By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The wonk's peer-to-peer service of choice. Its interface is ugly but informative, with exact file sizes and bitrates, and it makes a point of being open to all sorts of media, not just music. (Read: porn and Simpsons episodes.) Tracks from forthcoming hip-hop albums reportedly tend to show up on WinMX first, for some reason. It mostly searches on its own network, although it also looks for files through OpenNap (an open-source variation on Napster). Kylie yielded 478 hits, Cybotron 4, and Carly 2.
Formerly part of a trio of portals to the Dutch Napster equivalent FastTrackthe other two were Grokster and MusicCity's very popular Morpheus. But Grokster is notoriously loaded with "spyware" that tracks what you do online, and Morpheus is now off FastTrack and flailing. KaZaA is specifically targeting former Morpheus users these days; it's a fairly nondescript stand-alone search engine, and although it offers filters for "adult or offensive files," copyright-related issues are on the honor system.
An attractive program for using the Gnutella network. Advantage: It's open source and fully distributed, so it can't be shut down. Disadvantage: It's painfully slowand the more people use it, the slower it gets. (Morpheus switching over to a Gnutella-based system probably won't help, either.) What's available through LimeWire fluctuates wildly; when we checked, it found 85 copies of "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and none of "Clear" or "I'm Gonna Blow Your Mind," but those results might've been completely different five minutes later. There's also an even pokier Mac version.
Not actually a peer-to-peer service at all, this is the official download site launched by AOL Time Warner, EMI, Bertelsmann, and Zomba late last year. Its program, RealOne Player/RealOne Music, is pretty to look at, but stupendously bloated. For 10 bucks a month, you get to stream 125 songs once, and download another 125in their proprietary format. Which means they stop working after a month, and if you want to hear them on your iPod, you're out of luck. Their music library is seriously limited, too (none of our test cases were available), although they've got all the Britney you'd ever want.
The other official major-label service: a collaboration between Sony and Universal, also featuring licensed tracks from EMI and a handful of indies. Users can have access to each other's playlists. Ten dollars a month gets you 300 streams and 30 downloads (in Windows Media files, so you can't transfer them); for more money, you can also burn a few files to CDs. No Kylie, although the search engine suggested both her former boyfriend's band INXS and Paula Abdul as alternatives; no Cybotron, but a bizarre suggestion of Herbie Hancock; and it drew a blank on poor Carly Hennessy. D.W.