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Master Napster: the
netwebly guide to Napster

Posted by netwebly | 1.24.2001

Although Napster is simple enough to use that you could probably get the hang of the program by downloading the Napster client and clicking around for a few minutes, there are a few things you should know before you get started. Educate yourself a little bit, and you'll probably save yourself a lot of time and have a lot more fun.

It shouldn't take long before you figure out that this tutorial is unlike many of the others you'll find living around the Net. For one thing, it's huge, closing in on sixty pages, making it much closer to an online book than your average garden variety tutorial.

On these pages you'll learn the basics: how to install Napster and what to do as you fiddle around with the program for the first time.

You'll also find information on more advanced topics that will show you how to use Napster more wisely and more effectively.There's a lot here, probably much more than you could possibly digest in a single sitting, even if you have a huge appetite for stuff like this. My advice: explore! Take a look around until you find a topic that interests you and read until you've had your fill. Then come back later and explore some more. This is the second draft of this sucker. Number three will hopefully be even better. - netwebly

File Sharing: the basics
The idea behind file sharing is a simple one. When you use a file sharing program like Napster on the Net, you are granting other people limited access to your computer in return for limited access to their computers. Together, all of the people who are using Napster make up a new kind of network, a community of users spread around the globe, all of whom are willing to share the files on their computers in exchange for the right to download from others.

In the case of Napster, the vast number of files available for download represent an almost unimaginable variety of music in the MP3 format, the clever little invention that allows music to be stored digitally, piped across the Net and played using your computer.

While it is true that when Napster first started getting popular, the selection of files available for download was limited to mostly mainstream pop and college rock, that has changed dramatically as more people, including a growing number of serious music fans, have discovered the program. These days you'll find almost anything you could imagine on Napster, including interviews with artists, spoken word performances, rare concert recordings, previously unreleased studio cuts, and of course, an almost overwhelming number of new bands eager to use Napster's popularity to promote their music.

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The File Sharing Problem
There are a good number of people who will tell you that Napster and programs like it are illegal, that using Napster is wrong and that if you do use the software, you're asking for serious trouble. While it is true that Napster can be used to download copyrighted material, it is easy to forget that the program also has many legitimate uses that are perfectly legal. Millions of the files trading hands on Napster are completely legal by any standard.


Remember: People said many of the same things about the Net when it first started getting popular. Napster (and other file sharing programs like it) is one of the first experiments with a new medium, a medium that is just as revolutionary in its own way as other great inventions in history, inventions like radio, television and even the Net itself. That such a new medium should generate controversy is hardly surprising.

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Responsible Usage
It is perfectly possible to use Napster responsibly. Unfortunately, knowing what you should download and what you shouldn't can get tricky pretty quickly. Unless you want to take a crash course in copyright law - which as somebody who has done a little research on the topic recently, I can assure you, you don't - you'll have to make a few simple decisions about what you are willing to download and what you aren't.

You'll also need to think about what you're going to do with your MP3 files after you download them. Are you going to keep them sitting on your hard drive forever? Or are you going to listen to them a few times and then delete them?

Many people use Napster to sample music, in the same way they'd listen to a CD at a record store to decide if they want buy it. They download a couple of tracks, have a listen, and if they like them, they buy the CD. If not, they delete the song.


It's hard to argue that anybody is being hurt in these cases. The artist gets the same sort of exposure they'd get if the song was played on the radio or on television. The Napster user gets to discover new music.

Of course, there are other people who act very differently. These people download all the music they want using Napster, listen to it as much as they want, burn their own cds and don't feel guilty about any of it for a second.

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A Note on Security
For the time being, the consensus is that you're fairly safe using Napster, as long as you take a few common sense precautions. The good news is that it is unlikely you'll contract a computer virus while you're using the program.
As it stands, most experts agree MP3 files are incapable of carrying viruses. That may change - but for now, there are no documented cases of any such incidents having occurred.

The bad news is that there are other problems you're going to have worry about. If you use a Napster clone, or a similar file sharing application like Gnutella to download software, you're putting yourself at serious risk of contracting the kind of virus that could wipe out your hard drive in minutes. Before you download anything using one of these programs, make sure your antivirus software is current, up to date and above all else, working.

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Hackers, Crackers and Codepackers
If you use Napster with a high speed cable or DSL connection you are also going to have deal with the Hacker problem. This is a particularly serious issue for people with cable connections to the Net. Cable connections have been popular targets for Hackers ever since they first become available, because most Hackers know that if they can gain control of one there is almost no end to the fun they can have.

Many people assume that the vast size of the Net makes them invisible. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Most Hackers use automated programs which aren't much harder to use than a program like Microsoft Word. These tools scan thousands of IP addresses at a time, collecting Internet addresses that are easy targets, identifying computers which are vulnerable for one reason or another.

Few of the people engaged in these actvities care who you are or what you are doing online - or even what you have on your computer. Many are driven only by curiosity and a desire to explore. Sadly, a good number are of a more destructive mindset. As is so often the case in society in general, violence on the Net is mostly random: it is impersonal, it is evil, and it can easily make your life miserable.


To play it safe, you should make a point of installing some form of protection to make sure your connection is secure. I use BlackIce Defender from Network Ice, an inexpensive program the manufacturer describes as a personal firewall. You can download a free demo on the Net. The are other such programs on the market, of course, that's just the one I happen to use.

With a program like Defender set up as a watchdog, you will realize how serious this problem is becoming. These days it is not at all uncommon for cable connections to be probed dozens, if not hundreds of times a week by Hackers looking for easy pickings. When this happens your firewall software should block the intruder and alert you to what is going on.

Few cable or DSL providers warn customers about these risks, a policy which in my opinion is inexcusable. Because they have no legal requirement to do so, very few feel obliged to mention the problem at all. Doing so would undoubtedly be bad for business.

Protect your computer

Antivirus software

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So much for introductions. You now know pretty much what I know about Napster, in terms of general background. This should be more than enough to get you started. Let's get on with it.

Download your copy of Napster
Downloading and installing the Napster client is a straightforward process. If you haven't downloaded Napster yet you can do so at:

To download the newly released Napster for the Mac go to

Due to the heavy traffic the site often attracts, there will be times when it may take longer than you'd like to download the program from CNet's is an excellent alternative.

If you would like to download an older, archived version of Napster instead of the company's current release you can try

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etting Started
To get started, click on the link that says download now. You don't have very many options at this point, so this should be straightforward.
Happily, the Napster client is a relatively compact download. As a matter of fact, at 1.5 Megs, Napster itself is smaller than most of the MP3 files you'll be transferring, so this part shouldn't take too long.

If you are using a slow connection you may want to get your download started and read through this tutorial as you wait. By the time Napster has finished downloading you'll be ready for almost anything. Hopefully...

