A download manager can be invaluable. If you have a large number of files to download, the manager will sequence them one at a time and will resume if the connection is lost (why FireFox lacks these two vital features is beyond comprehension). This is particularly important for people like me who are stuck with dial-up. A good download manager really CAN download a new Linux distro over dial-up, though it’ll take a week or so :-(
For years I’ve used the tried and true NetTransport. It’s a remarkable program that can do Real audio and video, Youtube and a few other proprietary protocols. Alas, a few years ago the author turned it into begware. I don’t do begware, being an old crusty Open Source advocate so I’ve stuck with the free version.
I tried another one, BitComet, that someone recommended. It was interesting because it has a bittorrent and an Emule P2P client built in. Alas, it borders on Adware. Plus it’s bloated, slow and annoying as hell to use. It does have a good .flv viewer though. I dumped BitComet but kept the viewer. Back to the old version of NetTransport.
A couple of weeks ago I happened upon a free and open source download manager called, appropriately enough “Free Download Manager “. This thing is da bomb!
Not only does it do everything NetTransport does, it also hooks in with FireFox to grab download URLs away from FF’s lame downloader, but it also does Youtube natively. No more having to futz around with the FF extension “UnPlug” or any of the other purported Youtube downloaders. None of the ones I’ve tried ever worked very well, if at all. Downloading Youtube videos is about the only way one can watch ’em over dial-up.
The Youtube downloader has a built-in format converter. If you want AVI or something instead of FLV, it’ll convert. FLV is so compact that I leave most stuff in that format unless I’m going to incorporate the video into something else but it’s nice to have the feature.
A major feature lacking in any other download manager that I’ve tried is bandwidth shaping. That is, it senses when something is going on in the foreground and backs off the bandwidth that it is using. The algorithm isn’t perfect yet but it does work. Again, something that is essential for dial-up.
For times when the automatic shaping just isn’t working, there are three buttons on the user interface where one can select “slow”, “medium” or “wide open”. Very handy. This is even available as a right click on the tray icon so one doesn’t have to switch to the program to slow it down.
Another great feature is the download history. If, like a dork, I accidentally delete a file, I can go into the history and re-download it without having to find the website again.
Of course, there’s a bittorrent client built in. I haven’t had the chance to use it yet (torrents really suck over dial-up) but from what I read, it works well.
A huge feature for those folks using Hughsnet satellite internet where there is a free window in the early AM is the scheduler. Downloads can be started and stopped automatically. FDM can activate Window’s built-in dialer to start a connection if the computer is off-line. That is handy not only for us poor dial-up sods but also for broadband users where the interface uses DUN (Sprint’s wireless broadband, for instance.) The scheduler is also useful for those corporate environments where the corporate network can be used at night. Just batch of a bunch of files, set the scheduler and go home.
A very unique feature is a community rating service. The feature allows the user to rate each download, particularly with regard to whether it is malicious or not. This is proving to be invaluable. Instead of wasting bandwidth downloading something that my virus scanner identifies as malicious, I get a warning ahead of time. What a fantastic feature. A malicious software author can’t game the system because it presents the number of votes for an against a particular file and lets one view the comments.
This software is good enough that I’d almost pay for it. Since it’s free and open source, I don’t have to make that decision. It is certainly commercial-grade ‘ware.
Update 08/13/08 Youtube Downloads
Ok, I’ve had a chance to use this program to download Youtube videos. Like the Nike ad, it “just does it”. The process is simple. Click on the “Flash Video Downloads” tab. Then go to the browser and copy the URL for the site. If you have the “monitor clipboard” option checked in FDM, a download window will pop up with the URL already pasted in. Click “OK” and watch it do its thing. Otherwise right-click and select “Create Flash Video Download”. The URL will be pasted in for you. If there is only one video on the page, it selects the file name automatically to the page name.
What it appears to do is download the entire page just like a browser would. It then filters through what it downloaded until it finds the video stream and downloads that. Slicker’n day-old grits!
This solves one of the major problems of all the other methods such as “UnPLug” that sift through the site to extract the actual stream URL. One of the things that Youtube does to try and prevent downloads is set a cookie with a short expiry. If the download doesn’t start within a few minutes, the URL becomes stale and won’t work. That prevents one from queuing up a number of videos. After about the second one, the rest of the links go stale and none of the rest will download.
FDM solves that problem but waiting until the queued URL is ready to download before downloading the page that it is on and glomming onto the video stream URL. That way the cookie is nice and fresh. Slick. Very very slick.