Some of the comments on that review asked why anyone would use a download manager when most modern browsers have excellent download management built in. I thought the answers given were quite convincing, and it seemed that quite a few people do already use such apps, or might be in the market for one.
The short version of my own feelings about Speed Download is that I’ve never gotten on with it, though I own a licence and have used it on and off for the past year or so. But since there is a demand for download managers, and since Speed Download is well-known and widely used, I thought it would be worthwhile giving it another look and seeing whether or not my assessment was fair.
Join us after the jump for a walkthrough of its capabilities, and my personal judgement of whether looking at it again has changed my view of Speed Download.
Four Apps in One?
On YazSoft’s website, you’ll find a pretty comprehensive tour of Speed Download’s features. It is presented as a combination of four different kinds of application: a download manager, FTP client, tool for encrypted file-sharing, and a way to access your MobileMe iDisk.
Actually, I’m not sure the MobileMe capabilities can be counted separately, since most other FTP clients will let you do this too, so I consider it an extension of Speed Download’s FTP/WebDAV features.
The developers assert that the app has “a stunning new user interface option that feels right at home in Mac OS X”.
I don’t entirely agree – to me, the interface seems a little ungainly and cluttered. Sure, the app is powerful, but there’s just too much visual information crammed into its main window.
You do get to choose whether you operate in Simple Mode or Advanced Mode – but really there’s not much difference between these two. In Simple Mode, the Library in the left hand panel leaves out ‘My Uploads,’ ‘Received Files,’ and ‘My Servers,’ the list of servers disappears from this panel, and the menubar dims the buttons for ‘Upload and Rapidshare’.
I think these buttons may have disappeared entirely if I had chosen Simple Mode first time I ran the app, and of course, I could now remove them from the toolbar manually if I chose to.
Happily, you can switched into a Minimized View:
Or an even-more-Minimized View:
But while I appreciate the clutter reduction in these reduced views, you actually lose some important functionality – crucially, your download history (demonstrating the benefits of Leech’s menubar History item).
As a download manager, Speed Download does a solid job. It has all the features you need – good integration with Safari and other browsers, the ability to pause/resume downloads, auto-resume when you reconnect to the internet, good and comprehensive history tracking (in the full interface), and powerful scheduling.
Adding new downloads is quick and easy – you can drag a list of URLs onto the Dock icon or into the main window, and you’re away. Or hit the ‘+’ at the left of the menubar, and you can set various options to take control of your download:
Speed Download includes a useful contextual menu item that allows you to choose to download specific files while browsing a webpage without needing to have the app set up to handle all downloads.
Also, if you’re watching a video on YouTube, right-clicking and accessing the Speed Download menu allows you to download the video – that’s a cool feature, even though there are lots of other ways of achieving this.
FTP Client and iDisk Integration
Speed Download’s second function is as a FTP/WebDAV client. It does this competently and could replace a basic separate client – if your needs are fairly simple, then buying Speed Download might save you the cash you might have spent on Transmit, Forklift, or another FTP client.
The app uses the two-pane layout familiar from various other FTP clients, so that you can easily navigate a remote server, upload and download files, or delete items from the server.
Accessing your iDisk is straightforward and works exactly as with other FTP/WebDAV apps. As with the download manager, Speed Download’s FTP functions will auto-resume if you lose your internet connection while a transfer is in progress.
Encrypted File Sharing
If you have friends or colleagues who are also Speed Download users, you can easily share files peer-to-peer over the internet or a local network. I haven’t had the opportunity to test this, but it appears to be quite straightforward.
Simply click on the ‘Connect’ menu, and then on ‘Transfer File(s)’, select the files you want to send, and then select from the available connections.
Of course, there are many different ways of achieving this nowadays, but the fact that Speed Download offers an encrypted peer-to-peer connection means that your file sharing is far more secure and direct that feeding it through a third-party site.
So that’s a brief walkthrough of what Speed Download can do for you. No doubt I’ve said enough to interest some who are not familiar with this app, and enough to irritate some who’re strong believers in its superiority over other apps of its kind.
I have no complaints at all about how Speed Download does its job: it’s quick and powerful, and though I’ve not noticed it actually speeding up my downloads, people do seem to believe that it can do this – perhaps the effect would be more obvious on a slower connection.
But I don’t like it all that much. I find the interface ugly and over-busy (cognitively and visually: there are, for instance, just too many options available in the app’s Preferences) – and despite the developers’ claims to the contrary, I find it un-Mac-like.
It’s intrusive and I don’t like that I need to interact with it as much as I do. If I’m using a download manager – and I’m still a little undecided on whether I need one – I want it to be discreet and unobtrusive. I want it to do its job almost invisibly, and then to get out of the way. Speed Download seems to have an ego, and it draws too much attention to itself.
Speed Download is a kind of Swiss-Army-knife app, bundling in a few kinds of tools – some of these are really good to have onboard (YouTube video downloads, for instance, are an unexpected, but cool, addition), but others I don’t find make much sense together.
It’s good having a FTP client built-in, but do the two really fit? I would rather use Transmit, which does a better job for me (and is a real pleasure to use – and look at), rather than Speed Download’s implementation of these tools. If Speed Download were more focused on the download features, and less shouty as it went about its work, I would find it a much more appealing tool.
Maybe it’s just because I don’t need the other aspects of its functionality that I find them less compelling: I would rather see the app split into its three constituent parts: as download manager, FTP/WebDAV client, and file-sharing utility.
YazSoft have, in fact, responded to users requesting this division by making available Speed Download Lite, which leaves out the other functions and focuses on being a solid download manager. However, while users might feel happy paying out $25 for the all-in-one features of the full-fat version of Speed Download, I wonder how many would pay $20 for the download-manager-only of Speed Download Lite?
What do you think? Please chime in if you disagree with my conclusions – and give a shout if you agree!