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Pay up; opt out
Install BearShare, and you'll discover a rarity among P2P apps: the installer actually asks your permission to install three adware or spyware apps, which send information about your surfing habits to ad companies that would like to send you more pop-up ads. If you don't want them--and who would?--simply uncheck the boxes. BearShare asked permission in previous apps as well, and we wish more apps (that means you, KaZaa) would follow suit. Unfortunately, we found that BearShare sneaks in audio ads, which we heard while searching, including one that calls out "Yahoo!" and sounds vaguely like moo-ing.
If you want to opt out of all ads, including banners and pop-ups, BearShare (like LimeWire) now offers a Pro version that, for $19.95, nixes the commercials and offers six months of free product upgrades, along with e-mail support (the free version offers only message boards). But you don't get phone support with either version; nor do you get priority server access or any performance improvements. You can pay LimeWire just $9.50 for the same perks, so BearShare Pro's price doesn't add up.
Simple searching; little success
Once you've installed BearShare, a setup wizard lets you specify where to save downloads and what folders to share with the public. When you're finished, BearShare opens onto a simple, well-designed interface. You won't need to spend time hunting for the correct place to download files, as you do with the latest version of Morpheus. Buttons along the top of the screen open onto BearShare's main areas: Search, Downloads, Uploads, Files, Chat, Community, Security, and Help.
We found BearShare's search results respectable and quick, especially when we looked for popular artists, such as Britney Spears and Madonna; this was similar in scope to LimeWire's results, although it brought fewer returns than KaZaa did. Search results display on the left of the screen, whereas the search box, which lets you filter out spam or restrict file sizes, sits at the top right. Sadly, our download success rate ran a pitiful 25 percent or less--far lower than the acceptable 60 percent that we got with KaZaa.
Look who's (not) talking
Several file-sharing developers, including Morpheus, have decided to graft a chat tool into their file-sharing apps. BearShare is no exception, and its new Chat button calls up a built-in client that runs on the DALnet IRC network. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the client to connect during our tests, and our efforts seemed unwelcome. As BearShare tried one server after another, each "autokilled" us "due to constant abuse from this site." Who, us?
Several other BearShare features prove less impressive than they seem. A button labeled Burn CD, which you would expect to launch a built-in burning app or something similar, actually calls up a Web page for a $19.95 plug-in. Press the Security button, and you'll be asked to download a P2P security program from McAfee, which, at least, is free.
Stick with the basics
BearShare looks pretty on the surface, but next time, we're looking for a P2P app that skips the chat toys and offers a 90 percent download success rate. In the meantime, add BearShare to your P2P arsenal, but don't rely solely on it.