network so is less prone to attempts to shut it down. In addition, it speeds up download times by accessing parts of the same file from multiple sources simultaneously, is capable of resuming broken downloads, includes a built in IRC client which can be used to chat to other users and even provides its own media player which lets you view partially downloaded files. Furthermore, since Kazaa has such a colossal user base there is a very good chance of you tracking down whatever it is your heart desires, whether this means finding the latest music albums, full games, applications or movies. Absolutely any file format in existence can be downloaded providing a currently connected user has chosen to share it. In short, it's pretty damn good.

As much as I hate to knock Kazaa, I feel it's only fair to point out its limitations as well as its strengths so you can see the wider picture. One minor niggle I have is that the client can be quite slow and clunky due to its reliance on a web based interface, yet I've also heard reports that the transfers themselves can be slow at times. Not that I'd know anything about that - I've known snails to overtake my 56k modem! Most significantly, however, is the fact that the FastTrack network, which serves as the backbone of the client is riddled with misleadingly named files, viruses, worms and trojans, which if you're not careful can bring your computer to its knees in the blink of an eye. People have been known to spend many hours downloading monster files, only to realise when they unzip them, that they in no way relate to what they were led to believe they were transferring because they have been deliberately renamed to trick them.

Worse still, you could discover that what you've downloaded is actually malicious code designed to infect your computer! Nevertheless, providing you are aware of these pitfalls they shouldn't be cause enough to deter you from continuing to use Kazaa. What is called for is a combination of common sense and a reliable virus/trojan scanner. If you search for a CD image and the hits returned consist of tiny exe files, your alarm bells should be set ringing. These files will definitely not contain the data you're seeking. Compressed archives can be turned into non-threatening, self extracting exe files, but since there is little point in doing so (who hasn't got Winzip or Winrar installed on their computer these days?), you should be very suspicious of anyone who claims to have turned their shared files into self extracting archives. If the size of a file appears to be realistic, yet the format is executable I would still recommend steering well clear of it unless you know for certain that the original format should be exe, as is the case with many shareware applications for instance. Of course, anything you download from Kazaa, or the net in general, should be scanned for viruses and trojans regardless of how suspicious you are of their legitimacy.

A final handicap to note is that the search results appear very cluttered because the program simply tries to display too much at once without segregating the information properly. The column widths of the results window can be manually resized to make things a bit more organised, yet frustratingly the client is incapable of remembering your settings the next time you return to the search window. Despite a few minor niggles though it's one hell of a good client and will only get better with time.

OK, are we sitting comfortably boys and girls? Then we will begin. First of all I should point out that it is not recommended that you download the official Kazaa client, but instead opt for its much improved, cut down, younger brother, Kazaa Lite. This takes all of Kazaa's superfluous, bloated and privacy intruding 'features', mercilessly hacks them out and throws them in the trash can where they belong leaving a much leaner, more stable and most importantly of all, 'clean' client. When I say that Kazaa Lite is 'clean' I'm referring to the fact that it no longer contains spyware, adware or banners of any kind. Many people erroneously believe that the lite version of Kazaa also contains spyware, yet if they had done their homework they would know that what their spyware scanner is actually detecting is a kind of spyware emulator rather than the real thing. You see, Kazaa will not function if it detects that its spyware has been removed, and this is why it has to be replaced with a dummy file instead. In Kazaa's case, the integrated spyware file responsible for invading your privacy is known as Cydoor and has the filename 'cd_clint.dll'. If after installing Kazaa Lite, your spyware scanner insists that you banish this file from your system, you should inform it that you know better and tell it to leave it be. Once this file has been identified it would be a good idea to add it to your scanner's exclude list to ensure that it isn't removed by accident in future.