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When you first use Napster the program will ask you a couple of questions. Take a second to contemplate your answers. You will be able to make changes later on but life will be so much easier if you make the right decisions now.


User Name
First, you'll be asked to enter your user name. This is the handle you will be known by in the napster community. The name can be anything you like. Make it anything you want: Silly. Stupid. Political. Nonpolitical. Annoying. You'll find all of the above in quantity on Napster as well as some more extreme choices. Get forty million people together, turn up the music, and well - you know the story...

Although Napster won't encourage you to do so, this name can be changed. The info you'll need to do this is out there. You can use a search engine like Google to find it.

Choose Line Speed
Here you'll be prompted to select the line speed of your connection from a drop down menu, enabling Napster to transfer files at something resembling peak efficiency.

Connection types
In addition to network traffic conditions and file sizes, two important factors will determine the speed at which you are able to download files using Napster: the speed of your connection and the speed of the person you're downloading files from.

14,4k/23,6k Modem
The lowest of the low. Contrary to what you may have heard, slower modems are still the norm on the Net. This is changing: largely because people want to be able to use bandwidth intensive programs like Napster. You'll find less of these than you used to on Napster for the simple reason that even under the best of conditions, downloading a single MP3 can take a long time. If you have one of these, it may be a good idea to run your downloads at night.

56,6k Modem
Not as fast as you might like, but still good news in some cases. If you have a fast connection and you're going after a limited number of smaller-sized files, you'll probably be just fine. Otherwise, its upgrade time. Again: you'll probably do better at off-peak hours.

Depending on network traffic, these connections can move files quickly or be as slow as dial-up. Check your ping rate. Bear in mind that network traffic almost always fluctuates, slowing down and speeding up from minute to minute as network conditions change. This is especially true on university networks with heavy Napster traffic.

To stay on top of things, keep an eye on the numbers in your transfer window. If a transfer slows to an unacceptable speed you may want to consider aborting your download and finding another copy of the file.

T1/T3 - The holy grail of connections. Find one of these and you're probably set. Transfer will be almost instantaneous - especially if you have a healthy connection as well. Many experienced users add these to their hotlists when they come across them in their searches.

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Tip Time
Although Napster provides information on other user's connection speeds, this information is not always accurate, probably because of a bug in the program. In some cases, people have been known to register connection speeds that are either much slower or much faster than what they really have. Unfortunately, for the time being, Napster can't tell the difference.

For some this is a macho thing (go figure), for reasons known only to themselves, some people with really slow modems to like to pretend that they have cable connections or faster. If a download is running much slower than it should, this could be what's going on.

On the flip side of the coin, some people with fast connections try to discourage others from downloading from them by registering their modems at sluggish speeds. Most do this because they are worried about using up too much bandwidth - either because they have to pay for it or because they don't want to put a strain on network resources. Given how many people there out there for you download from, you may as well just give these people the space they want.

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Choosing Your Shared Files Folder

This is the folder on your hard drive where your MP3 files will live. If you don't have any MP3s just yet, don't panic. You will soon.

You can store your files in any folder you like. Bear in mind that other Napster users will be visiting to take a look at what you have stored here. Although in theory, you could share your whole MyDocuments folder, it probably isn't a very good idea. As long as you stick to Napster you will only be able to share and download MP3 and Window media files. Other file sharing programs will let you share almost any kind of file. But for the time being at least, Napster is for music only.

The easiest thing to do is probably to go ahead and let Napster make a new directory for you by default. In later versions of Napster, the default directory will be named MyFiles. If you would like to share files from more than one folder you can do so later on by selecting the folders you would like to share in Napster's preferences.

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Connection Problems
Napster should connect to a server automatically as soon as the program launches. If it refuses to, you have a problem. The problem may have to do with your Net connection or it may be something on Napster's end. Something may also have gone wrong when you downloaded the program. Try connecting again. If that doesn't work, you may need to use a program like Napigator to help you connect to Napster, or to connect to OpenNap if Napster is down.

  • It's probably a good idea to give Napigator a try out anyway. You'll be able to choose the server you connect to and have access to revealing information about both the number of people online and the number of files being shared.

If you're trying to connect from work or school and you run into problems, it's very possible that the powers that be have decided to restrict your access. A quick email to the people who run your network or a trip to your school or company's web site should let you find out pretty quickly if this is the case.

The problem might also have to do with the security protecting your computer. Firewalls can cause particularly obstinate problems.
Even if your network administrators have decided to ban Napster, however, there are ways to get into the action. You may want to use a web based utility like iNapnow as a temporary solution.

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Learning your way around
Once you've downloaded and installed the program, the first thing you'll need to do is familiarize yourself with Napster's interface.

The Search Window
For most people the most important, this is the interface that will allow you to comb the hard drives of hundreds of thousands of complete strangers in your quest for new and better music.

The way this works is simple. Let's say you're looking for a track by "The Beagles."

To find MP3 files you can download, type "Beagles" into the Artist field and hit return. Napster will return a list of Beagles songs being shared by other users. You can download any one of these by right clicking on the title and selecting download from the drop down menu that appears.

The entire search process should only take a couple of seconds, although search times will vary depending on the speed of your connection. This is one major advantage Napster has over competitors like Gnutella and FreeNet. Because Napster has so many users, your chances of finding what you're looking for quickly are much better.

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Fine Tuning Your Searches
Once you have the basics down, you'll be able to fine tune your searches by trying different combinations in the Artist and Title fields.

A few minutes of trial and error will usually yield good results. Bear in mind that your results will vary depending on how many people are connected to Napster's servers at any one time. The basic idea: the more people online, the better your chances. To keep track of this, look to see how many files are available for share and how many people are connected to Napster.

  • To help refine your search, you can try entering any descriptive terms you can think of that might be used to describe the material you are looking for. Many people include details about a recording such as the genre, the era, any special guests who might have appeared on a track and so on in addition to the title.

  • For example, if you're a big Jazz fan, and you're not sure what you're looking for (unlikely but possible) try leaving the artist field blank and entering Jazz in the title field. Napster should return a list of files that include Jazz in their file or folder names. A more specific term like Bebop, Swing will probably also produce good results. Obviously, this works for just about anything - not just Jazz. Searches for hip hop, psychedelic rock or another specific genre will probably produce equally rewarding results.

  • If you're looking for live music, it can be a good idea to enter the date you think the performance might have occurred, or the name of a venue. In other words, if you're looking for a bootleg of the Greatful Dead playing at Giants Stadium in the spring of 1991 you could try typing in "Dead Giants Stadium" and "1991". The same thing will probably work if you type in U2 and Buenos Aires 85'. The only way to find out is to try.

