Sharing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Having tried out and reviewed an internet music download subscription service -- that is to say, I've taken a look at the legitimate side of digital music delivery via the web -- I thought it might be interesting to try the other alternative: what the RIAA thinks of as the dark side of online music availability. Since Napster has left illegitimacy behind and is seeking to join the subscription services, I needed one of the file sharing services that has sprung up in its wake. Certainly, there are plenty to choose from ... I selected Morpheus, which gets high marks from most users, and for the sake of comparison, I also loaded LimeWire onto another computer.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I get the impression that Morpheus has lots of European users while LimeWire seems to be mainly an American phenomenon. Maybe it's the titles I search on ... downtempo sounds seem more widely available on Morpheus than on LimeWire.  As for performance, Morpheus is clearly faster, even tho' I've loaded it on the slower, older system (350mhz, W95b vs. LimeWire on a 1ghz, WinME system.)

In My Shared Folder, the default folder Morpheus creates on your hard drive to hold the downloaded files, you will find the MP3 files you have chosen to download as well as some .dat files which remain available until the complete file has been acquired.  Having that .dat file is evidently what permits Morpheus to "pick up where it left off" and complete a download. By contrast, LimeWire creates two Library folders on your hard drive -- Complete and Incomplete. If something breaks off unfinished, it's in the Incomplete folder ... OK, but how do you get that file to resume its download and finish up? I haven't figured this out yet (if, indeed, it is possible) and this is another reason LimeWire comes in second in my test.

One other thing that's still a mystery to me, with regard to Morpheus.  It happens occasionally that a file in My Shared Folder will be uploaded by another Morpheus user and the on-screen statistics will show that a greater number of kb are being uploaded than that mp3 file actually contains ... that's right, for a file that appears to be, let's say 6,718kb, the statistics may say that 8,250kb have been uploaded.  If you have any clue what that's about, by all means email me and share the knowledge.

So, Morpheus is fast, efficient and it has the titles and artists I'm looking for (more or less.) Will it replace buying CDs? No, for a couple of reasons:

1. Just because a file is labeled "Britney" doesn't mean you're downloading the latest from Britney Spears. Here's an example:  On my first time out with Morpheus, I searched on Sade. Lo and behold, there were two totally unknown tracks, which I immediately downloaded: I thought, now this is excellent! They must be white label versions or something equally obscure to the average CD-buying person. Ahhh, not so: The reason I'd never heard of these Sade tracks is because they were by somebody else -- in one instance, the singer was actually Tracy Thorn.

So right off the bat I experienced what I feel is a big negative of the file-sharing trend -- uncertain provenance (or, how can you tell what's what). I knew the singer on my first download wasn't really Sade because I know what Sade's voice sounds like. But suppose I'd been downloading something completely unfamiliar -- for instance, to check out a song that had been recommended by a friend. If I'd never heard the item before, how could I be sure that's what I was really listening to? This may not matter a great deal if for people who are downloading music just to have a bit of entertainment while they work or play on the computer, but it would make downloading as an alternative to buying totally pointless. (See below for more about this issue.)

2. Those cut-off songs. Every file-sharing application delivers incomplete material, because any given shared folder can close at any time its computer disconnects from the internet. Users like me, on dial-up connections, routinely get kicked off by our ISPs after four hours or so, leaving lots of uploaders in the lurch. As mentioned, Morpheus has a system for resuming downloads so that files can be completed, but it only works if one of the sources for that file comes back on line while you are online also. Also, plenty of Shared Folders have incomplete songs which are offered as tho' they were complete, continuing the cycle of chopped-off tunes. Again, if your only goal is to hear enough of something to decide about buying it, this may not be a problem -- but it wouldn't do as an alternative to buying a CD and getting each song complete.

I should note, though, that with a nifty little program like MixMeister, which I've been trying out lately, it would be possible to create yourself a perfectly credible mix using incomplete tracks. In fact, I've done this myself and the track list for my first effort is given below.

(Previously, I offered the opportunity to download this set and listen, asking that if you found that any of the songs are mis-labled, you would let me know -- for instance, the track "Silver Dawn" was attributed to LTJ Bukem on the file I downloaded from Morpheus; because I own the Earth, Vol. 2 CD, I know that the artist is actually Artemis.  However, that listening opportunity has passed -- sorry if you missed it.)

Arms of Morpheus (version 01.2.2)

01. Sorrow & liquid Groove: LTJ Bukem
02. Sapphire: Thunderball
03. Almost Sweet: Yonderboi (Supperclub presents)
04. Bossa per due: Nicola Conte
05. Fictions: Rollercone
06. Elevator: Jaffa
07. Barfly: Alex Cortiz
08. Street Scene: St Germain
09. Jazz music: De-Phazz
10. Full On Cheetah: Nicola Conte- Ursula 1000
11. Sinking Slowly: Yonderboi
12. Room 505: Alex Cortiz
13. Vibrations: Thunderball
14. Retro (Freaky Flow): EZ Rollers
15. Silver Dawn: Artemis
16. Pina Colada (Jazz Mix): Digby Jones