Is Free Music Download Software still as popular as with good old Napster?

How free music download software has evolved over the years since it's beginning

Free music download software is basically in all cases a file sharing system. You just share compressed music files as well as any other file.

To better understand that system and to give you an idea how it developed in time, I want to start with a brief overview of its past.

History of file sharing on the Internet

It all started with the most popular website of all times,

The success of this website is not hard to explain. You could very conveniently download almost any song under the sun for free.

You didn't have to pay for CDs and you didn't have to buy a whole album, when you were interested in only one song. It was just heaven on earth for people who love and collect music.

The song titles were stored on a gigantic, centralized database. As there was no way to store all the mp3 or other files itself on central servers, the songs itself were stored on people's computer. Anytime you started the Napster software, your own computer acted as server and the songs on your hard disk became available to other users of Napster.

This of course heavily collided with the ideas of wealthy music publishers and record companies that saw their milk cow vanish in the haze. An industry, that specialized more and more in sucking out artists instead of helping and managing them, had to face an insecure future. 

Their reaction to this situation was of course not to do a better job for the money, but to drag anybody and his cat to court.

The artists itself divided into two parts. Some fought Napster and others defended the idea of free music on the Internet.

When the court decided to shut the site down because of promoting copyright infringement, it was quite easy to execute because of it's centralized database.

After that you had about 100 million people sitting on their huge collections of music files, quite eager for another free music download software to share them. They were just waiting for another system to replace good old Napster.

And it didn't take long to arrive. Learning from past mistakes a new network developed, the "Gnutella" network.

Three crucial things are different between Gnutella and the old Napster.

  • No more central database. Instead an intelligent distributed query where each computer on the network tells what he has to offer.

  • You can choose of a variety of different client applications, that are able to access the Gnutella Network.

  • It's difficult to shut down because of it's decentralized nature.

One by one a variety of networks with different clients come up and today more people are sharing files, than to the best times of Napster.

Around 2002, there were seven major services left , that shared the pie of file sharing amongst each other: KaZaa, Morpheus and Grokster as FastTrack clients, LimeWire and BearShare for the Gnutella network and Madster (formerly Aimster) and WinMX used their own networks.

Morpheus became the most successful of these services. In it's best time it has been downloaded around 60 million times and used by around 9 million people. It was almost as popular as the old Napster.

But just in it's best times on 26. February, 2002, it suddenly quit working. There were rumors that KaZaa BV, the company that developed and still controlled the FastTrack network, shut it down somehow.

Morpheus answered quite quickly and developed a new client for the Gnutella network. As many users also changed to the Gnutella network it soon caught up with the competing FastTrack network.

Though FastTrack is technically the newer, better and faster network, it is not as decentralized as the older Gnutella network. That means that it could be more likely shutdown by some court decision. Therefore it was even harder to decide for a network.

Another serious alternative was WinMX. As the formerly hardest competition for Morpheus, it still worked very well, but not for a long time.

WinMX has been shut down on 20 September 2005 under legal pressure from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). Though the service continues to exist with some working software patches, it's future is very questionable.

Now what's left?

Here's a short selection of the survivors. Though the future might look not so bright after the US supreme court ruled against file swapping it is still working today.

  1. Lime Wire/Gnutella client (Mac/PC/Unix...)
    A slick Java program with a multitude of functions. It's faster than Kazaa, has no Spyware(???hopefully)/Adware, supports swarm downloads, iTunes integration, etc...

  2. Kazaa Lite/Fasttrack Client (Mac/PC)
    Kazaa is still one of the most popular programs concerning mp3 files. It contains no spy- or adware. Unlimited searches, better multi-source downloading, constantly the highest participation level, a custom startup page, improved performance and much more. 

  3. Morpheus/Multi Client (PC)
    Adware, that means you have to watch ads while downloading (actually you don't have to...look elsewhere), but you can share files in Gnutella, eDonkey, Bit Torrent, G2 und Neonet. You have an internal media player and it's very fast.

  4. Bearshare/Gnutella client (PC)
    Besides LimeWire one of the most innovative Gnutella clients. Available in a Pro, Lite and sponsored version. Not as pretty as the above but less resource heavy and very stable client.

  5. Bit Comet/BitTorrent Client (PC)
    BitComet is a fast, clean and easy-to-use BitTorrent client with absolutely no spyware/adware. You can preview while downloading and it's easy to use


Though Apple's iTunes has made the paid download of music from the internet more popular, the vast majority of files are still traded via free peer-to-peer networks. Free music download software just got better and has a pretty high standard today.

But it's mainly built for downloading the files. For playing, organizing and transferring them to external devices you still need other software in most cases.