Download files quickly and easily with uTorrent

Hear the word ‘torrent’ and you probably think of piracy, but the technology can be used perfectly legally to share open source, public domain and copyright-free movies, software, books, music, podcasts and much more. It’s also gaining traction as a legitimate way for artists to distribute their work; companies including Blizzard Entertainment and CCP Games have chosen to use torrents to distribute content legally.

The key benefit of using torrents is that the file you want can be downloaded from several locations at the same time, speeding things up dramatically. If you want to download in this way, you’ll need a torrent client. Here, we’ll show you how to use one of the best: uTorrent (also known as µTorrent).

uTorrent is free to download and use. The installer contains some potentially unwanted software, so read each step carefully and uncheck the box beside anything you don’t want

1. Get uTorrent

The first thing you’ll need to do is to grab uTorrent, which is completely free to download and use. Double-click the executable file to start the installation and click ‘Next’ on the following two screens. Click ‘I agree’ after reading the license agreement, then click ‘Next’.

You should leave the option to create a firewall rule checked, then decide whether to have uTorrent run at startup before clicking ‘Next’. uTorrent’s installer include adware, so click ‘Decline offer’ to avoid installing it, and repeat for any other offers that appear. Click ‘Finish’ to complete the process.

2. Find a source

Now you need to find a source of torrents. There are lots of legal options, such as The Internet Archive, where you’ll find an extensive collection of music, software, TV shows, movies, books and more, all available free and legally.

For this tutorial, we’re going to see what Charlie Chaplin movies are available from the Charlie Chaplin Festival collection. On the page for the movie, you’ll see a ‘Torrent’ link. Click this and download the .torrent file.

You don’t have to download all the files in a torrent; pick and choose the ones you want and decide where they should be saved

3. Select your files

Torrent files are tiny, so it will be downloaded almost instantly. Double click it and uTorrent will open showing you the files that are associated with the torrent. You’ll usually want to download all of them, but can also untick the box next to any files you’re not interested in.

Use the option to the left of the window to choose where the files should be saved, add a label if you feel this would be helpful, and then click the ‘OK’ button.

uTorrent presents you with a wealth of information about the files it’s downloading, including – crucially – the time remaining until each one is complete

4. Check the stats

Switch to the main uTorrent interface and select the ‘Torrents’ section on the left of the program window to see details of all the torrents currently downloaded. You can ignore most of the information here, but it’s handy to keep an eye on the speed of a download and the estimate of how long it will take to complete.

Magnet links are an extremely easy way to download torrents – just click one and uTorrent opens

5. Understand magnet links

As well as using torrent files as described above, you’ll also encounter magnet links. These work in very much the same way, but cut out the extra step of having to download an extra file to start downloading a movie or other content.

Magnet links can be used to download any type of file, but here we’re using one to download the open source OpenOffice suite. The beauty of magnet links is that they’re so simple to use; just click the link and uTorrent will open up ready to start the download.

With uTorrent, it’s easy to prioritize downloads. Just use the arrow buttons to rearrange them

6. Prioritize downloads

If you’re downloading two or more torrents at the same time, you may want to decide which is downloaded first. The quickest way to do this is to switch to the main uTorrent window, select the torrent you want to prioritize in the right-hand side of the window, and click the up arrow (repeatedly if necessary) to move it up the list. Conversely, you can use the down arrow button to move a particular download down the list.

If you want to keep using your internet connection for other tasks while you’re using uTorrent, you’ll want to manage the bandwidth allocation

7. Limit bandwidth usage

To prevent your downloads from slowing down other web browsing too much, you can place a limit on download speeds. Double-click a torrent you’re downloading in the right-hand side of uTorrent and the Torrent Properties dialog will appear. Here you can adjust the maximum upload rate and maximum download rate to your desired speed in KBps.

Note that if you leave the values at the default setting of 0, all available bandwidth will be used.

Seeding the torrent lets other people download parts of it from you, sharing the burden

8. Seed the file

Using torrents to download files is a form of peer-to-peer (or P2P) networking, which means that everyone downloading particular files shares the burden of responsibility.

Once a download is complete, it’s good etiquette to leave the torrent running so other can continue to download from you. This is known as seeding.

When you’ve done this for a while, you can remove the torrent or magnet link from uTorrent by right-clicking the entry in the list to the right of the program window and selecting ‘Remove and delete .torrent’.

