On Wednesday, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco told Napster ( www.napster.com ) to stop facilitating the distribution of copyrighted songs in the form of MP3 files. Whether or not this sweeping injunction survives the appeal filed today by Napster is hard to say, but if it does, Napster will be offline as of midnight Pacific Time Friday -- because of the way Napster works, it would be nearly impossible for them to remove just the copyrighted songs from the service, meaning a complete shutdown would be necessary to comply with the judge's order.
So, where does this leave Mac users who are jonesing for tunes? There are technologies that have been around since before Napster, and some have come after -- and all provide ways of downloading music to your Mac. (Keep in mind that downloading copyrighted songs without permission is piracy, and therefore illegal.)
Gnutella uses a similar file searching technique to find music, but unlike Napster, it has no central database -- individual computers are pinged for files. Perhaps because of this fact, no lawsuits have been filed against Gnutella yet. Mac users can access Gnutella through clients such as Mactella and the java-based Furi. In addition to MP3 files, Gnutella servers allow users to transfer a variety of media such as pictures and video.
Another way to find songs is with the Hotline software from Hotline Communications. Hotline uses a speedy file transfer system and provides free client software with chat functions built in. In order to find files on Hotline servers, you'll need to get the IP addresses of trackers -- each one tracks the addresses of up to 1,500 servers -- from a site such as Hotline Central. Within Hotline you can only search for words in the server description (try "MP3"), but the newest version of Hotline uses QuickTime to allow you to preview downloads of files supported by QT.
And not to be forgotten, File Transfer Protocol, known commonly as FTP, is an old-fashioned way to transfer files (as the name would suggest). There are googols of FTP servers out there, but finding them can be about as easy as rediscovering that pesky lost city of Atlantis. Trolling music newsgroups is a great way to find personal FTP sites, as people will often post their server addresses there.
The good news is, regardless of Napster's legal struggles, those of us on the fairer platform will still have access to digital music files.