Study: LimeWire remains top P2P software; uTorrent fast-rising No. 2

Popular download choice hangs in after eight years

LimeWire, a grizzled veteran of the peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing scene, remains the most popular software for exchanging music, video and software — much of it pirated — through the Internet, according to a study released Wednesday.

LimeWire was used on 17.8% of PCs in September last year, according to the latest Digital Media Desktop Report. Since about half of surveyed PCs have at least one peer-to-peer sharing application installed, that gives LimeWire a 36.4% share — more than three times the 11.3% share of the next-most-popular client, µTorrent.

The report is a collaboration of digital music consultancy BigChampagne, utility software provider PC Pitstop and Digital Music News. More than 100,000 Windows PCs were polled each month, with a total of 1.67 million machines polled during the 12 months.

The first version of LimeWire was released in 2000 as an alternative to the pioneering Napster MP3 sharing network. Its contemporaries, such as KaZaa, Morpheus, FastTrack, SoulSeek, Audiogalaxy and (of course) Napster, have long since faded, though Napster now operates today as a small service dealing strictly in legal downloads, and Audiogalaxy evolved into the Rhapsody subscription service.

Overseen by New York-based Lime Wire LLC, the open-source LimeWire software comes in free and professional versions. The latter costs $21.95 and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

LimeWire's ongoing dominance is surprising for a number of reasons. Two generations of college students — often characterized as the most avid file sharers — have graduated since its release. Indeed, today's college freshman would've been just 10 years old when LimeWire was first released.

Moreover, LimeWire long relied solely on the slower Gnutella network, which made it less suitable for exchanging large video files such as high-definition TV shows or movies. LimeWire only recently released an upgrade that lets users search and exchange files via BitTorrent.

Finally, like Napster, LimeWire has faced several lawsuits from music companies and the RIAA — though unlike the former, LimeWire has survived them all without a major shutdown.

Nevertheless, LimeWire LLC last month signaled its intention to, like the company behind BitTorrent, go at least partly legal. It launched a beta version of the LimeWire Store where users can buy music online, similar to Apple Inc.'s iTunes store. Unlike iTunes, however, the LimeWire Store sells its music without DRM copyright restrictions.

Meanwhile, µTorrent's share nearly quadrupled over the course of the year, from 3% in September 2006 to 11.3% in September 2007. The BitTorrent client was the third most popular client, with 4.6% market share.

BitTorrent — the system as a whole, including both the network and the BitTorrent client — has been heavily hyped in the past several years as a way of sharing files, especially large ones, because of its more efficient distributed technology. Besides BitTorrent, other popular desktop software that allow users to connect with others in the BitTorrent network include µTorrent, Azureus/Vuze, BitComet, BitLord and BitTornado. Those programs collectively held 28.2% of the P2P market last September.

But the Gnutella network, to which LimeWire users connect, also remains the most popular, with 40.5% of the market. Other Gnutella software in the report's top 13 includes BearShare and FrostWire.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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