Leech: The Lightweight Mac Download Manager

There was a time when having a download manager made a real difference to one’s experience of using the internet. There are places where this is still true. A few years ago, I spent a month in a remote part of India, where I struggled to top 2k download speeds with my laptop’s modem connecting via a fixed line. I literally waited an hour some days just to download a morning’s email.

A download manager wouldn’t have helped all that much with those messages, but it would have made a huge difference if I had wanted to download any software, music or video files.

That’s the most common use of a download manager: pausing and restarting downloads, scheduling them for later in the day, perhaps after you’ve gone to bed, so that massive download can be ready and waiting in the morning. There are now a number of download managers that can do a whole lot more than this. Speed Download has been the big-hitter for a long time, but (though I bought a licence for the app) I’ve never got along with it.

Recently, I’ve switched over to using Leech, which makes no claim to being as powerful, but turns out to be an excellent, lightweight option that might just do everything you need.

Simple Is as Simple Does

Leech’s interface is plain and clear:

Leech Interface

Leech Interface

As the text in the main window says, you can get started by simply dragging a URL – or a long list of URLs – onto the window, or the app’s Dock icon, and Leech will go ahead and queue each of the links for download. So if you’d accumulated a list of files you wanted to download, this would be a good way to get them all in one go, simply drag the list out of whatever app you’d used to compile it, and drop it into Leech.

You can also integrate Leech with several of the most popular browsers – Safari, Camino, OmniWeb, and Firefox (via the Flashgot add-on), but not yet with Chrome, a lack which will hopefully be addressed before too long.

You need to set this up via Leech’s Preferences, under the ‘Integration’ tab. Click on ‘Install Leech Browser Plugin’, and you’ll be guided through the process of installing the plugin itself, along with SIMBL, which handles the technical work of integration.

Browser Integration

Browser Integration

And then the final step (this is obvious, but I missed it at first, so I’ll say it): in your browser, click on the app title in the menubar, and then on ‘Download via Leech’.

Menu Bar Activation

Menu Bar Activation

Once that’s done, Leech will automagically catch any downloads as you click on links.

Leech in Action

By default, Leech is set to be as discreet as possible, and will shut itself down as soon as it has finished the final download in its queue. While files are downloading, the Dock icon doubles as a simple progress meter:

Dock Progress Meter

Dock Progress Meter

As your download progresses, the arrow will fill with white – as shown here, it’s right at the start of a very long download. And of course the blue number shows how many downloads are currently running.

You can pause downloads at any time by clicking the pause button at the right, and restart again by clicking in the same place:

Pause and Resume Downloads

Pause and Resume Downloads

Although Leech only retains items in the main interface until they’ve finished downloading, it also keeps a comprehensive History, which is available from the menubar:

Comprehensive Download History

Comprehensive Download History

The Queue menu gives you access to a few more useful settings – in particular, this is where you can specify whether Leech puts your computer to sleep or shuts down when your downloads are completed.

And via the File menu, you can quickly control where items are downloaded to, as well as setting up rules for how different file types are dealt with. So, for instance, I want a rule that will always download installers to my Desktop, to stop them getting lost in among everything else in my Downloads folder. I simply go to File and then ‘Define Rule’, which brings up this window:

Defining a Rule

Defining a Rule

As you can see, I’ve typed in ‘.dmg’ in the ‘Extensions’ section, and then selected ‘Desktop’ as the download destination. I’ve also chosen to have DiskImageMounter automatically open all downloaded installers as they arrive – which will make it more likely I’ll actually look at all the software I download!

Useful Extra Hints & Tips

If you’re wanting to download a selection of files from a site, you can use some URL-fu to speed things up. Say you’ve a list of documents titled in sequence ‘Research_project_1’ through ‘Research_project_25’ and you want to download the first fifteen of those. You could simply type the URL into TextEdit or anywhere else, as follows:

http://www.imaginaryserver.com/Research_project_{1-15}

Select the text you’ve just typed and drag it onto Leech’s Dock icon, and it’ll fetch the files you need. This would work with alphabetically sequenced files too, and you can use commas to include files not immediately following in sequence, e.g. http://www.imaginaryserver.com/Research_project_{a-c,f,r-u}

Another nice feature is Leech’s integration with your Mac’s Keychain – so if you have to enter a password for a download, Leech will remember it the next time you come to download files from the same server.

The last thing I’ll mention is the ability to exclude domains or particular file-types, so that Leech leaves them alone. In the Preferences, on the ‘Integration’ tab, you simply enter the details you need, and Leech will stay out of the way.

Exclude Certain Files

Exclude Certain Files

In Conclusion

Do you need a download manager? Perhaps for many of us this is a matter of preference before it’s a matter of necessity. There are places and circumstances where one can be very, very useful – even essential. But you would need to decide for yourself whether you want or need one enough to pay for it.

Speed Download is undoubtedly a more powerful programme – the fact that it has a built-in FTP client guarantees that right away, but it has several additional features. For one thing, the claim is made that Speed Download actually will increase your download speeds.

I must say I’ve never noticed any difference, especially when I take account of the time I spend interacting with Speed Download – mostly shutting it down when it’s finished downloading. And – though this is entirely subjective, I know – having to look at Speed Download’s ugly design makes my day less wonderful.

Leech’s minimal, beautiful interface and intuitive design simply work much better for me, so I’m happy to have switched.

Please chime in in the comments: do you think a download manager is worth having? Any opinions of Leech, Speed Download or any other options out there?


Summary

Leech is a download manager that integrates with every major browser, and adds a great deal more functionality over that included in your browser by default. If you download files on a regular basis, it's definitely worth taking a look at.

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