  • Bear in mind that you don't need to type in every word in a song title, doing so may actually make your search less effective, as it may increase the chances you'll get unrelated and undesired results. Omit unnecessary words. For example: A search for "Sitting in the Garden Just Talking to My Cat" probably contains too many words.
    Try cutting your search down to: "Sitting Garden Cat" and you'll do better.

The Bad News
It won't be long before you figure out that Napster has a number of glaring weaknesses when it comes to running searches. Unlike most search engines, Napster does not allow you to fine tune your searches by excluding terms. The company has experimented with this feature, so far with little success. This is hardly a fatal flaw but it will sometimes make finding the stuff you want a little harder. The trick is mastering the art, and it is an art, of finding the stuff you want on Napster.

Other file sharing programs - like Gnutella - allow you to do considerably more fine tuning. Unfortunately, as a whole, these applications have other weaknesses which make them considerably less effective than Napster for the time being.

Expect Napster Inc. to improve on this feature - and many others - in the not so distant future. For now, you'll have to be patient. Speaking of which...

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If At First You Don't Succeed
If all of your attempts to find a particular song fail it is always a good idea to try again later. Remember: your search is only returning results based on what is available at that moment. If you don't find what you are looking for, run the same search again. You may well be surprised at how radically different your results are.

Also, bear in mind that most people don't connect to Napster every day. With 40 million users signed up for the service as of December, chances are good you'll find what you're looking for if you are persistent and try connecting regularly at different times of day and on different days of the week. As a rule of thumb, the number of files available is much higher after business hours are over and on weekends. The size of the available file pool also increases dramatically at times when Napster is in the news.

People all over the world use Napster. Obviously, many of these people operate in different time zones than you do. If you're looking for mainstream US pop and you live in North America, the time of day won't matter quite as much, but if you're looking for something more eclectic - something from Japan, from Europe or from the Middle East for example, you'll want to take this factor into account.

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Advanced features
Once you've got the hang of the program's basic search features, you'll probably want to fool around with some of Napster's advanced search functions. If you want to limit your searches to only faster downloads, you can try doing a search restricting your results to only faster connections. This is a very good idea, as you will soon discover. Limit your searches to only T1 connections, for example, and your results should include only files shared by users with these superfast connections. It won't be long before you figure out that this particular feature is imperfect at best. Still, the odds are that if you filter your searches in this way, you'll end up saving yourself a lot of time.

You also may want to experiment with limiting your searches to only files of the best possible bitrate. Generally speaking this will return files of better sound quality and weed out the annoying tracks which you don't want cluttering up your hard drive.

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Managing Your Downloads
The panel on the top is in the transfer window the download status area. Here you'll be able to monitor the progress of any downloads you have in progress. By looking at the appropriate field you'll be able to see at a glance how well (or how badly) things are going. You can track how quickly a file is being transferred (look at the rate field) as well as watch the progress of each download (look at the status bar) to see how close a download is to finishing.

Remember that while you can schedule as many downloads as you want at one time, only three can run at the same time. You can switch the order in which files download by clicking on prioritize.

Another very cool feature to keep in mind: you don't have to wait for a song to finish downloading before you start listening to it. Napster's built-in MP3 player allows you to preview a track at any time. Take advantage of this feature and you'll save yourself untold amounts of frustration. If you have questions about the authenticity or the quality of a file, check it out instead of sitting through the whole download.

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If a download appears to be taking much longer than it should, take a look at the transfer rate listed next to the download in the transfer window. Normally, this rate will fluctuate, speeds will rise and fall as network conditions change.

If your download has slowed to an unacceptable speed, right click on the transfer and select User Information from the drop down menu that appears.

This should tell you what's going on at the other person's end. You'll be able to see how many people are using the connection to download files as well as how many downloads that user is running themselves. Remember, every transfer consumes resources - crowded connections will probably slow you down. You may want to make a habit of checking things out on the other end, before you run your downloads. Unfortunately, many Napster users report that this information is often inaccurate. Hopefully, the company will solve this problem sooner rather than later.

If your transfer speed doesn't pick up again, you should probably abort the transfer and find somebody else to download the file from. As a rule, if you are using a slow connection you should probably run your transfers one at time. You don't have the bandwidth to download a bunch at once.

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Watch Your Transfers, Kid
You can monitor and control the files other users are taking in the upload pane of the transfer window. If you don't want somebody downloading a particular file you can give them the boot. If you feel like it you can even sit and watch the progress of your visitors' transfers all day long. I'm not sure why you would want to - but you could if you wanted to. Maybe it would be fun.

 Exhibit A - I wonder what the chances are that this would happen in real life?

Get Social
This is one place where using Napster can become a social thing, if you feel like socializing, of course, that is. How so?

Lets say you've just started up a Napster session, found a song you want to download and started the process. As you watch the file downloading in the transfer window you notice something kind of neat happen: A stranger has connected to you and is downloading a file. A lot of people report feeling a little freaked when this happens the first time. After all, a complete stranger has just strolled onto your hard drive and is in there somewhere, rummaging about and looking at things.

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Hmmm....this person likes my music collection
When you think about it chances are pretty good that this person likes the same kind of music you do. After all they do seem to like what you have in your library. They may well even be clued in to stuff you don't know about.

Say "Hello"
At this point you can do one of two things. If you happen to be feeling incredibly friendly you can say hi.
Just send an instant message addressed to the user name of the person who is downloading the file. Maybe they'll message back. Maybe they won't. Maybe you'll make a special new Napster friend.

Or alternatively, you can do what most people do: bop over to that person's hard drive and see what they have in their library. Yes, it's true that occasionally you will be horrified by what you find and turn around and flee. Twenty-six separate versions of one bad song? It happens. We've seen it. But it is also true that you may find songs and artists you never would have found otherwise. If you find yourself interested in more than a few songs in your new acquaintance's library add them to your hotlist.

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Mislabeled Files
It won't be long after you start using Napster that you first encounter this phenomenon. The fact is, many of the people you'll be trading files with know less about music than you do. It is not unusual at all to find a file that contains a song other than the one you'd been expecting.

While this can be disconcerting - especially if you've waited patiently for an hour and a half for a file to download over your roommates hand-me down laptop, it doesn't have to be that big of a problem. Your route around problems like this should be obvious. Take advantage of Napster's ability to preview MP3's as they download.

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Misspelled Song Titles
Misspelled song titles and band names are also very common - an inevitability when you're dealing with 35 million people, some of whom can't spell their own names, let alone a big complicated set of words like Pearl Jam. If you're having trouble finding a tune, you may have better luck running a search using an alternate spelling. Try omitting key letters and inserting funky variants like "ph" and "4" in song titles.

If you're one of those people who has a spelling problem - do everybody else a favor and double check artist names and song titles before you make them available. In addition to providing a wonderful public service for the rest of the Napster community you'll be learning to spell at the same time.