You can enjoy your downloaded file while you’re seeding, so there’s no need to wait to watch that video you’ve been waiting so eagerly to see!.

      

The best free alternative to WinZip 2017

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Create and extract compressed archives

First released in 1991, WinZip is the best-known software for creating and opening compressed file archives. It’s a great tool, but at £31.14 (US$35.94, AU$47.94) it’s rather expensive – especially when there are so many excellent free alternatives.

Windows (from XP onwards) has a built-in compression tool, accessed by right-clicking one or more folders/files, and selecting ‘Send to > Compressed (zipped) folder’. This is fine for very occasional use, but is very limited. It can only read and create ZIP files (there are dozens of other formats), it doesn’t let you create multiple volumes of a particular size, can’t repair damaged archives, and doesn’t support encryption. In fact, if you use it to compress an encrypted file, it will be decrypted when extracted.

It’s therefore a good idea to have a different WinZip alternative on hand for compressing and opening file archives, and we’ve picked out the best. Have we missed your preferred tool? Let us know in the comments below.

7-Zip is the best free WinZip alternative

1. 7-Zip

The best free WinZip alternative, with no frills and no strings attached

7-Zip is open source, meaning it’s completely free, even for commercial use. It’s only 1MB in size, and can pack and unpack just about any compressed file archive you can throw at it.

7-Zip isn’t the most attractive WinZip alternative around, but it’s so well designed that you won’t miss the slick interfaces of its paid-for equivalents. You can locate files to be archived using a simple Windows Explorer-style file tree, or drag and drop them into the main window.

Its own 7z format is designed for high compression, and is supported by almost all file achiving tools – both paid-for and free – making it an ideal choice for sharing.

You can apply password protection to packaged archives and split them into volumes, which is handy for sharing particularly large archives. The only key feature it’s missing is the ability to repair damaged archives – other than that, it’s a truly exceptional program.

Download here: 7-Zip

Download PeaZip free

2. PeaZip

Download PeaZip free

Another excellent free alternative to WinZip. Larger than 7-Zip, but with more features

PeaZip is another open source WinZip alternative, but with a few more features in a considerably larger package (around 10MB compared to 7-Zip’s 1MB).

PeaZip’s standard installation will make file associations and add context menu options automatically, which you might not want if you’re trying it for the first time. Select ‘Custom’ if you want to make your own choices.

PeaZip is compatible with pretty much every compressed file format there is. PEA, its own format, prioritises security over compression, with optional integrity check and authenticated encryption. Unlike 7-Zip, it can repair damaged archives.

Its handy extra features include the ability to convert archive formats and test archives for errors. It can’t batch compress or watermark images as some of the other tools here can, but can rotate and crop them for you.

Download here: PeaZip

Dowload Zipware free

3. Zipware

Download Zipware free

Incredibly user-friendly. An excellent free alternative to WinZip if you’re new to file compression

WinZip alternative Zipware is wonderfully simple to use – simply choose ‘New’ or ‘Open’, choose your source file or archive, tweak a few optional settings and you’re done.

This free WinZip alternative free to use, but if you decide to stick with it, the website invites you to make a donation to support its development. The software itself doesn’t nag you for money though.

Zipware’s standout feature is integrated virus-scanning: if an archive is under 32GB, you can check it for threats with VirusTotal. This is unlikely to be of interest to power users, but is a helpful addition for anyone who’s unsure about extracting downloaded archives (or who knows someone with a tendency to accidentally open such things).

Download here: Zipware

Download Ashampoo Zip Free

4. Ashampoo Zip Free

Download Ashampoo Zip Free

A free WinZip alternative that’s optimized for touch, but promotion of paid-for features can be overbearing

Ashampoo Zip Free‘s main features are presented as Windows-style tiles, but here the free program’s limitations start to show, with paid-for features like encryption and archive format conversion (which are included with open source tools) locked out until you open your wallet.

This free WinZip alternative redeems itself with a very clear interface, which has an optional touch mode with larger, tap-friendly icons. All of the key features are immediately obvious rather than hidden behind ribbons and menus. Interestingly, it also gives previews of files before you extract an archive. This happens automatically, so don’t be alarmed if a music file begins playing on mouseover.

You aren’t given many choices when creating archives; most of the interesting features come into play when you’re unpacking and sharing.

