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Real Napster Alternatives

You don’t need Napster to keep the music playing

Music lovers, are you feeling besieged? You should. There are teams of supervillains working hard to prevent you from downloading and sharing your favorite music online. Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America (or RIAA, for short) effectively stifled Napster, using the courts to dismantle what had become one of the Web’s best MP3 searching tools. But while Napster will, in all likelihood, become a fee-based service, can downloaders hungry for free music find MP3s outside of the famous feline file-sharing application?

While it may be too late to save Napster, our man has collected five alternatives that will let you download and share music to your heart’s content. From Gnutella-based file-sharing applications to expert audio search tools, these downloads are considered to be the next best thing to Napster itself. And who knows: one of them could even be the next big thing.

This attractive application has definitely put the open-source Gnutella back on the map. Ever since Napster’s legal troubles began, music fans have been looking for a solid file-sharing tool that works like Napster but avoids legal issues, and BearShare delivers–sometimes. I was impressed by BearShare’s clean interface and comprehensive search capabilities, but fewer files, network congestion, and a preponderance of freeloaders (those who download without allowing uploads) are sure to annoy the casual MP3 fan. Nevertheless, BearShare is worth a look; it makes using the formerly arcane Gnutella almost as easy as Napster.
iMesh is an attractive file-sharing client that doesn’t rely on central servers to facilitate searching. However, music searches are slower as a result. On the positive side, iMesh’s no-nonsense interface and setup wizards had our caped crusader sharing songs in no time, and it also let him search for other users’ shared files directly from its Web site. If you’re looking for more than just MP3s online, iMesh is a great place to start.

Audiogalaxy Satellite
The actual interface for Audiogalaxy Satellite resides on its Web site, but once you download the client, you can manage your music uploads and downloads from any Net-connected PC. Like Napster, Audiogalaxy is limited to sharing music files (MP3s, to be exact), but it also lets you search by genre. Then, once you’ve selected a file, the program even recommends similar artists you might want to sample.
Yet another Gnutella-based download, this file-sharing application stands out in a number of ways. LimeWire will automatically connect you to the Gnutella network, so you’ll never need to search for active server IP addresses in order to share files. In addition, I really liked LimeWire’s spam filters and “antifreeload” features to help keep LimeWire fast, furious, and devoid of deadbeat downloaders.
Freenet may not be the most reliable alternative to Napster, but I can’t resist highlighting this well-intentioned file-sharing platform. An open-source project dedicated to the exchange of ideas in an anonymous environment, Freenet is supposedly safe from the prying eyes of Big Brother. Unfortunately, the project is still under development, and it is not user-friendly; for example, it doesn’t have a working search function at present. Nevertheless, it has the potential to be the RIAA’s worst nightmare.

Of course, Napster hasn’t vanished from the file-sharing scene just yet, and I won’t lie to you–it’s still the best MP3 searching tool out there. However, for those of us looking for free music online, Napster’s imminent demise is reason enough to try out some decent alternatives. So, mourn for Napster, but keep on sharing your music.

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