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Watch the install
Downloading Kazaa is simple, but just as you should be cautious when you grab a rare bootleg from a user named Jack the Knife, don't speed through the installation wizard, or you could wind up with trouble. The install wizard lists an optional piece of software called SaveNow that doesn't have anything to do with Kazaa, so if you don't want to mess with a third party, opt out now.
Kazaa also installs Cydoor, a program that delivers targeted ads, which unfortunately, you'll have to live with. Take comfort in the fact that Kazaa isn't the only file-sharing program that drops these types of annoying programs onto your machine. During installation, you can also customize Kazaa's filters (select the Family Filter if yours is a G-rated household) and choose whether you want additional icons.
Once you get past the gaudy installation screens, you're welcomed by an easy-to-navigate Windows XP-like interface. Just like the--er--kazoo, Kazaa is a truly democratic instrument: anyone can play it. Plug in an artist or a software title in the left-hand search window, and you're on your way.
Kazaa's search function will please both hard-nosed reference librarians and greedy file-sharers alike. You can hunt for music, video, software, images, or documents while keeping your search as broad or detailed as you'd like. For example, if you're looking for audio, you can expand or limit your search based on title, artist, album, category, language, year, quality, and size. Come across a particularly bad cut of a Britney Spears video? The Kazaa rating system lets you collaboratively filter the wheat from the chaff so that others don't make the same mistake you did. Of course, just like filtering-software manufacturers, which rely in part on consumers' reports to keep its database of offensive content up-to-date, the usefulness of this feature depends on the efforts of its users, which have improved steadily over time.
Download en masse
For power downloaders, Kazaa's most exciting feature is the ability to let you search by playlist and grab whole albums in one fell swoop (a record-industry nightmare). Search results weren't too shabby, either. While you won't get as many files as with, say, Blubster, our tests found more quality results with Kazaa than in recent searches with LimeWire and Morpheus. However, purists take note; together with a company called Altnet, Sharman now offers a paid search-listing program to companies looking to boost the placement of their files in results. While this didn't drastically affect our swapping experience, it's something to watch.
Also new, antivirus protection now comes with Kazaa so that your shared folders are automatically scanned each time you log on to the service or initiate a download. While file sharing still poses a risk, we appreciate that Sharman is watching our back. You can also customize Kazaa's look by downloading or creating your own skins--nice.
Although programs such as Blubster return more results, Kazaa solves some annoying problems that plague many file-sharing applications. We especially like the rating feature and the built-in antivirus protection. While the adware and paid-search listings temper our enthusiasm somewhat, this is one of the better programs we turn to when we feel the need to swap.