Download here: Ashampoo Zip Free

      

Microsoft bolsters Office 365 with co-authoring for Excel

Microsoft has made its usual end of the month post concerning what’s new with Office 365, and the major fresh addition which has just happened for March is co-authoring support in Excel.

Yes, co-authoring support is now live for Excel on Windows desktop PCs, or at least it is for testers only at the moment (those on the fast ring of the Office Insiders program).

That means you can collaboratively work with others on the same spreadsheet and see their changes more or less in real-time, within seconds of them being made. Just the same as when collaborating on a Word document.

Microsoft’s getting feedback from testers at the moment, and it will roll the feature out more broadly soon enough.

Note that co-authoring is already available in the web version of Excel, and its mobile apps (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile), but this is new for desktop machines. As well as Windows, Microsoft notes it’s also working on co-authoring in Excel for the Mac.

Autosaving the day

So what else is new? Microsoft has also introduced autosaving to Word, Excel and PowerPoint on Windows desktops, where files stored in OneDrive or SharePoint Online are concerned.

In other words, you don’t have to worry about habitually hitting save, as it will automatically be done for you (and indeed the other users who may be collaboratively working on a file with you).

Microsoft also reminded us that the Teams messaging and collaboration app is now live for Office 365 business subscribers, and Office 365 Education users – and that in excess of 150 integrations with third-party apps and services are already available, or coming soon.

And Microsoft Bookings, the app which helps small businesses schedule and manage appointments with customers, is now rolling out worldwide for Office 365 Business Premium subscribers (previously it was US and Canada only).

Other minor tweaks have been made to Office 365 apps, such as inking updates for OneNote. For example, you can now jot down an equation in OneNote, select it, and have the app display a graph of it – and indeed it can teach you how to solve the equation.

For the full list of every little change and tweak, check out Microsoft’s blog post.

      

The power of the playlist: how streaming is changing the way we listen to music

It’s 20 years since arguably the most important LP of, well, the last 20 years. Radiohead’s OK Computer re-invented the idea of what a guitar album should sound like.

Its track listing takes you on a very deliberate journey – not quite in the sense of a concept album, but there’s a reason Thom Yorke spent weeks rearranging the songs on his MiniDisc player (it was 1997, after all) before deciding on the right order: it’s an album that demands to be listened to from beginning to end.

20 years on and the idea of an album is being questioned once again by Drake. His latest LP is part mixtape, part album and, much more significantly, a playlist.

More Life is Drake bringing together a selection of songs that “become the soundtrack to your life,” according to an interview with Complex.

With this release he broke his own streaming record and went straight to number one. It’s the most successful playlist ever made.

Playlists are big business right now and one of the biggest reasons for this are music streaming sites. Their ‘all-you-can-eat’ model is not just changing how we consume music, but how music is being made.

Drake’s latest release is less album, more playlist.

To make sense of the millions of tracks available, playlists are created to suit your mood, the time of day, what’s going on in the world right now. They’re genre based, people based and even workout based.

With playlists being such a barometer for the music landscape, then, just how are they compiled? We spoke to Dom Wallace, Music Editor (UK & Ireland) at Deezer to find out.

“When I came into the job, I did think the mix of music – how tracks fit together – would be very important [when compiling a playlist] but you look at the data and do some research and it isn’t as important as you might think,” says Wallace.

Wallace has been at Deezer for more than a year now. Before this he was working for BBC Introducing in the UK.

Taking what he’s learned from his radio background has helped him raise the profile of Deezer’s playlists. His focus isn’t on how tracks segue from one to the next but about careful track positioning, based on Deezer’s metrics and judging a song on its popularity.

Deezer music editor Dom Wallace – playlist curator.

“We have an awful lot of data we can use in our back office to help compile our playlists. We have something called playlist optimisation,” says Wallace.

“We can use this to analyse how many streams each track gets in any given playlist, what the skip rate is – this is very important as it tells us whether a track is doing well or if it isn’t.

“Another metric we use is ‘streams’ for playlists – the amount of tracks a user streams when they visit a playlist.”

Radio friendly

When choosing songs for a playlist, there are a number of things Wallace and his team look at but relying on his radio roots has helped him perfect the playlist.

“When I first joined, there was a lot of discussion about playlists and editorial, and you would presume that you would put all the best performing tracks at the top and work down from there. But you don’t program a radio show in that way so why a playlist?

You can’t put all the best performing tracks at the top and work down from there. You have to introduce music in a more comfortable way.