Sooo, moving swiftly on. Download the program, install it and then click on its icon to get it up and running. When the wizard prompts you to enter a username and password, follow the instructions and then proceed to connect to the network. If you're using a slow connection it would be wise to set some limits before we move on, so click on the 'tools' button located on the menu bar and select 'options'. Now click on the 'uploads and downloads' tab and reduce the number of simultaneous connections; sadly, two is more than enough for us poor 56k-ers. While we're here you might also want to set the directory in which you would like to store (and share) your files - make sure it's located on a drive with plenty of space. When that's taken care of click on the 'search' tab, select which file types you wish to search for, type in your query and hit the 'search now' button. Wait for the results to appear and then double click on whatever takes your fancy to begin downloading it. You can do this with as many files as you like without straining your internet connection since they will not start transferring immediately, but will instead be added to your download queue. As your current files finish downloading, new ones will begin transferring automatically analogous to the way in which your download manager works. To check that everything is going according to plan you can click on the 'traffic' button. From this menu you can cancel, pause or resume your transfers in addition to being able to send a message to the users you are downloading from. Once a couple of files have finished downloading you might want to preview them using Kazaa's built in media player, which is located under the 'theatre' tab. That's all there is to it. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Gnutella

Gnutella began life as a file sharing client much like any other, however, the original program responsible for spawning a multitude of clones has now been abandoned and the developers are urging people to stop using it. Nevertheless, this isn't the end for Gnutella - it is merely the beginning of a new era. A common misconception is that Gnutella refers to a particular client which connects to a single, self contained exchange network - this simply isn't the case. It is a free for all, decentralised peer to peer network which can be accessed using a variety of different clients, all of which are far more advanced than the original vanilla flavoured version developed by two Nullsoft (you know, the Winamp people) employees.

No doubt the first question on your lips relates to the origin and significance of the name Gnutella. According to the FAQ on the home page, the 'Nutella' part refers to a "chocolate and hazelnut spread that is phenomenally popular among Europeans". The 'G' tacked onto the beginning is reminiscent of the Unix-like operating system, GNU, which was the seminal work of the Free Software Foundation. Richard Stallman et al believed that source code should be made freely available allowing people to modify it to create their own software with the caveat that whatever is produced may also be recycled - Gnutella was built with the same philosophies in mind which is precisely why there are so many variations of the original client to choose from. I'm sure the addition of the 'G' also helped to avoid legal battles over patented trade names. I hope that serves to satisfy your epistemophilic urges. ;)

Pushing semantics aside for now though, what advantages does Gnutella offer over centrally indexed networks? Well, the first thing you will notice is the fact that Gnutella needs no centralised server in order to share your files, unlike programs such as Napster, for which this is a necessity. The reason for this is that the users themselves create the servers in a peer to peer network model. In layman's terms this means that you connect directly to the person's computer from which you are transferring data. As a result, no logs are kept of your searches, so anyone who is paranoid about the existence of echelon or an omnipotent 'big brother' can relax safe in the knowledge that they are anonymous.

Also, because no central server exists the system cannot be shut down, and since there is no single individual or company that can be held responsible for its creation, Gnutella is practically bullet proof in that it is capable of withstanding attacks from the FBI, lawyers, earth, wind and fire (did I leave anything out?). Another rationale for this fact is that Gnutella is basically a protocol, which in theory can be used for illegal purposes, but was not specifically designed with these intentions in mind. Analogously, the same can be said for cars, hammers, kitchen knives and all sorts of other seemingly harmless objects, and no one is likely to attempt to ban mundane items such as these are they?

But enough talk, it's time for action! To get started you're going to need a client to tap into the Gnutella network. In the early days you had an extremely taxing decision to make; you used either Gnutella 0.56 or you used Gnutella 0.56, but nowadays the options are much more varied so if you don't instantly gel with one client you can simply banish it to the recycle bin and test drive another. If you try counting all the different varieties on offer you'll run out of fingers and toes in no time. Many of these are a waste of time and bandwidth so let me save you the hassle of separating the wood from the trees by directing you towards the best of the bunch from the outset. These include Xolox, Lime Wire, Bear Share, Gnucleus and Phex and I'll deal with each one in turn below.

