Beyond Napster - file sharing exposed

Always scan a file for viruses before opening it. While MP3s are generally safe, it is a good idea to get into the habit of checking all files.

If given a choice, pick files that you can preview when they are partially downloaded. MP3s and MPEGs are good choices. This can help you verify that the contents are of suitable quality before spending the time downloading the file.

When previewing an incomplete file, make a copy of the file and run the copy (not the original). Sometimes programs such Windows Media Player will not allow a file to be altered while it is in use. This can block the download or corrupt the file. Instead of manually copying files, look out for the preview features in some programs such as iMesh and Scour. They will make a copy of the file and this typically ends up in the c:/windows/temp folder.

Watch out for garbage. Unknown to many users, programs such as Napster will often copy incomplete files to a different folder. This can build up a lot of garbage on your hard drive and anyone snooping on your system may see what you have been downloading. Find this folder and regularly clean it out. As discussed above, check your c:/windows/temp for debris.

Properly close the programs. Most of the file sharing programs don't actually close when you click the close box in the top right corner; instead, they minimise to your system tray. If you have finished with the program, select Exit from the File menu or right-click on the icon in the system tray and select Exit or Close from the pop-up menu.

To help maintain privacy, you may want to consider changing your user ID on a regular basis - this can be achieved simply in most programs by uninstalling and reinstalling the program, or selecting "new user". Your new ID will no longer appear in other users' Hotlists and you will need to re-establish your identity with chosen chat partners.

If you are not sure how long an MP3 should be, sort search results by length. Remixes aside, your best option is the longest MP3. This will help guarantee a complete song.

While file sharing is about "sharing", there are times when you may want to leech (download but not share). This can be important if your connection is unstable or you are hopping across the Napster network using Napigator. In these cases, opt to share no folders. If this is not available, simply keep the shared and download folders clear of files.

While it is inadvisable to use your work connection to file share (see "File sharing issues"), don't overlook an obvious area - your work laptop at home. There are serious issues if you share the contents of a work PC to the entire world.

Be considerate - you are sharing resources with people like yourself. Don't hit a 33Kbps modem with 10 download requests.

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Scott Mendham

PC World
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