Recently a few handy new features have been added to WinMX.
Late last year, WinMX was expanded by developers Frontcode Technologies to include a useful new gizmo: the WinMX Peerless Networking Protocol, or WPNP. Working in a manner similar to the Gnutella system, WPNP neatly sidesteps the problems that tyrian noted in relation to OpenNap servers by not using a centralised database (therefore one that can be closed down), but rather - as I understand it - servers that merely redirect clients to other clients.
The change in direction of Napster and MusicCity, providers of the biggest and best OpenNap-style servers, meant that connecting to the multitude of small OpenNap servers became nearly impossible. As well as helping this situation by using a distributed network, WPNP supports several features that the OpenNap system does not, chiefly queuing and indication of free slots available from another system. Very useful when deciding who to download from. Additionally the ability to simultaneously connect to and search on both OpenNap servers and the WPNP means that Frontcode avoided the problems caused by switching wholesale to a proprietry system - i.e. the loss of much of their user base.
The WPNP manages to be everything Gnutella is not: fast, reliable and full of files. I feel this may have something to do with its loose interpretation of "peerless", but we'll see.
The new version of WinMX (in Beta as I write) expands on the WPNP system, and deftly steals Limewire's best feature: multi-sourced downloading. By allowing users to download from several other users at once, download speeds can be maximised and files can propogate across the network more efficiently. WinMX takes this one step further, in that users can now download a file from a user who is still downloading it themselves, a feature particuarly valuable when downloading larger files.
As of Beta 5 the system works nicely, although the old problems of downloads timing out and being permanently queued seem unsolved. Currently multi-sourced downloads only work over the WPN protocol (they've dropped the 'P' from the acronym). Whether this limitation will be lifted for the final release I don't know. Also, the WPN is not compatible with the WPNP from the 2.x releases, however this shouldn't prove a problem once the stable 3.0 release is ready.
My only worry about the trend towards multi-sourced downloading, which is otherwise a thoroughly good idea, is of quality. Maybe it's just me, but it seems likely that the chance of a corrupted or imperfect download increases significantly when files are being patched together from a multitude of sources - especially when the only information available to distinguish between different files is their size. Throw in the possibilty of downloading files that are still themselves being downloaded and I'm really quite concerned. Nothing's more irritating than crackles and pops all the way through a song.
Update 23/08/02: D'oh, it was just me.yerricide says "The thing that distinguishes files on WPN is their hash. Two rips whose first 300 KB hash to the same value are very likely to be byte identical." Thanks :)
Despite this, it looks like KaZaA and its ilk are about to take a beating in the P2P wars. Frankly it'd be nice to see the back of them, if only as further proof that good quality software, free from both subscription and spyware, can survive.
Sources: http://www.winmx.com/ and a hard disk filled with multimedia of questionable legality.
For the brave, the last WinMX 3.0 Beta is available from the News section of the aforementioned site.