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Song Fragments
Another common problem. Few things are as aggravating as waiting patiently while a file downloads and then finding out that the thing cuts off about a minute before the song is supposed to end. This is particularly annoying of course, if you've spent a long time hunting the file down. There are a number of causes for this as far as I can figure. Interrupted transfers probably account for the majority of these. Many people hold onto them under the theory, I guess, that part of a song you really want is a lot better than no song at all.

Unfortunately once these get into circulation they take on a life of their own. People keep downloading and sharing the things with the unfortunate result that they keep on spreading from hard drive to hard drive until they're everywhere. Do us all a favor: Delete or quarantine the little suckers so they don't keep showing up where they're not wanted.

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The Napster Bomb
It's no secret that many people - especially musicians - are philosophically opposed to Napster - especially to the idea of people taking music they have not paid for. You shouldn't laugh at this - as many people do. It's only fair that musicians should be compensated for their work. More on that later....

Some opponents - like StopNapster and the Cuckoo Egg people - are angry enough about what's going on in the Napster community that they are resorting to a kind of low key guerilla warfare to try to slow down file sharing. The basic idea is simple. Create a bogus MP3 containing nonsense or an anti-Napster message and spread it as far and wide as you possibly can. People who download your little napster bomb will be irritated and hopefully (from the point of view of the napster bomber) think twice about using napster to download copyrighted material. These cause no damage. They will only irritate you.

It's worth noting that some people who have opposed Napster in the past have since reversed their positions. Evolution Control, the group some credit with coming up with the Napster bomb idea, have since flip-flopped for reasons you may find revealing.

There have also been rumors - founded or unfounded I can't say - of at least one group of more radically-minded musicians which is attempting to create a version of the napster bomb which actually carries a destructive payload. Luckily the idea - to use a malicious virus to attack illegal MP3 files on Napster - is close to technically impossible.

Obviously, such a plan would affect anybody with MP3 files - both legal and illegal. It would be a terrible blow to digital music and to the Net as a whole if the idea ever became a reality.

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Mo' Better Searches - A Case Study
Those are the basics. But how about a more concrete example?

Lets say you're looking for a tune by Stinky Posse V, a Southern California Ska band from a suburb of Los Angeles. To stay on the safe side, I'm making up a group to use as an example. Of course, if you ever find anything by Stinky Posse Five on Napster or anywhere else for that matter. Let me know. I'd like to meet them...

The problem is this: you can't remember the name of the Stinky Posse song you want. It might start with an F. Or a G. Or it might not. You're just not certain. It's on the tip of your tongue, but you just can't place it.

That's o.k. because Napster is going to make finding your song easy. Type Stinky Posse V in the search window in the Artist Field and hit enter. Wait a couple of seconds for the search to run.

figure 1.1 finding stuff

And there we go. Who would have thought we'd find so many songs by such an obscure band? Lets see: what do we have here? There it is, right at the top of the list, the exact song we were looking for. "Glad Bag" by Stinky Posse V. What a great name for a song!

figure 1.2 stuff has been found

search results

And what have we here?
But wait. There's more. Lots more. As will often be the case when you go looking for something specific on Napster, your search has turned up unexpected results, some of which you'll be interested in, and some of which you'll probably want to ignore.

Take a closer look: We've got a couple of dozen versions of a song called Stinky Posse Anthem, which sounds like it might be a good song. If you're curious (which chances are you are), you can download it. If it turns out that you don't like the song, you can delete it. No harm done. Remember all that talk about how great Napster is for discovering new music? Now you know what people are talking about.

We also have something called Stinky Posse Special, as well as an MP3 that claims to be Stinky Posse live with Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Courtney Love. And wow, what do you know? We seem to have found the Stinky Posse cover of an old Beatles song we like a lot: (You say you want a) Revolution. Because we're frankly curious to know what a ska version of a Lennon-McCartney classic sounds like we'll have to download that one later.

The good news: the incredible number of bootlegs and covers to be found on Napster, is one of the things that makes the program so popular with people who are serious about music. The fact is, using Napster, you'll be able to find stuff you'd never find otherwise. Stuff you would have literally had to have traveled thousands of miles to find.

The particularly nice thing: many of these tracks are live recordings of performances which are perfectly legal for you to download, assuming of course that the artist in question lets fans trade.

Returning to our case study: We also seem to have stuff that might or might not be related to what we're looking for. We have a song by somebody called Stinky Posie, who could be a working class English art rock band from Brighton, or who could be a typo.

We also have entries for Stinky Pose, Stinky Pos and Stinky P as well as one for a band called Skanky Poo - none of whom we've ever heard of. Having never heard of any of these bands, we may want to do some investigatin' if the mood takes us. If you're like most people, you'll discover a lot of new music this way.

These examples may seem ludicrous (they are), but they are also very representative of the sort of thing that will happen when you start poking around on Napster. There's a very real reason people are so high on exploring the world of music world using the program. That's because the experience of using Napster is so different from what we all grew with. Using Napster is a much freer, less controlled experience than the experience of listening to the radio, or watching MTV or even browsing the aisles at a record store.

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I Can't Find It
One problem nearly everybody runs into when they first start using Napster: a search by artist turns up hundreds of references to the same song. The problem is you're not interested in this MP3 anymore - you've already found it. You want to see what else is out there by the same artist. Many people mistakenly assume that this means the song they are looking for isn't out there. It probably is. The question is: how are you going to find it?

Mo' better. Absolutely.
The thing to do now is to get more specific. Back to good old Stinky Posse, the legendary Southern California band I invented about ten minutes ago for the purposes of this tutorial. As you may recall Stinky Posse have a number of popular songs on Napster including : Glad Bag and Stinky Posse Anthem. So how can we find more music by our new favorite band, Stinky Posse?

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Mo' better info.
Clearly we need more information. To be specific: unless we want to run blind searches, we need more song titles so we know what to look for. For an instant this appears to pose one of those perplexing challenges mankind (or personkind if you want to be seriously hip about it) has struggled with for centuries: We need the names of more Stinky Posse songs. How can we find them?

What are we going to do? Walk to a record store in the middle of the night and write down all of the song titles off the back of every Stinky Posse CD we can find and then slink back home and download them all? Don't laugh, some people do exactly that. But perhaps there is a better way.

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You forgot you're on the Net, didn't you?
Actually, there are so many different ways to go about finding more information on Stinky Posse that you could probably choke to death on it all before you were done. And if you're not careful you just might....

After all, if you are reading this, it's a pretty safe bet that you're on the Net: the meanest, leanest, largest, fastest, and generally slickest collection of information ever assembled in the course of human history. There's plenty of stuff on Stinky Posse out there. The challenge is finding what you want.