When Gnutella first took off it was necessary to manually enter an IP address into the client to allow you to join the network. Any old IP address wouldn't get the job done - it had to be the address of a user who was already connected to the Gnutella network, and to find out this information you had to visit a central repository of IP addresses. This was very inconvenient as you had to find a new address each time you wanted to logon, so to circumvent this problem the client developers introduced a system which gathered these IP addresses and automatically connected your computer to them whenever you opened the client. Consequently, if your client still asks you to manually enter an IP address it is likely to be very outdated, in which case you would be best advised to update it. Because there is no central server which deals with all the file searches and transfers which go on between users, the system must rely on direct peer to peer connections. While this process is now completely automated, what your client is actually doing when it starts up is looking for users who are already plugged into the network. When it spots these users, it connects you to a small selection of them and in turn these users will be connected to a further group of users in such a way that eventually all the computers in the network will be daisy chained together. Whenever you perform a search, in the blink of an eye your request is filtered through thousands of computers across the world before the results are presented on your screen.

So all in all it's quite an impressive system, don't you think? Gnutella is the future, embrace it with open arms zombies... erm, I mean people, commence dribbling and chant after me, "Gnutella is our leader, we love Gnutella".

And now, without further ado let's welcome on stage the reviews...

Xolox

The Xolox developers have chosen to take the Microsoft approach in that they've designed a client which insists on doing absolutely everything for you whether you like it or not, the result being that half the people who have tried it loathe it with a passion, and the other half think it's the best thing since sliced bread. The majority of the features you will find incorporated into rival clients are missing with the exception of an IRC chat applet, and again, this can either be a bonus or a curse depending on your level of experience of the Gnutella exchange.

If you're a Gnutella novice this is the perfect client for you because there are no options to tweak; run the client and a plug and play style auto configuration system takes care of the rest leaving you to get on with the task of searching for and downloading files. Gnutella doesn't get any more idiot-proof than this - if you can't fathom out Xolox you shouldn't be let loose on a computer.

Other benefits include the utilisation of 'background intelligence', which in theory allows the client to maintain connections and continue downloading in spite of transfer problems without any intervention from the user. Downloading from multiple sources, known as 'swarming', is supported effectively boosting transfer speeds, no spyware whatsoever is installed along with the client with or without your consent, plus the client itself is tiny and extremely resource light. Further enhancing Xolox's almost 'hands-free' operation status is its ability to automatically complete search strings a la Internet Explorer. Each search query is conducted within its own window allowing you to multitask, and search results are continuously updated as and when new users join or leave the network to keep them current. Downloading of partially completed files is also supported providing many more connection outlets from which to download in addition to reducing the strain for those users who possess the complete file you wish to transfer.

Until recently, the Xolox project had been all but abandoned. The resurrected version therefore has a bit of catching up to do before it can compete with the better established clients in terms of stability and reliability. If you're looking for hassle free downloads and are prepared for a few teething problems I'd enthusiastically encourage you to give Xolox a whirl. If on the other hand you were born to tweak I would advise you to look elsewhere for your Gnutella fix.

Lime Wire

The most striking thing about Lime Wire is how pretty it all is. It uses those perfectly rounded aqua-effect buttons throughout, which are all the rage on web sites at the moment and the whole thing smacks of Apple Macism (look, I'm allowed to make up my own words, it's my site), which is no bad thing seeing as Mac applications are so much more aesthetically pleasing than PC equivalents. Oh and another thing, the startup logo reminds me of one of my favourite t-shirts, which is nice (well it matters to me, OK :p).

Pretty graphics do not a good file sharing client make, so what else has it got to offer? Well my inquisitive chum, for a kick off, because it's built on the foundation of the very popular Gnutella network there are always plenty of files to go round. What's more, while many file sharing clients are restricted to use on Windows based computers, because Lime Wire is coded entirely in Java it will run equally well on Windows, Mac or Linux systems. Another major bonus is its ability to search for any file type, not just MP3s. The logical way it handles downloaded files is worthy of a mention too. Files are first downloaded into an incomplete downloads directory, and only when they are complete are they moved into your shared folder - a nice touch which should help to reduce the distribution of incomplete files. A final plus point to consider is Lime Wire's extremely intuitive interface, which really couldn't be any easier to navigate. In fact one of the program's major benefits is that you can jump right in with both feet and start searching without so much as a glimpse at a FAQ entry or tutorial.

