Software divining: tools of the trade

No doubt the first thing you’ll want to know is what is ‘warez’. Well the spelling derives from the word software and is pronounced wares. The trailing z apparently symbolises rebellion or sticking two fingers up to the software companies who charge exorbitant prices for their products. What it means for you, however, is free software. A warez game rip, for example, is the equivalent of the version you could buy in a computer store minus all the non-essential trimmings such as video clips and music sequences, which many people would agree are merely irritating space fillers anyway.

The main reason for this disembowelment of retail software is to reduce the game to a more manageable size, not only so that it is quicker to download, but also to simplify the logistics of warez distribution via limited free web space accounts. Having said that though, if you really can’t live without the full motion video sequences or sound track that accompanies a particular game, music, video and voice add-ons are also available for download and can often tripple the size of the basic game making it almost identical to the store bought product.

The story doesn’t end there, however. The internet, as you know, is continually evolving and to keep up, warez has had to adapt along with it. The advent of the widespread availability of fast internet connections and reductions in web space limitations has led to the birth of the warez ISO, that is full, undiluted retail software. Saving you the inconvenience of downloading and merging the constituent components of a ripped game, ISOs provide you with the full monty to begin with. Unlike ripped games, ISOs are an all or nothing affair so 56k-ers beware!

Before you start hunting for free software on the net there are several essential tools of the trade which you must first acquire. Amongst these are decompression programs, a download manager, an FTP client and a firewall. In the computer world you are never short of software options; there are literally thousands of equivalent programs available in every category you could possibly imagine, and they’re all a mere click of the mouse away. What I’ve attempted to do here is to narrow down this vast range of options into a more manageable selection. The ones I’ve chosen are considered the staple diet of the warez connoisseur, but they are not everyone’s cup of char. If you find that you don’t agree with my choices you don’t have to stick with them, just pop along to your favourite shareware site, find the search box, tap in a few relevant keywords and take your pick.

The decompression chamber

Firstly, several decompression programs will be necessary to ‘unzip’ your archive files. Two of the best and most widely used decompression programs are Winzip and Winace and they can be downloaded from www.winzip.com and www.winace.com respectively. Winzip deals almost exclusively with files that have a zip extension. It can handle many other obscure formats, but the majority of these you are very unlikely to ever encounter on your quest for Windows software. Winace on the other hand is capable of decompressing ace, rar and zip files in addition to all the other common compression formats. Winrar, available from www.rarlab.com, is another indispensable archiving tool which every file seeker should equip him or herself with. Although Winace can handle rar archives as well as its own homegrown format, it cannot create new rar archives; for this task you will need Winrar. Apart from this fairly obvious impasse, Winrar is much better at handling rar archives as you would expect seeing as this is exactly what the program was designed for.

It isn’t absolutely imperative to install all three of these programs, you could get by with Winrar alone for example, however, each program has its own strengths and weaknesses and to get the best of both worlds (well three worlds actually) it makes sense to use different programs for different tasks. As you would expect Winzip’s most impressive party trick is opening, extracting and creating zip archives so if you are planning to take advantage of all three programs you should associate zip files with Winzip exclusively. The same goes for Winace and Winrar, so associate ace files with Winace and rar files with Winrar. You will be guided through this very simple process by fool proof wizards following the installation of each program so don’t worry about locating the relevant options yourself. You may be wondering at this stage why three different programs are necessary in the first place. Well this is due to the fact that there is no single standard format for compressing warez; different crackers favour different methods and different types of warez take different forms. Ripped games, for example, are first compressed and then spanned across ace archives which are then individually compressed into zip files, whereas ISOs on the other hand are first archived using rar compression, but more of that later. If you’re still baffled by this assortment of compression formats don’t worry about it at this stage, the compression pool will become much less murky as we go along. As long as you’ve got the necessary kit in your itinerary, for now you can precede in blissful ignorance. Fear not, everything will fall into place later as we get to grips with the finer details of data squishing.