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Search Engines are your friend, Kid
When it comes to finding a needle in a haystack, search engines aren't much help. But on the other hand, if you have some idea what you're looking for they can be amazingly effective. My current favorite is Google. People are talking about another new search engine called Infrasearch, being developed by some of the people involved with Gnutella. Apparently, Infrasearch will able to do a lot of really cool things, possibly making it a lot easier to search for current and up to date information. But since Infrasearch is still in development, we'll have to stick with Google for the time being.

Type Stinky Posse into Google's search field and see what happens. Statistically speaking, the odds are quite high that you will now be buried alive in links to Stinky Posse. And if past experience is any gauge, you'll probably find a ton of stuff you might not have thought to look for otherwise. The rundown:

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The Official Stinky Posse Web Site

If the search engine is a good one (like Google), you'll find the official Stinky Posse web site on the first page of listings. Here you'll be able to read about the band and check out their tour dates . Check those guys out! They all have spiky blonde hair.
They really are from Southern California!

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Stinky Posse Fan Sites: A mixed blessing
Stinky Posse probably have plenty of fan sites constructed in their honor. These can be fun to look at for a few minutes. You'll probably find snapshots of Stinky Posse band members in various poses and positions. The text of old interviews with band members. Concert dates. Song lyrics. And yes indeed, exactly what you were looking for in the first place: the names of more stinky posse songs you can download to flesh out your collection. By the time you're done you will be a certified Stinky Posse expert. Almost an unofficial member of the band....

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Yeah, but that takes way too long...
On the other hand, if you're like most people, you may not care to to become an expert on Stinky Posse - not just yet anyway. What you need is a method of finding information about Stinky Posse that is quick, simple and does not force you to use your brain for longer than fifteen milliseconds at a time. Obviously, the answer is E-Commerce.

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Lots of People sell music Online
At this point there are hundreds of places online where you can buy music, ranging from giant Mall of the Americaesque sites like to online retailers like emusic and CDNow to small specialized independent record stores that sell music who like a specific genre - like Stinky Posse ska.

Generally people go to these sites to buy stuff. But increasingly, people are visiting for just the reason you are: to do a little research. You'll find just about all of the information you could ever want about Stinky Posse or almost any other band on these sites, including professional (sometimes) reviews, fan feedback, CD covers and liner notes.

Of course, the people who run these sites know why you're there and they are deeply bummed about it. After all, they'd been hoping to make a lot of money on the e-commerce thing and most of them are a little sad that people are downloading music for free rather than paying them for it. There's not much they can do about it, however, except offer to sell you CDs.

Why not buy one while you're at it? This may very well help you cope with the feelings of guilt you will be experiencing shortly. Assuming you have the ability to take notes, you will come away with everything you need: including the titles of Stinky Posse's CDs, the names of the songs on those CDs. You'll may well walk away with a bonus prize: a long list of other bands that dress, talk and sound exactly like Stinky Posse.

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Browsing Napster
Most people new to Napster make the mistake of assuming that Napster's search function is the best way to find music. This is far from true. Sure, it's a lot of fun just sitting at your computer and typing in the names of different songs and different bands and seeing what happens, but there will probably come a time when all that thinking and all that typing starts feeling a little too much like work.

The thing to do is to free yourself from all those endless pages of search results filled with stuff you don't want and stuff you don't need. To do this you're going to have to use a new approach - one that experienced Napster users use much of the time.

Think along these lines. Napster is a network. Sure it's a distributed network - but it's a network nonetheless, the distributed thing is just a detail. Hence Napster can be surfed - just like the web. It can be explored. And it can be conquered. All we need is a board. Or more accurately, something that works sorta like a board.

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Meet your surfboard: The hotlist
That something is your hotlist - the deceptively named feature that allows you to both keep track of the people you find on Napster and explore their music collections.

Used correctly, the hotlist will give you a head start when it comes time to go out and start searching for new music. Many Napster users build up pretty sizable lists of names for their hotlists. Some even have hundreds of users hotlisted. The reason they do this? So they can surf instead of spending hour after hour searching.

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Catch a Wave and You're sittin' On Top of the World.
How does this work? It's easy. Start by coming up with a brief list of songs you like. Whatever your musical tastes are, chances are good you'll be able to find at least a couple of them using the search function. When you find a song you like, add the user to your hotlist by right clicking and selecting hotlist from the drop down menu that appears. Add people to your hotlist until you have populated a nice fat little list.

Now, start browsing. You'll notice a couple of things right away: The average Napster user is sharing a lot of files, in some cases well near a thousand. Using the hotlist function, you'll be able to browse through all of them - exploring and downloading and downloading and exploring to your heart's content.

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The inevitable conclusion...
Spend an hour surfing and you will quickly come to an inevitable conclusion, a conclusion that has a couple of distinct corollaries: There is more music on Napster than you ever would have thought possible. Music you don't hear on the radio. Music you don't find in the cd store. In short, music you never would have known about if it wasn't for Napster. And the really interesting thing? A lot of this music is good. A surprisingly high percentage of it, in fact. The reason for this: people delete bad music - which in my opinion is the way it ought to be.

And most don't bother ripping filler in the first place. Few invest the time and energy it takes to rip all the tracks off a cd, unless they're hard-core. They rip the good stuff. And then they go do something else - and you end up with the musical equivalent of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection in action.

Sure you'll find plenty of people hanging out on Napster with what can only be described as questionable taste in music. But guess what? You're going to find that you enjoy listening to bad music at times - in the same way real movie fans get hyped about watching really bad movies. As long as you have control, its an adventure. It's when people start forcing you to listen to bad music that the trouble starts....

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Strange Days, Indeed...
The other conclusion you'll likely draw - and this is where we start having some real fun - at heart, people have very strange taste in music. The complete freedom Napster allows encourages the exploration of those tastes in ways never before possible.
As you surf, you'll start noticing weird things. Things like people with huge collections of bubble gum pop interspersed with ironic little Camper Van Beethoven classics. Country music fans with an incestuous thing going on the side for Meatloaf and Courtney Love. Rap fans listening to Bach. Bach fans listening to Rap. How does this happen? What's going on? What is this going to mean for future generations?

If you have any imagination at all, the questions will keep coming. Who are these people? What do they look like? Are they dangerous? Are they fun? What sort of jobs do they have? What do they do when they're not using Napster?

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Ach - Something Went Wrong
How people love to complain about this! When you think about it, its a miracle that Napster works at all. The occasional technical problem is a small price to pay for unlimited free access to the great digital jukebox in the sky. So keep your grousing to yourself and concentrate on fixing the problem. You'll probably be able to do so very easily.

There are file-sharing alternatives you can consider, of course, if your frustration gets the best of you, but for the time being very few can match Napster in terms of either performance or ease of use.

