Not having played with LimeWire, a popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing app, since it went spyware crazy a couple of versions ago, our hands-on experience with the latest version came as something of a surprise. Not only did the program prove completely spyware-free in our scans, there's only one tiny, inconspicuous advertising link down at the bottom of the page to distract you while you're working. We were totally psyched until we found out that searches were limited to about 200 hits, including duplicates, which means far fewer unique files. Still, since it doesn't scatter junkware all over your PC like some P2P clients, LimeWire is a great way to see if P2P is for you. The excellent online help, supereasy interface, and flawless operation during our testing make the $18.88 upgrade for the unfettered Pro version seem quite reasonable.
Installing LimeWire Basic is easy, though it requires clicking through a number of dialogs and warnings about P2P usage. But everything's in plain sight, and the only thing that's loaded is the program and the cross-platform Java runtime environment that's built into the installation routine. Spybot Search and Destroy gave LimeWire Basic a clean bill of health, though our uninstall left about 15MB of JAR files (Java ARchive files) in the C:ProgramsLimeWire directory. Perhaps this is to help speed upgrades, and the files are easy to find and delete manually, but we'd like a totally clean uninstall, please. The uninstall also leaves the Java runtime environment on your machine.
After the blinding advertising blitz, courtesy of the free version of Kazaa 3, LimeWire's relative lack of ads brought us a sense of peace. Not only that, we found LimeWire's interface exceptionally attractive, well thought out, and easy to use. Little usability embellishments, such as automatic removal of cancelled downloads (this is a tedious, unintuitive two-step procedure in other P2P clients) and direct connection to known IP addresses for exchanging files with friends, made us feel that the designers actually use the program.
Unfortunately, LimeWire Basic intentionally limits the number of files found during searches--a fairly obvious inducement to purchase the Pro version for $18.88. Under some circumstances, say, if we were using the obnoxious Kazaa 3, we might resent this. However, LimeWire is so well designed and the ads so low key that we didn't mind plunking down the cash. Then again, the free version of LimeWire yielded only 50 unique hits in our generic search for cars, whereas we saw upwards of 200 in uncapped Ares, and about 100 in the similarly limited free version of Kazaa 3.
LimeWire doesn't offer Ares' chat rooms but does serve as a media librarian for your whole PC, even handily displaying music by artist, title, and other tags. We did notice one small bug: An icon on the bottom of the program reported that it had detected a firewall, though we had none enabled. The program also plays/previews music files and uses Windows Media Player to show video. It has a full-page connection monitor where you can track incoming searches of your own shared folder, as well as track files being uploaded from your computer by other users. LimeWire is the also the only P2P client we've seen that will launch pages in a browser other than Internet Explorer.
We were impressed with the online support for LimeWire Basic; for freeware, it's not bad at all. You have to upgrade to the Pro version to e-mail a techie or get live online support, but the available-to-all FAQ and the copious instructions, including a downloadable PDF version of the user manual, are comprehensive and easy on the brain. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any mention as to why the uninstall routine left so many files lying around. There's also a busy user forum, which to be honest, is often the best way to find fixes, workarounds, or simply verify bugs for any program. There's no telephone support, but hey, what do you expect with freeware?