Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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1213 words on

File sharing used to be cool and exciting a decade ago. Not only did the very fact that it worked and enabled you to both find and retrieve files from ‘the intertubes’ amaze, it also looked like a dawn of a new era and stretched imagination: the very real problem that some music should remain unavailable or condemned to residing on an old tape seemed solved, simply because even the most eclectic songs seemed to exist on someone’s hard drive somewhere, with you being able to find and get it.

I think the site giving the best results back then was called Audiogalaxy - and has duly been destroyed by capitalism since. As far as I can tell, the focus in file sharing then shifted to services/protocols like Gnutella or aMule. It also seemed to shift from the wonderful world of being able to find just that obscure song from the mix tape your friend gave you a decade ago to a world which focused on providing a gazillion copies of the latest Britney Spears album and shitty quality Star Wars recording from a cinema screen. (Plus porn, of course. I think file sharing clients are the first software in which I understood why ‘childsafe’ features may be useful: pretty much any term you can think of seems to have a kinky double-entendre that can be used for a porn title.)

And not only did the content become lame, the software was even worse. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that file sharing clients need to be horrible to use, sport huge windows full of incomprehensible/useless buttons and be obviously ‘cross platform’ in the worst way possible. And that’s before one mentions the cross-platform horror known as Java which successfully mixes mis-sized GUIs with humongous memory consumption. I was not impressed. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t useful.

It was a shame because file sharing generally is a good thing. For some reason (giving them the benefit of the doubt I’ll assume that computer and business people are not smart enough to make this FAIL intentionally but that we’re simply seeing technical incompetence here…) file sharing software has always sucked horribly. Try transferring a 10GB video recording to a friend and unless you have a very good network connection as well as a fair bit of technical knowledge, you’ll find this supposedly simple technical task very difficult. Try transferring a 30MB file to a thousand people and you may need to think a bit about your web server’s speed and bandwidth limitations first. It’s a mess, it’s a lot of effort, it’s potentially expensive.

BitTorrent is one of the technological answers to these kinds of problems, I think. It uses file sharing technology to distribute files while avoiding the shenanigans about searching or hosting the actual materials which may be illegal in a serious or less serious way. I’ve been fascinated by that idea for a while, particularly the community aspect, the idea that many people cooperate and give their upload bandwidth, so other people can get a file quickly without needing an expensive server. And then people who have downloaded the file ‘giving back’ by providing the file to others who want it as well later on. It seems like a smart way to solve the problem.

But the software situation isn’t great either. I think the first BitTorrent client I saw was Azureus (apparently called Vuze these days) which I can only describe as a huge slow Java mess. Someone pointed me to the Bits on Wheels client on the Mac for downloading one of those SXSW torrents (another nice idea which might just be impossible/too expensive without torrent technology) and it had a funky (but I guess mostly useless) 3D display of the files transferred. But development of that stopped.

Transmission Icon When looking for another client later on, I discovered Transmission. And I was impressed (which, as regular readers will know, is rare) because it’s a refreshingly no-nonsense piece of software. First and foremost it puts no crap between that torrent-file you’ve got and the download starting. It has a simple user interface focusing on the important points and even containing a ‘simplified’ way of displaying things without all the nasty details, making a torrent download look just like a download from the web. I liked it a lot because it did away with the pain and suffering I connected with GUIs for file sharing clients. Even more amazing: Transmission actually is an open source cross-platform project. Unlike many others, however, it does make the effort of using the native GUI technologies for the platform in question, thus enabling themselves to provide a good user experience.

To give something back to the project, I thought I could provide a German localisation. I thought that’d be interesting, both because the project isn’t tiny and also because file sharing is a strange area with a lot of odd terminology which could be a challenge to localise. As I see Transmission as a BitTorrent client for the technically uninclined, I wanted to create a localisation that’s as un-technical as possible. I wanted to avoid odd file sharing terms and try to find reasonable German expressions for what’s going on.

Doing so proved a bit tricky in some places. Both because I had to read up on some of the technical details that hide in the more advanced areas of the application. And because some terms needed a bit of pondering to find a reasonable solution for them. The most visible one of those is the ‘upload’/’download’ pair. It’s really tricky because it seems that it’s considered all right on the Mac platform to simply use the noun ‘Download’ in German these days. However, the same doesn’t seem to be true for ‘Upload’, nor for using ‘download’ as a verb, as that would end up being a rather strange ‘downloaden’. Hence other terms were needed, and I settled for ‘Laden’/’Senden’, the standard terminology Apple use for network transfers. However I wasn’t sure whether the short form of ‘L’ and ‘S’ for those would have been comprehensible.

My German localisation is part of the Transmission since version 1.80. While I checked and double checked everything there may still be some glitches or perhaps ideas how some terms could be localised more appropriately.

While I found it hard to get in touch with the Transmission people (I’m an e-mail person and they seem to be into that IRC thing which I completely fail to ‘get’ - it seems like twitter with the additional downside that you can miss messages and the upside that it worked in the 1980s), I ended up with a reasonably good impression localisation-wise. Most projects’ efforts on localisation seem rather half-assed, particularly in the open source area (hello Sparkle…). There may be downright mistakes or careless changes of localisation keys and typically there is a real lack of comments for the strings used in the .strings files of the localisation which can make it really hard to figure out where the string in question appears and what it will be used for. The comments in Transmission’s .strings, however, files were very complete and helpful and only a few details needed to be tweaked otherwise, making work very smooth.

Transmission main window in German (and yeah, you absolutely want to get and watch that 26C3 Wikileaks torrent!)

January 28, 2010, 10:21

Tagged as bittorrent, file sharing, software, transmission.

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Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.