The most common problem you'll have to deal with when you're using Napster will be interrupted transfers. These are a fact of life and something you are going to have to get used to if you plan on using Napster on a regular basis. Napster traffic puts a heavy strain on even fastest, grooviest, most well-designed networks. All kinds of things can go wrong and do go wrong on a routine basis. Servers can go down. Traffic can overwhelm networks. People turn off their computers or disconnect from Napster. Small children unplug surge protectors. Such is life.

Other file-sharing programs - including some of the Gnutella clones - allow you to resume interrupted transfers rather than forcing you start all over again from step one. Which if you happen to be using a slow connection, is a very cool thing indeed. Unfortunately, Napster does not, although that may well change as the service becomes more commercial. Bear in mind that the problems you're having may have nothing to do with Napster Inc.. If your ISP provides unreliable service, your downloading may suffer serious consequences.

One other tip: try to remember to delete your interrupted transfers on a regular basis. Many people forget to do this, with the result that partial files and song fragments have a habit of spreading like wildfire.

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If you use Napster much there will be times when you will be unable to connect to Napster's servers. Frankly, considering how much traffic Napster handles at peak hours - the number of spikes and surges its servers have to handle every day - it's pretty amazing that these outages aren't more common. In most cases the problem will be fixed within an hour or two at most.

To check on napster's official status visit

You'll find information on outages here as well as information on scheduled service interruptions.

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Downloading Files Using a Slow Connection
If you plan on downloading lots of MP3 files using a slower connection - like a 56,6k or 26.k modem, you're going to have to learn to be patient, as most Napster downloads will take a lot longer than you'd like. There are a couple of things you can do to make this more bearable.

The first is to schedule your downloads intelligently. Select the files you want to transfer before going to bed or before leaving for work. Barring an unexpected disconnection - one of the frustrations you're going to have to deal with anyway if you're using a slow line - your MP3s will await you when wake up or return home. Still, you'll be moving at a snail's pace compared to the people who are using high speed cable connections or DSL lines. This means you'll only be able to transfer a fraction of what you otherwise could.

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The other thing you can do if you're using a dial-up connection is find one of the widely available utilities which allow you to optimize file transfers.

In theory, these programs allow you to increase the speed at which you transfer data by tweaking modem and configuration settings you otherwise probably wouldn't know about. Most are fairly easy to use and available as freeware or shareware. In the long run, over the course of many MP3 downloads, you'll probably save yourself a significant amount of time.

Upgrading your Connection
In this day and age, as the Internet becomes more integrated into our daily lives, taking the plunge and upgrading your connection to either cable or dsl is probably one of the best investments you can make. Think of it this way: you're living in the 21st Century.
Do you really want to rely on a technology that was considered state of the art in 1989?

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High-speed Service
High speed service, which was once available only in a few areas, is now becoming increasingly common. Prices, which were once prohibitively expensive, have begun to fall. You can expect this trend to continue as smaller companies compete with giants like @home and AOL/Time Warner for market share. Some regional providers even provide free high speed access. There's usually a catch - but that's life. If you can't otherwise afford a good connection, you may find the convenience worth the sacrifices the free service providers ask.

Obviously, both cable and dsl have advantages and disadvantages. Do your homework before signing up, many providers still ask customers to sign long term contracts before installation. Know what you're getting into before you sign the dotted line.

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Napster in the Workplace
Given the laid back and hip image of the modern workplace many employers are trying to sell to employees, it seems strange that many are deciding to ban Napster or monitor employee use of the program.
Many employers allow employees to listen to the radio or to their own music at work - a policy that's even more prevalent when you look at dot com employers.

Is it fair to prohibit people from using a program that is, after all, in many people's minds the digital age equivalent of the radio?

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Napster in the Workplace: The Cons
The bottom line may be that Napster use in the workplace is unproductive - with some exceptions.
Napster is unlike radio in many ways. Finding and downloading the songs you want on Napster takes a lot more time than it takes to twiddle the tuner on a radio or change CDs in a CD player. Finding music on Napster can be an intensive, all-consuming pursuit, the kind of thing that can seriously eat up the better part of the day. Employers may be right to consider this unproductive.

How fair is it to demand to be paid for the time you spend downloading free music?

The bandwidth problem is also a big issue for many employers. Bandwidth can be an expensive thing - no sane businessperson is going to let their network suffer so you can listen to a cover of Hippy Hippy Shake by the Muffs while you're supposed to be finishing a spreadsheet.

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Napster in the Workplace: The Pros
On the other hand, in some cases Napster use can have positive effects that may far outweigh any negative impact the program might have. The key for managers and other decision makers: understanding the role Napster plays in keeping the troops alive and kicking and (at least) semiconscious.

These days many employers, especially in the tech sector, ask employees to make huge sacrifices for the good of the company. Web designers, programmers and content people all routinely log crazy hours when a project starts moving.

My Opinion:
If an employee is spending more time at their desk than they are at home, if they're working Saturdays and late into the night more than once a week, they have more than earned the right to take a few minutes off every now and then to fiddle around with something like Napster.

Think of Napster as another perk: like a pool table, free soda, or anything else you'd offer your employees to keep a smile on their faces. If the bandwidth issue raises problems - set guidelines governing Napster use and make sure they are followed.

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User bans
If you download enough music using Napster, the odds are pretty good that you'll eventually discover you've been banned from using the service by Napster. One day you'll wake up, try to connect and get a polite message informing you that you've been disqualified. From then on, if you play by the rules, you'll be unable to connect to Napster using your old account.

This is Napster's official answer to the copyright problem.

Despite everything you'll see on Napster, the company's official policy is that unauthorized use of copyrighted material will not be tolerated. The way this policy works is simple. The artist in question registers an official complaint with Napster. The company then checks to see who has the recordings in question. A switch is flicked (metaphorically speaking) and if you're one the people with the file on your hard drive - ouch - you're gone.

The most notorious example of a ban of course, is the Metallica incident. Not long ago hundreds of thousands of people were given the boot after the group discovered how much of their material was being distributed. The political fallout the band faced from fans after making this decision is probably the reason many artists choose not to take action against Napster users.

There are also rumors that Napster uses this punishment to stop certain behavior in the user forums. Posting information that tells other other Napster users how to alter the Napster client or using an unauthorized bot to search many servers at once is allegedly grounds for expulsion.

If you're a heavy Napster user and don't want to get kicked, it's probably a good idea to keep track of the artists who are banning people. Word of a ban circulates fairly quickly on the Napster forums. Several people also maintain lists of artists who are banning people. Of course, there's always a chance you'll get hit anyway, any precautions you may take will be meaningless if a new artist suddenly decides to take action against people who are snagging their music - and you happen to be one those people.

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Getting Un-Banned

No technology is completely infallible. It didn't take long after Napster announced the first large scale user ban for some clever, technically-minded people to come up with ways around the problem.

