Limewire has taken a big, bold step forward with the release of version 5.0 alpha of its file sharing client today. The new version features a completely revamped UI, an integration of the Limewire store, support for private file sharing and chatting based on Jabber / XMPP and contextual text ads, among other things. It's a major milestone for Limewire, and it could help to stop the erosion of its user base as well as actually win over some new and former users.

I had a chance to test the new client as well as talk to the Limewire folks a few times over the last couple of weeks, and one of the first questions that they asked me was what I thought about Vuze's efforts to revamp its client. I didn't think that much about it at the time, but it has now become clear that Limewire has studied the transformation from Azureus to Vuze very carefully.

pic of limewire 5 ui

One thing that turned Azureus users off of early Vuze versions was the in-your-face nature of the content platform that seemed to have taken over the entire client. Limewire carefully tried to avoid this mistake. Users are first greeted with a splash screen and explains some of the new features, and search is still front and center of the new client, with the store actually taking a back seat.

pic of limewire store integration

Limewire uses XULRunner for its new UI, which makes the whole thing look very much like a modern media client, hiding all the Java ugliness that Limewire users have learned to hate but live with over the years. The look is very clean, and many of the advanced network information pieces are now hidden in a separate menu.

pic of limewire advanced info

One of the most remarkable features of the new client is undoubtedly the ability to share files with your friends. Limewire uses the Jabber / XMPP standard to achieve this and actually makes use of existing Jabber servers, which makes it possible to simply log in with your GTalk, Jabber or Livejournal account.

pic of limewire jabber integration

I had some occasional trouble logging in today, but was able to try the feature with a preview version supplied to me by Limewire a few weeks ago - and it is actually very nicely done. The new client lets you manage a media library of files that are not automatically shared with anyone, and you can go ahead and selectively share single files or folders with your Limewire-using GTalk / Gmail friends.

You also automatically see all the shared files of your friends as soon as they are online. You explicitly have to share files with the entire Gnutella network if you wish to do so, and a separate sidebar tab makes it easy to see what exactly you are sharing with the world.

pic of limewire friend sharing

One last thing to mention are probably the contextual ads. Limewire has been talking about big plans for its upcoming advertising network for a while now, and the company always made it clear that they want to separate themselves from P2P ad companies that inject "sponsored content" into search results.

pic of limewire ads

The new version of the client definitely shows where things are going: Ads are separate from search results, and pretty much look like the contextual advertising you see on a search engine like Google. Very unobstrusive, in other words. For now, these ads only link to Limewire's own download store, but one could easily see this work for other advertisers as well.

Limewire's new alpha version 5.0 can be downloaded here.

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