Sadly, the flip side of this particular coin is also one of its most salient drawbacks. Because the Lime Wire development team have done their best to aim for simplicity, you often find yourself somewhat restricted in terms of the potential search refinements. For example, you cannot specify minimum or maximum files sizes, connection speeds, file quality ratings and so on, so much of the filtering has to be done by hand.

Another feature considered both an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously is the 'punish freeloaders' option, which allows you to prevent people from downloading your files if they refuse to share their own. This sounds logical in theory, yet the program offers too many options to limit the number of simultaneous uploads and the bandwidth allocated to each upload. While this should encourage more people to share their goodies, it also leads to a situation where you find yourself sitting around in endless queues while you wait for other user's free upload slots to become available.

Yet another limitation arises, not as a result of the program itself, but due to the network its operation hinges on, the Gnutella exchange. Because so many people are all scrabbling around for the same files at the same time, the speed at which transfers commence can suffer and it can also take quite a while to connect to the network in the first place. Nevertheless, this will be the case no matter which Gnutella client you choose, so we can hardly hold Lime Wire responsible for this.

My final whinge is that unless you choose to opt out of installing the bundled software which is integrated into the installation package, your system is infected with spyware. You aren't forced to install these privacy invading 'features' yet I'd be much happier if they weren't on offer at all. This represents half of Lime Wire's revenue model. The other half involves the implementation of revolving ad banners. These are present only in the free version of the client; the pro version, available for a small fee, contains no ad banners or spyware. Buying into this 'less is more' upgrade may be cheap, but why you'd want to bother at all when there are much better alternative Gnutella clients available for free is a mystery to me. In any case, if you really wanted to, you could use the free version of the client to locate and download the ad-less version to save yourself a few quid. Personally I'd rather use Gnucleus instead.

Bear Share

If only Bear Share was a bit more like Yogi, smarter than the average bear that is, we might have a half decent client on our hands. As it is, the only pluses can be attributed to the Gnutella network rather than the program itself, and since you can enjoy these benefits using any client which taps into the Gnutella network, they aren't worth restating.

While Bear Share does come bundled with a host of irritating third party spyware junk, it doesn't insist that you install it. It is an optional extra and providing you don't just click 'OK' at every stage of the installation process it shouldn't concern you. On the other hand, the second source of intrusion, the banner adverts, can't be avoided unless you upgrade to the pro version. The same goes for the automatically generated pop-ups thrust into your face periodically whenever you run the client. Furthermore, the whole thing is riddled with marketing gimmicks which desperately try to draw you back to the Bear Share home page like a neurotic human magnet.

As if these invasions of privacy weren't bad enough, Bear Share also brings with it certain security risks. For example, it will quite happily display your IP address for all to see so that anyone with the right computer know-how can access any part of your system with minimum exertion. What is also very disconcerting is the constant flow of traffic between your computer and the servers you are connected to - even when your transfers have completed, the program still maintains a persistent level of incoming and outgoing data. A logical explanation for this has yet to be ascertained and therefore it should be treated as a major cause for concern. While we're on the subject of security, another worry is the fact that the developers haven't even bothered implementing a filter to protect you from the Gnutella worm, again putting users at risk.

You want more reasons not to use it? Well it's also plagued by an inability to refine your search queries, which results in endless lists of irrelevant files. The downloads are particularly slow and unreliable, even when taking the inherent network problems into account. When you uninstall the damn thing it leaves spyware files behind, the interface is particularly uninspiring and isn't nearly as intuitive as that of Lime Wire. Finally, in terms of available options, the client offers only the bear necessities (actually this isn't true, but I couldn't resist getting at least one bear joke into this review :D).