Most of the solutions are simple patches which let you trick Napster into thinking you are somebody else, allowing you to make your triumphant return to the service regardless of your status. Installation of these patches is usually fairly easy. But be warned: in order to set up most you'll probably have to change lines of code manually. If the idea of doing this sort of thing by yourself freaks you out, you'll either have to find somebody more competent to do it for you or find another solution.

Naturally, Napster's official policy is that patches are a no no.

Another thing worth mentioning: Do not install a patch if you have any doubts about the legitimacy of the source. It's a sad fact of life these days that there are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to take advantage of less technically knowledgeable users.

The code you do not understand can do many things: many of which are unpleasant. You definitely do not want to make changes to your system that might allow a malicious person to give themselves access to your computer or trigger a destructive MP3 eating virus.

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Hide and Go Seek
Some people seem to think their chances of avoiding getting in trouble are better if they keep a low profile on Napster. This may very well be true. You can spot these folks pretty easily by watching their behavior. Most make quick hit and run trips onto the network. They download a few files they want and then disconnect, never spending more than an hour at most connected to the Napster servers.

The reasoning seems to be that the less time a user spends connected to the network, the lower the chances are that someone will notice what they're doing.

This may be true. But don't count on it.

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Refusing to share
Another pattern we've seen enough times to make it worth mentioning: Many people seem to think they can stay out of trouble by transferring their files to a remote location or moving them into a separate storage folder hidden from other Napster users and the prying eyes of the recording industry.

While it is probably true that this will cut down on the chances that a program like Media Enforcer will catch you with a file sitting on your hard drive, the protection this strategy offers is by no means complete. If you've heard it once you've heard it about three thousand times. The only surefire way to stay out of trouble is to stick to downloading only songs by bands who have expressly granted Napster permission to distribute their material - such as the artists participating in the Napster new artists program.

And of course, all of your trickery may be completely unnecessary. Assuming the move to legalize Napster succeeds, its unlikely anybody will be kicking down your door any time soon. On the hand, you never know how these things will play out...

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The Wanker Factor
Just as you'll find an undesirable element present on other places on the web, you'll find plenty of would-be-wankers waiting on Napster. If a person is so inclined there are all sorts of things that can be done to stir up trouble.

I strongly advise that you resist the temptation, however. Both as a courtesy to the rest of the Napster community and for your own well-being. Nobody's going to sue you for intentionally mislabeling an MP3 file or interrupting a transfer - but they just might find other ways to get back at you.

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Wanker in Waiting
One common nasty trick: wait until somebody with a slow connection has almost finished downloading a file and then bump them off at the last second. Then giggle. Wait patiently as your new friend tries to run the download again and repeat bumping maneuver. Giggle more.
Guess what? It's official: You have absolutely no life.

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The Wanker special
Another move people seem to enjoy: Create bogus MP3 files containing a recording of yourself singing classic rock tunes or rapping accompanied by a friend strumming an out of tune guitar with the sound of your bong bubbling in the background. Label the track as a rare studio cut/live recordings/guest appearance featuring an artist you think people will like
. Spread the word on the chat rooms and forums.

Guess what? You really are a wanker.

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Wanker with a badge
A particularly stupid thing to do. Creating a new napster account with a user name calculated to create fear among your fellow users - like say, Special Agent Bronsonburger - may seem like a fun thing to do at four o'clock in the morning after you've had a few too many, but in the long run it will only cause you trouble when the real special agent Bronsonburger finds out what you've been up to and comes after you with a zap stick and plastic handcuffs.

On the other hand it may be worth it to you: if only for the few fleeting minutes of pleasure you derive from imagining the expressions on other users' faces when they see special agent Bronsonburger show up in their transfer window.

The other problem with your little scheme: nobody is going to fall for it.

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Wanker is as Wanker does
Perhaps the most antisocial trick in the wanker's arsenal. Take advantage of the various factional and sectarian rivalries common among music fans to sow confusion and spread hatred by mislabeling files in imaginative and devious ways.

How? Take heavy Metal songs and aim them at smooth jazz and easy listening fans. Give classic rock fans a taste of the Beasties. Play off the East Coast-West coast rivalry in rap. Start your own Barry Manilow resurgence. The possibilities are endless. Your Wanker cred will grow with each bogus file you add to the system.
The only drawback to the imaginative little games you're playing?
You're a wanker.

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Network Bans
As matter of policy many schools, universities and other institutions are opting to ban Napster entirely. While this may be unfortunate news for Napster fans, the reasoning behind these decisions is, for the most part, sound.

The Bandwidth Problem
For one thing, Napster consumes an insane amount of bandwidth. There's no way around it: it's a fact. Many schools have reported that as much as fifty percent of their network traffic is being eaten up by Napster transfers. That's no big deal if it doesn't impact other traffic on the network, but if Napster starts interfering with day to day operations, expect your school to pull the plug.

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Managing Your Bandwidth Usage
If you're worried about keeping Napster access at your school or place of employment, it may be a good idea to resist the temptation to download everything you can get your hands on at once. If you keep your downloading at a reasonable level - say no more than two files at one time and no extended download sessions during regular business hours, you'll reduce the chances that traffic will become overwhelming.

It's also probably a good idea to keep an eye on how much activity is going on in your upload panel. You don't want to be selfish - but you also don't want to be serving up files to two hundred people at a time. Encourage others to adopt similar habits and you may get to keep Napster.

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Legal Liability
As a big of a problem as bandwidth is for network administrators, the issue pales next the serious legal questions Napster raises. An increasing number of colleges, universities and other organizations are deciding to protect themselves from possible litigation by taking proactive measures.

Although Napster's legal status remains very much up in the air and probably will continue to be uncertain for some time to come, it makes sense that schools are concerned about possible legal action being taken against them.

The Recording Industry, the record labels and individual performers have already filed and won many law suits involving file-sharing programs. It is very conceivable that a college or university could be held liable for the actions of its students given the right lawyer and the right courtroom. Under the circumstances, don't be surprised if your school's lawyers decide to close out Napster.

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Network Security
Another issue facing many organizations is the security problem - which may well turn out to be the most serious of the issues we're examining here. By itself Napster doesn't pose much of a security risk. Even though you're allowing complete strangers to access your hard drive when you use Napster, there's not much they can do while they're there that will cause problems.

Ultimately, it is the indirect implications of Napster use that has many network administrators worried - not the program itself. Because it's possible for another Napster user to determine your IP address while you're connected to the network, your downloading sessions could very easily draw unwanted attention to your network, increasing the possibility of hacker attacks and related problems.

Napster users, by and large, are also more likely to use other file-sharing programs like Gnutella and FreeNet to download things other than MP3 files. Unfortunately, this is where things can get really nasty, really quickly. While MP3 files themselves pose little or no security risk, other file types can pose a threat. .exe files in particular, can contain computer viruses or hacker toys like Trojan horses which can cause serious problems. Network administrators are right to be worried about the security implications posed by Napster. You probably should be too.