Getting X from A to B

The second item on the check list is known as a download manager. These go synonymously with internet foraging and are vital in that they allow you to resume broken downloads of bulky files and can handle large numbers of files unsupervised. Assuming you’re not completely new to the Internet you’ve probably become accustomed to downloading files using the built-in download manager (if you can call it that) of your Internet browser. This is fine for small, single file downloads, but is about as much use as an inflatable dart board for transferring spanned archives to your hard drive. As an example, imagine trying to download a 50 file game. You would begin by clicking on the first file (hands slap foreheads across the globe in astonishment!), your browser would then open a dialog box to allow you to choose a suitable location to store your downloaded file and then it would begin transferring. If this process is interrupted due to a failed connection you have to begin downloading the file again from the first byte – unfortunately Internet browsers have very short memories so can’t remember what they were doing just a few seconds ago!

Once the first file has been downloaded successfully you would then have to click on the next file and begin transferring that and so on and so forth for each of the remaining files. I don’t think you need me to tell you how infuriatingly slow this whole task can be. This is where download managers step into the breach to save you from slipping into a downloading induced state of insanity. What these do is allow you to queue all of your 50 files sequentially and place them into a download task list. Once your files have been queued in this way you are instantly freed from your former computer baby-sitting purgatory to do something more interesting, safe in the knowledge that when you return your computer will still be happily chugging away without the need for any further intervention from you. Instead of getting caught up in a mind-numbing click-wait-click loop you can set your download manager to transfer a specific number of files simultaneously (two is a sensible number if you have a slow connection). Once the first file has safely landed in your downloads directory the next file in the queue will begin transferring automatically until the whole task is complete. Best of all though, if the connection with the server you are downloading from is broken you won’t have to begin again from square one. Your download manager will simply reconnect, erase the last few bytes which have been downloaded (because they may have become corrupt) and will resume the transfer without even breaking into a sweat.

As you know, dial-up modem connections are very fickle things and can spontaneously be broken for a multitude of different reasons. Not to worry though, this problem has also been anticipated and can be counteracted with the help of your download manager’s auto reconnect system. Providing you have told your download manager which dial-up account you wish to reconnect to when your connection is lost it will automatically attempt to dial into the service in the event of any problems. But that’s not all they can do. When your download task is complete, providing you have ticked the relevant boxes, your computer will automatically disconnect from the Internet and shutdown, now that’s what I call hands free computing!

Amongst the people in the know it is has always been ubiquitously assumed that Gozilla and Getright are the best download managers, but now the download manager market is no longer a two horse race. Hot on the heels of the aforementioned programs is Flashget, which has over night managed to claw back a substantial proportion of the user base shared by Getright and Gozilla. While Flashget takes all the usual duties of a download manager in its stride, where it really starts to break down the boundaries is in the speed department. Whereas most download managers will open a single connection to a file and keep on plugging away at it until it is complete regardless of the server’s transfer rate, Flashget will open multiple connections to various servers allowing a single file to be downloaded much quicker. These multiple connections are known as ‘jets’ in Flashget Land and are assigned with a particular portion of a file to download. Jet 1, for example, could be downloading the first third of a file while jet 2 downloads the second third and jet 3 downloads the final third of the file. Flashget attempts to locate the fastest servers, known as mirrors, where the files are stored and will subsequently connect to a selection of them to maximize the bandwidth utilization of your connection. When all the segments have been transferred they are automatically glued back together to form the whole file. In fact, Flashget is so good at its job that using it leads paradoxically to a situation where trying to surf the web while simultaneously downloading with Flashget becomes like treading treacle, but then it would be ridiculous to complain that the transfer speeds are too fast! Incidentally, your download speeds can be restricted so as to prevent Flashget from interfering with your surfing habits. I’m sure the circularity of this compromise is obvious by now, but the option is always there if you want it.