In fact, Bear Share's only saving grace is that it employs 'swarming', a technique which enables you to download files from multiple sources simultaneously to speed up transfers in a similar way to that of Flashget. That said, this is rapidly becoming a standard feature of all the best file sharing clients so is hardly a sufficient reason to warrant using this CPU hogging piece of BS (hey, don't blame me, I didn't name it!).

Gnucleus

Having extensively researched the whole conglomeration of Gnutella clients you get the feeling that once you've seen one you've them all, yet this is exactly why Gnucleus comes as such a refreshing change. While it's not going to revolutionise the Gnutella experience, it does have one or two unique features which set it apart from the crowd, and after all, when you're presented with such a homogenous bunch of programs it's the little things that count.

While the interface is far from visually inspiring it excels in terms of functionality; it's clean and uncluttered and only presents the most salient options initially, making it simple to use even for the most uninitiated Gnutella newbie. Also, because you are not instantly bombarded with options and menus Gnucleus has a very gentle learning curve allowing you to begin downloading within seconds of running the client. This isn't to say that Gnucleus lacks the more advanced features of other clients, it's just that they are neatly tucked away out of sight so that only the people with the necessary knowledge to understand their purpose will stumble across them if they wish to delve a bit deeper.

Another facet of the client which you are unlikely to find in rival software is its ability to use multiple windows, allowing you to multitask just like you would in Windows with a capital w. Best of all, this provides the means to conduct as many searches as you like simultaneously, so for instance, if you have a vague idea of the name of the file you seek you could type in five slightly different variants of it and then sit back and watch the hits filter through without delay. Also worth noting here is the fact that searches have no definite end state; they are constantly updated as and when new users log on or off ensuring that you always have an accurate impression of what's out there, and more importantly what's available at that precise moment in time. These search results can be further refined using none other than the 'refine' box. How's that for intuitive? This allows you to locate your desired files with pinpoint accuracy as it provides the means to filter out irrelevant hits. What's remarkable about this function is that it works in real time so each time you type in a character, the results are instantaneously updated so you can type, delete and type again without having to actually submit your query in the usual manner. In practice this works much like one of those grappling hook games you're likely to find at a fun fair, except that it's free and isn't rigged to make sure you lose nine times out of ten.

While these extras are great, they wouldn't be much use if the client couldn't perform the more rudimentary functions which define Gnutella clients, and luckily Gnucleus is no slouch in this department either. Conducting search queries is very straightforward and options are available to limit your results to particular file sizes and minimum transfer speeds. Some might say there aren't enough options to help you narrow down your search queries, but then adding all sorts search toggles and modifiers would clearly be detrimental to the developer's much cherished KISS philosophy. If you ask me they've got it spot on; anyone wanting more control over their search queries would be advised to be more imaginative with the keywords they use, by also entering file extensions for instance.

What you see is what you get with Gnucleus. It contains no spyware files and no encrypted information is passed between you and the Gnucleus HQ in the background. In addition, it isn't plagued by intrusive banners or other marketing gimmicks as are so many of its rivals. Again on the plus side, the client is compact and fairly resource lean when compared to the competition, and perhaps best of all, it is 'open source'. This means that the code can be scrutinized, updated and rewritten by anyone with the necessary technical know-how, and because its success and future development does not merely rely on a single person or team of programmers it is much more likely to stand the test of time and grow from strength to strength.

There's always a 'but' though isn't there?, and as wonderful as it is, Gnucleus's 'but' is quite a biggy I'm afraid. While you can locate almost anything your heart desires in a matter of seconds, the problem lies in actually downloading it to your own computer. Files are very often unavailable and servers can get extremely busy. When downloads do eventually kick into action they can be unbearably slow and frequently 'time out' before they are complete. Nevertheless, despite these transfer problems I refuse to give up on this one as it has so much to offer. I remain hopeful that with time and a bit of tweaking the situation will improve.

