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Expanding Your Mac's Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Options

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Because Mac users are largely overlooked when it comes to getting new products from software producers, most of them (happily) missed the Napster fallout. Plenty of safer (and legal) options are now available for Mac peer-to-peer sharing; Anne Zieger covers the possibilities you should be considering.
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When the peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing revolution first hit the scene, Macintosh software was something of an afterthought. When Mac technology existed, it was often created as a backhanded, less-functional port of a PC product.

Today, with P2P software playing a much larger role in personal computing generally—and expanding beyond the boundaries of file sharing—the development community has responded. Over the past year or two, Macintosh clients have grown more robust, and the list of pure-Mac software (originating for OS X rather than ported) has grown longer. Few of the Mac clients have the kind of big-bucks support given the leading PC clients—in fact, many are small open-source projects—but at least the clients are rolling out.

Not only have Mac versions emerged for popular file-sharing clients such as LimeWire, but for other types of applications such as IP telephony client Skype. A growing list of Mac-native applications have even been released for other key functions, such as instant messaging, including Apple's own iChat AV.

Why should it even matter whether your latest download uses P2P communications? In some cases, of course, P2P is the predominant protocol on the network you want to access (such as Gnutella). In others, such as instant messaging, P2P communications can speed up processes that might be deadly slow when an intervening server is involved. And P2P meshes of host computers can sometimes dramatically speed up large downloads.

Ready to look around at the Mac P2P universe? Here's an overview of what's hot in some of the key areas of Mac P2P software.

Popular File-Sharing Options

Mac users still don't have access to absolutely everything that PC users do. In fact, Mac users have been passed over completely by developers of some of the most mature and widely used file-sharing clients. For example, while PC users have downloaded the Kazaa Media Desktop file-sharing program nearly 390 million times, this software still isn't available for Mac users. Nor is a Mac version available for Morpheus, another highly popular file-sharing client with more than 130 million downloads to date.

However, a wide variety of file-sharing clients are available for Mac, running on each of the major file-sharing networks. Among the most frequently used is LimeWire, which runs on Gnutella. LimeWire's creators have gone out of the way to make the product cross-platform (for PC, Mac, and Linux), and to address the sensibilities of each community. They've also promised never to bundle any sort of spyware into their product.

If you're tired of using clients that were designed for the PC world, give Xfactor a try. While your system must be up to date to use the latest version (written for OS X 10.3), Xfactor offers many features that should please Mac users, including P2P file sharing, an iTunes-like interface, an internal theater for previewing movies, iTunes and Finder integration, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

Other popular clients for Mac:

  • The popular Poisoned's open source, up-to-the-moment Mac client requires OS X 10.2 or better.
  • MLdonkey is an Overnet/eDonkey network client.
  • For fun, use MLdonkey with mlMac, a graphical user interface for the MLdonkey client.
  • XNap is a free open-source client for the OpenNap network.
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