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MP3 file quality
A lot has been written about the sound quality of MP3 files. At this point its pretty much the consensus that while MP3 can come close to matching CD quality sound under the right circumstances, for the most part it ain't much of a contest. MP3 has too many flaws.

Of course, the quality of any given recording will vary tremendously, depending on the quality of the original and the compression used when the file is ripped. A bootleg of a band like the Flaming Lips playing in somebody's basement in the late eighties is probably going to sound about as awful as you'd expect.

On the other hand there will be times when an MP3 will completely surprise you. Get the compression right, use the right recording, and you can have good listening experience.

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But wait...this sounds really bad

If you turn up a recording that sounds really terrible there are a couple of things you can do. There's a good possibility that the file has been damaged on its voyage home to your computer. If you're inclined to do such things - you can try running a MP3 file repair utility and see if that helps.

  • Is a freeware utility that in let you repair damaged MP3 files. It is widely available.

On the other hand, if you get irritated by things like terrible sounding recordings of bands you've never heard of before and weren't sure you even wanted in the first place - hit the delete key. It'll make you feel better.

Your easiest option if you're stuck with a poor quality recording is probably to fire up Napster again and do another search. There's a good chance that you'll be able to find a better sounding version of the song you're looking for without too much trouble. You may even find something you hadn't been expecting while you're at it - like a studio cut of the track or a rare live performance.

In the worst case scenario - gasp - you can always head over to the old ramshackle cd store and bite the bullet. Your consolation: at least now you can be pretty sure you'll have a fair sounding MP3 at the end of the day.

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Sound Quality by Genre
As you might guess, the type of music you're listening to will also have an impact on the sound you get from your MP3s. Strictly speaking this has to do with the nature of the music you choose to listen to.

Improving Sound Quality
If you want to improve the sound quality you're getting you'll probably want to toss the cute little speakers that came with your computer (or sell them on E-Bay) and invest in something that will give you a fuller sound.

Going to your local electronics mart and trying to find cute little speakers that actually sound good probably isn't your best option. The saleperson you'll be talking to probably knows less about MP3 files and digital music in general than your grandma, chances good are they'll offer to sell you that sound 'much much much better'. Chances are it won't.

Just about anything you can find will do a better job. A inexpensive stereo system will do just fine when you're first starting out. A cheap boom box may even do the trick. In fact, just about anything will work as long as it has auxiliary input jacks capable of taking standard RC cables.

Unless you're a software engineer with plenty of discretionary income left over from your last paycheck don't bother with high end stereo equipment, as long as you're playing MP3 files, chances are you won't be able to tell the difference between high end and low end sound.

If you want to save a few bucks and you're willing to wait - consider looking on a site like E-Bay for bargains. You will be amazed at how many people have old stereos and speakers lying around. Play the EBay game well and negotiate patiently and you may walk away with a real bargain. There is a chance, of course, somebody will try to play the old broken stereo trick on you, so be careful and spend your money wisely.

Once you get serious about your MP3s you may want to seriously consider investing in an amplifier. A good amplifier can often cover up the inherent weaknesses of a file by allowing you to adjust sound levels to suit your taste. No matter what your music freak friends tell you, this part isn't rocket science, it's a matter of making minor adjustments and letting your ear develop until you get it right.

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Getting Help
If you have a problem using Napster or a question about the program, the odds are good you'll find information here that can help you. If you're not sure where to find what you're looking for your best option may be to take a look at the tutorial index.

User Manual
Napster's online help and FAQ areas contain a lot of useful information that may help solve issues that arise. Unfortunately you will need to be online in order to access both.

User Forums
Logically enough, the best people to answer your questions about using Napster are often other Napster users. The company's forums are very active, compared to other communities on the Net. If you have questions about getting started or using the program, posting here can be a quick way to get answers. You'll also find plenty of fuel to keep you going if you're concerned about the issues involved in digital music. While much discussion invariably sinks to the "You suck/They suck/Metallica sucks" level - there are also signs of intelligent life here.

Bear in mind that the same rules apply on the forums that apply in other online communities. It's a good idea to browse through a few discussions before posting. You'll be able to find answers to many questions without too much trouble.

Another thing to bear in mind: All of the discussions on the Napster site are indexed. This means that to save time you can do a keyword search, rather than browsing through dozens or hundreds of postings.

A final tip: If you do post to the forums, make your headers descriptive if you want people to reply. A posting titled "silly little newbie question" is much less likely to get answered than "Napster keeps uninstalling itself automatically, what do I do?"

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Partial Glossary

The Transfer Window
If you've ever played around with a web site of your own, you'll recognize the basic principles at work here. This is where you can watch the progress of any downloads you have running and see at a glance what people are transferring from your hard drive. It's all really very straightforward. Except of course, when things go wrong. But that's another story....

The Library

This is where your MP3 files will reside. It is here that you will store and contemplate and ogle your growing horde of MP3 files. You'll be able to organize your MP3s here, look your collection up and down, and think about what you might want to add in the future. Best of all, you'll also be able to create custom playlists and listen to them in Napster's built in integrated MP3 player.
If you prefer to use an external MP3 player like WinAmp and Sonique, you can configure Napster to default to whatever player you prefer using Napster's preference settings.

The Hotlist
Just as you use the bookmarks or favorites feature in your web browser to keep track of web sites you like, you'll want to use Napster's Hotlist to keep tabs on other Napster users with music collections you like. In a lot of ways the Napster hotlist is much more powerful than bookmarks are, because used in the right ways, this feature allows you to, in a sense, surf Napster looking for new music, a much faster and more enjoyable way of exploring than using the search function.

File Size
The size of your MP3, measured in bytes. This number will vary depending on the length of a recording, the compression used to create it and other factors you probably don't care very much about. As a rough guide, most songs you'll find on Napster will be about one Megabyte in size for every minute in length, making the typical three minute Top Forty MP3 somewhere between 3 and 4 mb in size.

A longer file - like an extended forty five minute jam session - can very easily be ten or twenty Megabytes in size. If you're a big Phish fan plan on upgrading your disk space sooner rather than later.When you start running out of space think about managing the size of your MP3 collection by deleting the files you don't really need.

Indicates how much compression has been used to create an MP3. Learn to give this number a quick glance before you start downloading. Your rule of thumb: the higher the bitrate, the better the sound quality of the recording. The reason? In theory, the less compression used to create an MP3, the better the file will sound. Sound quality will also vary, of course, depending on the quality of the original recording.

Ping Rate
The amount of time it takes for a data packet to travel roundtrip from your computer to a host - in this case another Napster users computer - and back again across the Net, measured in milliseconds.

The lower the number the better. Why? Because the lower the number, the faster your download.

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