Phex

Like Lime Wire, Phex is written entirely in Java, however, whereas Lime Wire is a standalone application, Phex has to be propped up using the Java Runtime Environment (available free from Sun Microsystems). The client itself is a mere 670kb, but don't let that fool you into thinking you're getting a compact application as the Java environment setup will add another 5mb to your system. Why the developer decided to go down this route is a complete mystery to me, but I expect he'll create a standalone package in future versions if only to silence the critics. You'd think that writing an application entirely in Java would provide some benefits, yet the rationale behind this arrangement is completely paradoxical. Because Phex is a pure Java application it doesn't have to be installed, yet this advantage is instantaneously counteracted by having to install the JRE, without which the package is useless.

In its defence, Phex is open source which means that the developers can't get away with hiding any privacy intruding 'features' in the code - not that I'm suggesting for a second they ever had any intention of doing so. I'm sure you know what I mean; open source applications are generally more 'honest' than... erm closed source alternatives. Complimenting Phex's open source status is the fact that the client contains no spyware or revolving ad banners of any kind, which is always a huge bonus considering the current era of dwindling personal privacy we now find ourselves in. Yet another plus is that Phex is a multi-platform application equally capable of running on Windows, Linux or Mac systems.

It has been said that this isn't a client for the Gnutella newbie because it incorporates so many advanced configuration options, yet it's really no more difficult to use than any other client. What initially baffles some users is the fact that the package consists of a single 'jar' file. Without installing the JRE this will appear as a standard compressed archive providing you have Winzip or an equivalent decompressor installed. The confusion sets in when people try to find an executable file within the package and realise that there isn't one. This is because pure Java applications do not use executable files, instead they only spring into life when double clicked after the Java runtime environment has been implemented. Once this is installed the file's icon will change along with its associated application so that it can be opened in the same way as an executable file.

While this isn't a huge inconvenience it does tend to put people off. I'm certainly not saying it's a bad client as it does have much to commend it, most notably the way in which it intelligently and efficiently manages file transfers, but when there are so many other excellent alternatives available I can't think of a single reason why you'd want to choose this one over the competition. In conclusion, Phex is a solid, reliable client, but unless some unique features are implemented in future versions to set it apart from the other better established clients I can't really see it taking off.

Non-Gnutella client reviews...

iMesh

I once said that:

"if we're going to compare what's hot and what's not in terms of file sharing clients, iMesh definitely belongs in the below freezing category. It's a lot like a fish finger which has been forgotten about and left to rot in the bottom of your freezer - it should only be handled with extreme care whilst wearing rubber gloves and a nose peg".

Yet since then the interface has been completely overhauled and the client now connects to FastTrack, the same network shared by Kazaa, Grokster and Morpheus before it switched to Gnutella. This means that users of iMesh now have far more files available to them than ever before and since the newly revamped version of the client supports swarmed downloads and resuming, even the 56k-ers have little to fear. Whilst the Grokster and Kazaa clients are almost impossible to tell apart, the iMesh interface offers a real alternative. Search results are far less cluttered and the GUI is skinable and extremely intuitive. Because the client plugs you into the FastTrack network, the speed of transfers and the number and variety of files available should be identical. Nevertheless, many people are reporting that somehow iMesh manages to improve their experience on all three counts.

So there's the good, the bad I'll discuss in a moment, and now that it comes equipped with a skinable interface, it's only as ugly as you choose to make it. One thing which hasn't changed since I declared installing iMesh on your computer to be the equivalent of demonic possession for the cyber age is that it is still riddled with spyware and an excessive amount of other bundled junk. Technically it is the third party software which contains the malware, but why split hairs? If it comes in a single package it amounts to the same thing in my book. In iMesh's defence, you are given the choice of whether or not to install this extra filth, so it isn't all forced on you without your consent. It's a shame the same can't be said for the ads, yet why worry about any of it when you can visit the iMesh Lite home page and download the much more compact, de-junked version? As for the negatives, I can't think of any others. It's no longer "as stable as Del Boy's Robin Reliant", as I once complained, and it's not the system resource guzzler that it used to be.

If you love the FastTrack network, but yearn for a break from off-the-peg, carbon copy clients like Grokster and Kazaa this is definitely worth a shot. Yet the critical deciding factor should be your preference for ladybirds - I bet the programmers are inundated with bug reports! Ha-de-ha-ha!

