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Quick but skimpy searches
Grokster runs on the FastTrack network, so it returns search results quickly. Sadly, it doesn't come up with all that many files to choose from. Open the Options panel, and you'll see that you can set the number of results for any given search. That's right: the upper limit for any search is 200 files. While we got up to around 250 files for popular artists, that isn't much to write home about compared to the scads of files that you'd find via, say, LimeWire.
To its credit, Grokster served up a strong variety of results, so even though it didn't find many, it did ferret out more than just the most popular songs. Unlike LimeWire and WinMX, Grokster doesn't list your previous searches, so you can't go back and look at old results once you've run another search, which is a bummer. We had great success obtaining songs, though. A good 60 percent of our attempts downloaded right away, while another 30 percent came through after we highlighted them and pressed Resume.
Somebody's watching you
Be careful installing Grokster, or you might get more than you bargained for. The program contains both adware and spyware, so you'll routinely see ads displayed on your screen, and information about your surfing habits will be sent back to a central server. Most of those programs install by default, but you must uncheck the correct boxes during start-up, or you'll end up installing several other unnecessary and insidious programs. In Grokster's FAQ, the programmers claim that one "necessary" program called Cydoor isn't spyware because the company admits up front that it's there, and it serves only banners. But Cydoor does collect information about your surfing habits, and that makes it spyware, regardless of whether Grokster tells you about it.
Grokster's interface is well laid out in five different sections; tabs along the top let you navigate among them. First is the Start page, which bombards you with info about new artists, while the My Grokster page helps you organize all your various media files. The Theater page lets you play audio and video clips within the application, although it uses your default multimedia apps to do so.
Click the Search page to hunt for audio, video, or other files. Monitor the Traffic page to check out the progress of the files that you're downloading and to see whether other users are uploading from your shared file directory. You can send instant messages to other users through Grokster, and you can right-click other people's names to see what files they have in their collections.
Like most file-sharing tools, Grokster doesn't offer tech support, but it does have useful FAQs and user forums located at its main site.
A work in progress
Because it lacks advanced file-sharing features, Grokster feels unfinished. We hope to see user forums or chat rooms in the next release. A Mac version would be nice, too. Until then, stick with Xolox or LimeWire and keep Grokster on hand as a backup.