Another area where Flashget makes new ground is its file tracking logs. These are so comprehensive that you are always kept informed of what is happening as it happens. If a particular file is causing problems, by taking a swift glance at the server logs you can diagnose the error instantly and take remedial action. This is especially useful if you have left your computer downloading while you get on with something else or go out for the night. If you were using a lesser download manager you would be left completely in the dark as to where the problem lies, but with Flashget the logs are always available for viewing after the event.

Almost unique to Flashget though is the ability to download all the files linked to from a specific web page with a few measly clicks of the mouse. Subsequent to installing Flashget a new context sensitive item is added to your right click menu. This ‘download all by Flashget’ option does exactly what it says on the tin. When selected, a menu pop-ups in front of the web page you are currently browsing allowing you to deselect the files you don’t want to download. These will include images which make up the design of the page amongst other nonessential elements, but where Flashget really comes into its own is when downloading from free web space accounts which have been opened for the sole purpose of storing compressed archives. Under these circumstances these will be the only files stored in this location so there is no need to separate the wheat from the chaff, making Flashget’s incredibly efficient ‘download all’ option an even more impressive time saver!

Like Getright and Gozilla, Flashget has its own FTP client built-in to the program. The difference, however, lies in the intuitive nature of Flashget’s FTP browser interface which makes navigating FTP sites a breeze. For instance if you are browsing through several FTP sites consecutively Flashget keeps a record of where you’ve been so that you can return to these sites with a single click. This hierarchical treelike structure is implemented throughout the client so that you can always see where abouts in the FTP site you are currently situated. It’s a simple arrangement, but one which makes all the difference. Moreover, Flashget’s reconnect system is the most reliable one I’ve seen to date. Nearly all modern download managers support this function, nevertheless, many of them tend to crash if asked to reconnect to the Internet more than a handful of times. Luckily for us, Flashget’s redial feature works time after time. Ultimately, the one and only thing which lets the side down is the spyware which automatically plants itself into your system when you first install Flashget, but fortunately this can be swept clear using a spyware removal utility such as Ad Aware (see the anonymity tutorial).

So there’s my top download manager tip. Whether you choose to use it is up to you of course. Other people will tell you that Flashget is awful and will stick to their guns no matter what. Because you will hear so many contradictory predilections it is advisable to try all of these programs and then choose the one that suits you best, as using lots of them concurrently is likely to be a source of conflict. Your download manager is going to be your partner in crime so it’s very important that you get along. If none of these programs suit your needs consider visiting www.reget.com, www.forty.com, www.downloadaccelerator.com and www.netvampire.com to investigate some of the alternatives.

Alternative pathways

Next in the lineup is the humble FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client. An FTP client is used to gain access to remote computers known as FTP sites – another excellent source of free software! You can think of these as segregated chunks of space on the other people’s hard drives which have been designated as a kind of ‘share zone’. If you want to keep things simple you can use the built in FTP browser of Getright or Gozilla to see what’s on offer. These will allow you to download files from FTP sites, but you will not be able to do the opposite, that is upload files to FTP sites. For this task you need a fully functional, standalone FTP client. All the ins and outs of FTP clients will be explained in much greater detail in a later tutorial so I won’t delve any deeper into the topic here. For now it will suffice to say that an FTP client is an invaluable addition to your software arsenal so go and find one now even if you don’t plan to use it immediately. In my humble opinion the best FTP client available is Bullet Proof FTP, however, there are many others out there which are equally as good, so again find one that suits you and stick with it.

Digital safety nets

Finally you will need a firewall to protect yourself from malicious net intruders. Having your computer hacked into by a bored, spotty thirteen year old living on the other side of the world isn’t specifically a warez phenomenon. It could happen while you’re emailing your granny, searching for a job or chatting to a friend using Yahoo messenger, however, searching for warez is a time consuming task which will inevitably result in you spending more time online, and the longer you spend online the greater is the likelihood of you becoming a target. Well, ‘target’ is perhaps too strong a word. If someone hacks into your computer it’s unlikely that their motivation stems from a personal vendetta. More likely they’re just scanning a range of online computers to see whose ‘door’ has been left wide open to intruders. If you don’t install an efficient firewall this is tantamount to leaving a welcome mat on your porch as an open invitation to any malicious passersby. To find out more about firewalls refer to my tips section.