Removing spyware and ad banners

As I've already explained what spyware is, and why you would want to avoid using spyware ridden software in the anonymity tutorial, I'll skip the definitions and move straight onto to telling you what you can do to rid your system of it. File sharing clients, as I'm sure you are well aware by now, are renowned for including spyware files in their installation packages. While spyware files can be tricky to remove without completely disabling the application they came bundled with, it is possible. The way in which this is done varies from one client to the next, yet I'm not going to provide detailed explanations of how exactly to go about this for the sole reason that it is a waste of your time and mine. Why so? Well, since Dr Damn of Clean Clients fame has already gone to great lengths to hack the spyware out of many of the most popular file sharing clients and made his much improved modified versions available to anyone who wants them, there seems little point in using the official versions and doing the dirty work ourselves. Unsurprisingly web hosting companies aren't exactly falling over themselves to host Dr Damn's creations and as a result he's currently websiteless. Not to worry though, I'm sure a quick search at Google using the keywords "dr damn" and "clean clients" will bring home the bacon.

If you want to use a client which hasn't been given the Dr Damn treatment I would suggest using Ad-Aware to remove the spyware manually. This operates much like a virus scanner, but instead of detecting viruses, it searches for spyware, and once found, it gives you the option to have it removed. If you find that you can't remove the spyware from an application without completely disabling it, I would encourage you to uninstall it and look elsewhere for an equivalent spyware-free program - there are plenty out there so there is no reason you should settle for second best. Not sure if the program you want to install contains spyware? Whack its name into the Spy Checker search engine and find out. Prevention is always better than cure!

Another good tip to aid your war against spyware is to install a firewall. You should really have setup a good firewall long before now, but if you haven't, do so now. An excellent free firewall can be found at Zone Labs, but if Zone Alarm isn't your cup of tea refer instead to my other recommendations in the tips section. With a firewall installed you will be able to vito applications before granting them access to make external connections. Zone Alarm is one of the few firewalls that will ask your permission before taking action of any kind, which is why it's such an effective anti-spyware measure. Other firewalls will also deny spyware files access to the outside world to relay information regarding your surfing habits etc, yet more than likely they will not alert you to the fact that these attempts are being made at all. If you are kept informed of which programs are talking behind your back, you can stop them in their tracks by uninstalling them and removing any orphan spyware files using Ad-Aware.

Sometimes the challenge is not ridding your computer of spyware, but eliminating banner adverts from applications. You may consider these annoying or distracting rather than intrusive, but many of them are akin to spyware or web bugs in that they are capable of transmitting details such as the OS or browser you have installed, your screen resolution or even your IP address to third party advertising companies. Be that as it may, eradicating this further source of intrusion can usually be done with 100% effectiveness and without tampering with the application in question because the majority of ad servers transmit their spam by the same means. The solution to this problem requires you to edit your operating system's 'hosts' file. This is nothing more than a simple ASCII text file minus the extension and so can be edited using Notepad or an equivalent text editor. Because different Windows operating systems can place this file in various locations I would advise you to use your operating system's built-in search tool to track it down - simple type in 'hosts' with no extension and click on the find button. Once found, right click on it and select 'open with', choose Notepad and click OK to delve inside it.

The reason this file is on your system to begin with is to allow you to map web site addresses to their corresponding IP addresses. It isn't strictly necessary that you go anywhere near this file normally, yet doing so brings with it certain benefits. For instance, if you know what the IP addresses of the sites you visit most often are, you could enter these into the hosts file to allow your browser to contact the server they are stored on and load their contents faster. If no such information is found in your hosts file, your browser will instead look to your ISP for the IP addresses that are required to contact the sites. Once this DNS information has been determined your browser can proceed to load the site.

