Editorial: Limewire is no great loss

The popular P2P program which was finally shut down yesterday was a mine of pirated, illegal and malicious content.

LimeWire, the banned peer-to-peer file sharing application, was a pioneer in its field. Launched in May 2000, it enabled millions of users to download an unimaginable quantity of almost exclusively unlicensed content (I can’t work it out but it’s somewhere up there between an exabyte and a zettabyte). But few in the know are mourning its demise, even if it comes at the hands of the sometimes reviled RIAA.

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LimeWire, you see, despite having the most complete feature set of any of the major Gnutella clients, was not a piece of software that engendered much love from software experts. Sure, it was hugely popular. But with network-specific software, popularity just breeds popularity: it is not a sign of real objective quality.

In its early days, LimeWire was bundled with spyware. It quickly became one of the most important vectors for computer virus infections on Windows machines. At one point, around 30% of files shared on the Gnutella network were infected with malware. The only major successful viral assault on Macs was also launched via LimeWire. Recent attempts to sell a ‘Pro’ edition of the open-source program upset many users too.

And then there is the pirated and objectionable content. I’m aware that I’m going to sound like some sort of arch-conservative writing this, but the truth is that LimeWire users, when not downloading trojans, were generally downloading shoddy cam versions of films currently showing in the cinema. Or pornography, some of it illegal. The LimeWire user forums, when they were still up, were full of users worried about having downloaded illegal material: it seems that this was quite a common problem.

In many ways, LimeWire is a relic of an age that is passing. There is evidence that the popularity of P2P is waning in Europe, and that many US users are happier to use NetFlix or Hulu than bother with illegal downloads. As people get used to safe, affordable or even free streaming services, the popularity of illegal downloads will continue to decline. This initial ‘Wild West’ era in internet history won’t end soon but its days are certainly numbered.

I don’t think for a second that we’re approaching a time when we’ll have a risk-free internet. But I do think that the internet is getting safer and that this is a good thing. LimeWire was a program that was rotten to its very core and that promoted the dissemination of malware, illegal pornography and pirated content of insultingly poor quality. The internet is evolving. LimeWire was a dinosaur. Its demise shouldn’t be mourned.

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