Cutting to the chase

So, moving on, once you have downloaded and installed these essentials you will need to visit some good download sites. If you simply type ‘warez’ into your search engine you will get an endless number of hits. The vast majority of these sites will refer you to nonexistent links, trick you into voting or will redirect you to porn sites. Soon enough you’ll start to feel like you’re stuck on a roundabout with no exit routes, so until you become more au fait with all the tricks, it is safer and easier to trust my tried and tested referrals – cue the links page.

You may be wondering at this stage why people create warez sites in the first place, what do they get out of it? Well, with one or two exceptions, to put it simply they are there to make money for the creator. This is not always such a bad thing, however, since the real warez sites use this to offer a give and take relationship where in return for the latest games and applications you will be persuaded to take a few seconds to vote or click on a sponsor link. Every time you click on a sponsor link, the site which it is promoting will appear and a message will be sent to the webmaster/mistress to say that this referral came from Katie’s Warez for example. Katie will then receive a few pence for sending a potential customer to the web site. This doesn’t sound like the best way to make your first million, but when you consider that millions of people across the globe could be viewing your site and clicking on your sponsors consecutively, it is easy to see how your earnings can accumulate. No-one can criticize these people for trying to make a small return on their time and effort, but of course the very best warez sites have no sponsors at all. Take Visper’s Realm (now dead as the proverbial dodo) for instance; this site really is in a class of its own and the people behind it are obviously in it for the love of warez alone.

This symbiotic system is fine as long as you find what you are looking for in return for your trouble, but many sites will get you to click on a link in the belief that it will lead to the first file of Unreal Tournament 2003, for example, whereas in reality you are whisked away to Babylon-X (a notorious warez site fake link – they probably offer the most money per hit). If you are suspicious of a particular link the best way to find out if it is real or not is to right click on it and select ‘properties’. Now look at the line, which says ‘Address: (Url)’. If this reads something along the lines of www.hotandhorny.com, it’s obviously not going to lead to the file you are looking for and you will know not to click on it. If you find that the right click function has been disabled, fear not, there are various ways of manipulating this extremely flimsy method of protection (refer to the web sites section of the FAQ). Even if you are looking for porn, these sites are not the best place to find it since they will ask you for some of your hard earned cash (can you believe that?). You can, however, gain access to these sites with a hacked password or a brute force web cracker, but that’s another ‘how to’ guide completely.

Usually you will find that real warez files are stored on free web site accounts provided by Geocities or Tripod for example. In addition to the ones created by the webmasters themselves these accounts are submitted by people who visit warez sites and want to ensure that the uploaders have plenty of web space to store the latest releases on. If you are planning to do this yourself try to make as many accounts as possible, but never give a real e-mail address. That way you can relinquish yourself from all responsibility for whatever is stored on them. If a free web space provider needs to send a password to you before you can access your account you can set up a few anonymous e-mail addresses at www.yahoo.com or www.hotmail.com. To save yourself all the wrist ache of setting up many individual accounts you can automate this tedious process by putting the ‘Webspace Faker’ to good use (again the FAQ section holds the key to this great time saver).

I hope all that hasn’t tainted the reputation of warez webmasters for good, because they’re not all bad, so to redress the balance I’d like you to consider the other side of the coin. There are a lot of kind, friendly people out there who simply enjoy helping each other out and who are willing to put a great deal of time and effort into creating a warez site to do just that. Such people ask for very little in return for their efforts, and often you will find that being anonymous can bring out people’s altruistic nature, but I won’t delve any deeper into the intricacies of Internet psychology right now! On the other hand, many people simply like the idea of cultivating a small portion of the web which they can call their own or enjoy the freedom of doing something illegal and getting away with it (or not as the case may be!). Either way, remember that money is not the only motivation for putting together a warez web site so try not to look at all webmasters in the same light and dismiss them as money grabbing con artists.