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Book review When the drugs begin to wear off, and the sun starts to rise, an unnamed music executive shudders at the thought of its existence. In that painful moment of desperation, he wonders, "How could it happen?" "How could that rat write this book?"

Steal This File Sharing Book by Wallace Wang must be the worst nightmare of deluded music big boys everywhere. It's a guidebook to trading music, movies, photos, software and just about any other type of file. More than that, it's a guidebook for trading as anonymously as possible and via methods the big media companies would prefer the average person not know about. It's this rich content - not the writing or lack of a clear audience - that makes the book a treat. Why not give the mogul a heart attack before the coke gets a chance?

"The bottom line is that the corporations, who currently hold all the power and make most of the money, are going to have to change, and that's something they aren't willing to do," Wang writes. "Unfortunately for them, their fate is already sealed and out of their hands in the same way that buggy whip manufacturers, slide rule makers, and whale-oil lamp companies found themselves wiped out by technological change.

"The question isn't whether file sharing technology will put today's corporate powerhouses out of business. The question is when, and that future is closer than they think."

This lucid declaration appears on p. 258 of the book. That's the last page, and the above is the last paragraph. This, however, isn't they type of book you read for the surprise ending. Nor is it the type of book you read to discern the author's position on the pigopolist scum/media geniuses - take your pick - trying to crush the file trading industry.

Wang deals with the central debate surrounding file trading hardly at all. That last paragraph is one of just a handful providing much point of view on who might be wrong or right - mankind, or the music/movie industry - about file trading.

Instead, the book delivers a roadmap for finding and trading files - just as its title promises. In fact, it provides such a thorough list of file trading techniques that Wang only needs that final conclusion on p. 258 to make his point. There's no way the media companies can fight the technophiles and win this battle. After all, it's not even clear that shutting down music and movie swapping sites is really in Hollywood's best long-term interests.

The first half of the book will appeal more to the computer-curious than savvy geeks. It covers all the forums where files are traded and does so in the most basic, straightforward language possible. "A computer file can be anything from a single song to a photograph, a full-length motion picture, the complete text from a book, or a computer program that sells for thousands of dollars." "Email lets you send a message to a particular address on the Internet." "File sharing networks have soared in popularity because they make it really easy to find tons of files and download multiple files at one time." See? You get the idea.

If you know what a newsgroup, FTP, instant messaging and eDonkey are, then you're going to want to skip to Part II of the book and do so fast. Definitions of email can ruin any self-respecting geek's day. If you have no idea what any of the above terms stand for, then Part I is a blessing. It's kind of like Computing 101, telling you all the main file types, the main ways to send files via the internet, where to find content and where to find general computing information. Wang does an excellent job of filling the book with useful links, and Part I ends up as a top-notch resource for making your way around the internet.

Given that most Register readers are Part II types, that's where we're going to spend the majority of our time.

Kicking over the traces

Part II kicks off with one of the juicier subjects - protecting your identity. Wang gives out solid advice for masking your email and IP addresses and for setting up proxy servers. The author dutifully warns readers that many identity protectors don't work quite as well as billed. Still, he provides comprehensive lists of sites and types of technology that can help anyone protect their identities whether they are file trading or not. The methods laid out by Wang will trigger many moans at the RIAA and MPAA, as they make it much harder for the pigopolists to identify big time file swappers.

"Remember, don't break the law; just creatively skirt around the legal boundaries like any law-abiding politician would do," Wang writes.

Along with protecting your person, Wang lays out some basics for protecting you PC from viruses, worms and trojan horses. This section is a must for anyone who thinks clicking on britneylove.jpg is safe. More advanced readers will find advice for blocking spyware/adware, creating virtual PCs and encrypting files.

With these basics taken care of, you get to the good bits: sharing music, movies, TV shows, porn, software and books.

Even people who consider themselves above average file-traders will cherish these sections. Wang charges right past the popular file-trading sites and lists a host of new locales. It may be tougher to find the exact file you're looking for on these sites, but they're mostly free of legal eagles and can turn up hidden gems. For the serious geeks, Steal This File Sharing Book then opens up the world of warez.

Last but certainly not least is a penetrating analysis of the porn file trade. The book lays out places to find porn and handy programs for downloading and viewing porn safely. You can never be too safe. In addition, it points out that porn makers embraced file trading technology before it even become popular. The porn companies long ago figured they couldn't beat the geeks, deciding to join them instead. Losing a few dollars here and there to downloads is just part of doing business. Retailers often hold a similar attitude about shoplifting. Don't like it, but can't avoid it.

Overall, the book covers a lot of ground in a brisk fashion. It's an excellent resource for the bored file-trading stud looking to expand his game and for the up and coming geek.

AOL meets Debian

The book, however, suffers from its breadth. Is it directed right at geeks? Well, no. Right at newbies? Nope. It can be a frustrating read at times. You're being told what email is on one page and then digging through the inner-working of warez file-trading on the next. Think AOL meets Debian.

This means that those readers starting from technical scratch get more for their money. They can, over time, use the entire book. Above average geeks will want to turn right to the second part of the book for the juicy stuff.

And while Steal This File Sharing Book is clear and simple to follow, it's not the most entertaining read on the planet. Wang uses a style close to that of the author of your first Macroeconomics text book. This is a bit frustrating since the back of the book tells you that Wang is a "successful stand-up comic." Hard to believe unless you laughed at the one about the supply curve, the demand curve and the duck.

You'll want to read Steal This File Sharing Book in the near future, since much of the information in it will likely have a shelf life of about two years.

The book gets the highest of marks for content, clarity and usefulness. If every file-trader on the planet gave it a read, the media moguls would have a much tougher time fingering prolific swappers for lawsuits. And even if stealing songs by the gigabyte isn't your thing, you'll find Steal This File Sharing Book makes using the internet more interesting. Have a go at protecting your identity of traveling to newsgroups you never knew existed. ®

Steal This File Sharing Book

Rating

85%

Pros

The pigopolists will hate it. You'll find it to be a great resource for doing all kinds of naughty and not so naughty things. Porn.

Cons

Too geeky at times not geeky enough at others. So clear it's bland. As Homer said, "Be more funny."

Price

You can buy the book directly from No Starch Press for $19.95 here. Or you can cough up just $13.57 at Amazon here. UK shoppers can grab the title here.

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