Dom Wallace, Music Editor at Deezer

“You have to introduce music in a more comfortable way. So, with new tracks, say from Deezer Next artists [Deezer’s big push to promote up-and-coming artists on its service] I programme in a similar way you do a radio show. You start with your big artist and track and then you have a second track to back it up with another big artist.

“Then the third track you can introducing something new. What you do after that is what we call ‘padding’. You go back to a famous artist, or a big track. So if they do skip then the new track they are back to something they know and they won’t stop using the playlist.

“We have seen engagement increase and people stay on the playlist a lot longer across the board with that editorial mentality.”

Deezer uses its data to perfect its playlists.

According to Wallace, each playlist has to be seen on its own merits.

“Instant Grime won’t get as many streams as, say, a chart-based playlist but when people are using it our users are actively looking through the tracks you are putting on it in the background – they are really engaging with it,” he explains.

“That’s why at Deezer we are judged on streams of playlists and engagement. A mood playlists will always get the longer streams, as they are chill out, background music.

“But genre-based playlists usually are used by a very engaged audience, who know what artist and tracks they are listening to.”

Grime and reason

It is playlists in these specific genres where things get interesting. Take, for instance, grime. This is a huge area for Deezer, it’s one of the music genres the streaming service has been championing.

“Grime is a global channel that’s not just restricted to the UK so we are giving a global reach to grime artists but we wanted to make sure that it felt authentic,” says Sulinna Ong, VP of Artist Marketing at Deezer.

“We are involving content creators that aren’t just from the music space from that scene. But a photographer that took a lot of the imagery and you’ll see on the channel the bloggers and creators from that scene pushing their favorites. We wanted it to feel authentic and that’s really important.”

And it really does. There are track choices by Hyperfrank and Alia Loren, a journalist and DJ rooted in the scene, and handpicked albums and tracks by those who have expert knowledge of grime.

But what about those who have a passing interest in grime but no real way into the music?

That’s where accessible genre-based playlists come in and there’s a key way these work, according to Dom Wallace.

Deezer’s Grime channel celebrates and doesn’t just curate the music.

“We have two grime playlists: Instant Grime and The Godfathers of Grime – this is an introduction to grime,” says Wallace.

“The top five tracks on that playlist are very important. When you are accessing that playlist on your mobile, you initially see the first five tracks – these are the showcase of the playlist.

“So you need your Stormzys, your Skeptas your Wileys in the top five because they are the ones that get you engaged in the playlist. Further down you can become a little more experimental.”

Setting the record straight

Given a playlist placing can make or break an artist, there must be a significant amount of pressure on the labels to get their artists into a playlist.

Wallace acknowledges this but believes that labels are now understanding that the key isn’t getting artists’ songs heard but heard in the right way and at the right time.

It isn’t about demanding when your track is released it goes to the top of every playlist. You need audiences to engages with that track at the right rate.

Dom Wallace, Music Editor at Deezer

“Record labels, streaming distributors and even managers are learning more about playlists and how to push their artists. It isn’t about demanding when your track is released that it goes to the top of every playlist. You need to work with all parties to make sure the audience engages with that track at the right rate.

“You don’t want to throw it in and put your audience off. You can’t just throw any old track at the top of the playlist. Labels are starting to realise this, so now I can sit with the head of a record label and I can say – ‘we tried to push this track last week, it didn’t really react well so we had to take it off’.

“They can then hold it back a few weeks and when we have a bit more activity – maybe some radio or TV activity – and we can go again.”

Slim pickings

It’s not just labels that are wising up, but artists too. Deezer has started using established artists to curate playlists on the service. Using artists is nothing new. Apple Music has been using A-list musicians to host its Beats 1 shows with great success.

Deezer is hoping that it can do the same with its featured artist playlists. Two of the biggest are from dance legends Fatboy Slim and Pete Tong. Between them have curated around 15 hours of music, with playlists that will be updated by the DJs.

“The whole industry has a way to go with artist-lead playlists but we’ve set up a relationship with them as we want their playlists to be updated as regularly as we update our own ones,” says Wallace.

“You want them to be just as engaged. Just having a list of tracks that aren’t updated works for a day or two, but you don’t get much after that.”

Fatboy Slim and Pete Tong have created playlists for Deezer.

Wallace has a busy job on his hands. He curates 20 to 25 playlists for the UK and Ireland, each with around 40-60 tracks.

