The average college student grew up during the heyday of Napster, the file-sharing network that allowed everyone to freely share select files with other users of the program.
After years of controversy the network folded to massive legal pressures and shut down what was the pioneer in peer to peer (P2P) networks.

Napster, as well as its successors Kazaa, Morpheus, and LimeWire, can be used for the sharing of legal files, but the vast majority of users elicit its capacity for illegally downloading the latest chart topping hits.

Though the legality of downloading copyrighted music is unquestioned, college students still face the allure of getting their favorite songs for free.

Many, in fact, do download music illegally and face the potential consequence of being sued or imprisoned for such acts, depending on the severity of their violations.

With that in mind, the question remains: Is turning legit worth the money and convenience? There are several subscription based alternatives to P2P networks like Kazaa, including the reformed Napster, Yahoo! Unlimited, Rhapsody, and the recently launched MTV Urge.

A typical subscription requires a monthly fee for downloading music, most commonly $9.99 per month.

Most of the services at that price point allow you to only listen to music on your computer, but offer a slightly higher – typically $14.99 per month – fee to transfer and play your songs on a portable device.

Aside from breaking the law, subscription advocates cite ease of use as the biggest factor behind their decision to pony up the cash.

Though it must be noted that the iPod still does not work with subscription services because of the closed-off nature of Apple’s iPod and iTunes business model.

If you own one of the dozens of alternative MP3 players, however, making the jump to subscription services could be worth the relatively low cost.

For our head to head, we pitted the new MTV Urge against LimeWire in an attempt to see which program downloaded the new Justin Timberlake album FutureSex/LoveSounds fastest.
Doing a search for “Justin Timberlake” with MTV URGE returned a result of the artist name, which contained all of his albums in a chronological list with a download button beside each track. We downloaded the entire album in three minutes.

Trying the same on LimeWire returned over 10,000 results of various files. We then specified the search to just his latest album.

Over 4,000 results were found, and it took several attempts to successfully connect and download many of the songs. The album’s sixth track, “…What Goes Around…Comes Around…” an interlude, could not be found on LimeWire at all.

In total what took three minutes to do on MTV Urge, took 32 minutes on LimeWire.

Doing it legally, though, has its drawbacks as well. There are times, though rare, that some songs or even albums are unavailable, or only for purchase, on subscription services.
It is also required to maintain your subscription in order to renew your license required to listen to the music you’ve downloaded, since the subscription gives you the rights to listen to the tracks but does not give you ownership.

If you’re willing to risk legal and interface frustrations of P2P networks, then it’s obviously an option.

If you have some expendable income, however, you may want to try out one of the subscription services because they sure can make your digital lifestyle a lot more convenient.