How does this help you to block out banner adverts? Well, the trick is to enter your computer's own IP address (127.0.0.1) into the hosts file alongside the address of the ad server you wish to block to deceive it into thinking that the ad banners are located on your own hard drive. For example, if you discovered that the ads being served to your file sharing client emanated from www.adserver.com, to block them you would enter "127.0.0.1 www.adserver.com" into your hosts file. This isn't rocket science; all you need to bear in mind is that each individual server you wish to block must have its own line and there should always be a gap of at least one space between your computer's IP address and the web address of the server you intend to block.

With these changes in place, whenever your file sharing application attempts to call an ad banner it will look to your own computer for the files rather than the real ad server. Because the request is being made from and to the same computer, the application either assumes it has located its target and displayed the ads correctly, or after failing to locate the ads it simply gives up, leaving you with a blank space where the ads would ordinarily appear.

This isn't the only way you can use the hosts file to your advantage. Say there's a web site you visit regularly which you know is laden with ad banners. If you find out the IP address of the server which is making these ads available, you can block those banners too using the same method described above. It's also possible to block access to whole sites if you so wish - this can be particularly useful if you have young children who you want to protect from objectionable material etc.

Surely it's not possible to make ad blocking any simpler? Well yes, it is strangely enough - you could use a dedicated program to edit your hosts file, or you could even download a pre-configured hosts file and use it to overwrite your empty one. You can further your knowledge of both these techniques and much more besides by talking to the Gorilla - don't worry, he only bites snoopers and marketing people.

More of the same...

No sooner have I finished telling you about the dynamic duo that is Gnucleus and Kazaa and the very promising, but strangely titled Gnutella the market is flooded with new contenders for the file sharing trophy. Not to worry though, by checking back here every so often you can ensure that you are always kept up to date of any new developments:

Audio Galaxy - A lightweight, unobtrusive music sharing client, which uses private (non-Napster) servers to route traffic. Supports auto-resuming and even has the ability to download music from users who aren't online... well sort of anyway. It'll make more sense when you try it :)

Blubster - Refer to my MP3 tutorial for an in-depth review/tutorial.

Direct Connect - As the name implies, Direct Connect allows you to access shared folders on the hard drives of other users in a peer to peer fashion without the need for a centrally indexed network. Incorporates public and private chatting and an integrated search feature. Currently basking in a surge of popularity amongst the warez community, but no use whatsoever unless you are prepared to give as well as receive - before granting access most hubs will you require you to share a pre-determined minimum amount of files... and we're talking in terms of gigabytes, not megabytes. Not one of the most user friendly file sharing clients available.

Carracho - What sets this one apart from the crowd is the fact that it is designed to be used exclusively with the Mac OS.

E-Donkey 2000 - One of the more impressive non-Gnutella clients. Doesn't rely on a centralised network, allows you to share any file type and also includes that all important resume function. A particularly good source of full movies and ISOs, but be warned, it is not recommended for newbies since to get anywhere with it, configuration tweaking is a necessity. I can't believe I managed to describe this one without cracking a single donkey joke!

Grokster - Plugs users into the FastTrack network to facilitate peer to peer transfers of many different file formats. Almost identical to Kazaa, so which one do you choose? Toss a coin maybe?

Morpheus - Re-branded, outdated version of Gnucleus with added marketing garbage. Stick with Gnucleus instead.

Soul Seek - No ads, no spyware, no clutter. A free music sharing client which boasts a GUI which is as simple to use as the grandpa of all peer to peer clients, Napster, once was. Looking beyond the obligatory functions, most noteworthy, it allows you to download whole folders full of MP3 files with a couple of clicks and supports 'wish lists' which simplify the process of performing repeat searches for your favourite music.

URL Blaze - Not your average file sharing client. In fact, it's not a file sharing client at all - what it shares are URLs to files. It monitors the locations of the files you download from web servers and subsequently makes these addresses available to other users who may be searching for the same files. More of a link harvesting gadget then.

Win MX - Allows you to simultaneously connect to many established networks based on the Napster protocol, but unlike Napster any file type can be downloaded. Supports download resuming and offers anonymous transfers.

For more reviews and links to file sharing clients check out Zero Paid

 
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