“That’s [the size of playlist] audiences wanted to engage with,” says Wallace. “I thought it would be shorter but people do engage with playlists a lot longer.”

So, where does he get the time to forge an opinion on each song he adds to playlist?

The short answer is, he doesn’t. And there’s a very good reason for this: he lets the data decide.

What I think personally never comes into making a playlist. You can’t let personal preference lead.

Dom Wallace, Music Editor at Deezer

“What I think personally never comes into making a playlist. I have to have two heads, my editorial head and my personal head. You can’t let personal preference lead.

“For each playlist, I have a specific user in mind. I have a demographic I deal within. You build that profile up: what radio stations they listen to, what their job is, who are their favorite artists, what gigs do they go to… So, when I hear a song, I hear it from that person. It’s never me going ‘oh, I like that song’.

“The difference between a good editor and a bad editor is: a bad editor is someone who likes a song and thinks everyone should like it, while a good editor thinks of their demographic.

“I would be lying to say that it never came into it, as there may be a track that I really love and I may want to stick into a playlist when I can find it, but it always has to be the editorial first.”

      

Surface Book 2 might be a no-show at Microsoft’s next hardware launch

The latest rumor about Microsoft’s spring device announcement event is that it won’t feature one of the main expected revelations: the Surface Book 2.

That’s what ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley (a renowned Microsoft tipster) has heard from her sources, anyway. Surface Book 2 won’t be happening at the spring shindig, as the sequel to the high-end convertible simply isn’t ready yet. And it’s uncertain whether the Surface Pro 5 will be revealed either.

Although it sounds like Foley is unsure on the SP5 simply because she hasn’t heard anything regarding the hybrid’s appearance, as opposed to actively hearing sources talk about it not being unveiled, as with the Surface Book 2.

But the grapevine insists that there will definitely be a spring hardware launch, which begs the question – what exactly will be launched?

Foley reckons we might see an entirely new Surface device to follow up last fall’s Surface Studio, and that it could possibly be related to previous chatter from DigiTimes about a clamshell “Surface Book” laptop (although do note that this particular source is generally best taken with a healthy pinch of salt).

Hybrid cloud

The idea of such a notebook would presumably be to pitch it considerably cheaper than the pricey existing Surface Book, and that would tie in with Foley’s suggestion that the new device could be a ‘Cloud Book’ running the cut-down Windows 10 Cloud operating system which was much talked about a couple of months ago.

This reportedly won’t be an actual cloud-based operating system like Chrome OS, but rather it’ll be a lightweight version of Windows 10 which will only run universal apps from the Windows Store – although it could still be pitched against Chromebooks.

All this is speculation at the moment, naturally, and the price point of the rumored clamshell laptop would be a critical factor, particularly when considering how it would stack up to Google’s cloudy notebooks.

As ever, time will tell what hardware Microsoft has up its sleeve to go with the launch of the big Creators Update next month, but there will definitely be some folks disappointed not to see a sequel to the Surface Book. The Performance Base variant will have to do for now, it seems.

Perhaps Microsoft feels that the Surface Pro 5 will carry enough weight on its own, and this will be its sole major revelation on the hardware front. If neither that nor the Surface Book 2 are revealed, that’ll be a major upset for the rumor mill, as both next-gen hybrids have been expected to be unleashed this spring for quite some time now.

      

Download of the day: Firefox Test Pilot

Firefox Test Pilot

Everybody loves Firefox, but many of us still have little niggles and wish-lists of features we’d like to see. Sometimes we wonder, wouldn’t it be great if we could travel into the future, find out what Firefox can do then, and bring the future Firefox back so we can enjoy its future features right now?

That’s what Firefox Test Pilot does, and unlike traditional forms of time travel you don’t need to think about killing Hitler, bumping into Bruce Willis or accidentally kissing your mum. It’s available for Firefox on Windows, Linux and OS X.

Why you need it

You need it because the future is a better place, and because Firefox needs people to test its latest, greatest features before they end up in the final builds.

At the time of writing that means experimenting with features to take better screenshots, to keep videos on screen while you keep browsing the web, to prevent ad networks from following you around the place and even the end of dreaded 404 Page Not Found errors. All you need to do is download the Test Pilot add-on, get in a DeLorean and… no, you just need the add-on.

Download here: Firefox Test Pilot

      

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