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As Napster use fades, rivals emerge

Napster's attempts to comply with court mandates and move to a copyright-friendly system are leading users to abandon the service in favour of a myriad of smaller, lower-profile alternatives, according to a new report by high-tech research firm PC Pitstop.

PC Pitstop, which uses its Web site to scan the hard disks of 110,000 volunteers both at work and at home, tracks the presence of applications on those hard drives from month to month. According to its findings, Napster's installed base dropped 6% since February, with the application installed on 38% of PCs surveyed in March. This drop marked the first dip in installation figures for Napster in eight months, PC Pitstop said. Because PC Pitstop's scan tests whether an application is present, rather than whether it is used, the dip in installed base means that Napster is being taken off PCs.

Many Napster challengers have arisen, with five programs seeing large gains. PC Pitstop found that, in order of installed base, file-sharing programs mIRC, Audio Galaxy, BearShare, WinMX and LimeWire were the five most widely used applications. The numbers boasted by these programs, though, are yet to rival Napster's. On more than 6% of PCs scanned, mIRC was present, while Audio Galaxy and BearShare were on more than 2% of PCs, with BearShare making large gains over March figures. WinMX had been installed by about 1.75% of users and LimeWire was on about 1.5% of PCs, with both applications posting gains of about 1% in the last month.

Such alternate file-sharing services are not yet real challengers to Napster precisely because they lack large user bases, said Matt Bailey, senior analyst with the Internet entertainment firm Webnoize, this week.

"These (systems) aren't up to the task of replacing Napster," Bailey said in an interview earlier this week.

Though Bailey expects that Napster users will eventually be frustrated by the limits imposed on their file-trading by filters and stop using the service, PC Pitstop reached a slightly different conclusion. Napster will not disappear, the company said, because it, and many of its competitors, are likely to move to subscription-based services, putting them back on an equal footing. Napster plans to introduce such a service later this year.

PC Pitstop also found that Napster is helping to drive the adoption of some new technologies. PCs with Napster are both faster and more frequently attached to broadband Internet connections than PCs without Napster.

Napster was sued in late 1999 by the five major record labels for copyright infringement and has since been locked in a legal battle that has seen the company ordered to institute filters in its software to prevent the trading of copyrighted materials.

PC Pitstop, can be found online, at http://www.pcpitstop.com .

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