Streaming (rather than downloading) content has become more popular in recent years, but many people aren't prepared to ditch their larger capacity smartphones, computers and storage devices just yet.
Started in the mid 90s, people's love affair with downloading files - from movies and MP3s to torrents and applications - is as strong as it ever was, and with increasingly fast broadband and mobile connectivity, more data is being downloaded to hard drives than at any point in history.
Internet download managers have existed for almost as long as the Internet has been around, and have similarly evolved over time. Their primary goal is still to help you with downloading large or multiple files, but many now come with extra functionality that supercharges the process - from splitting files into separate partitions to help land them onto your hard drive quicker to converting them to other file formats to be played on other devices.
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A common misconception is that downloading is all about illegal activity. It isn't - there are many legitimate reasons to fire up an internet download manager - such as wanting to grab a file that you've uploaded yourself after you've lost the original copy. Or you might be downloading creative works, or open source material that has been made available by the author.
Here are five of the best internet download managers. If you have any suggestions for this list, let us know in the comments below.
1. Download Accelerator Plus
Download Accelerator Plus is a tool that helps you speed up your internet downloads by searching servers on the internet to find the file, or files that you're download. By locating and requesting it from multiple sources at the same time, it can find the quickest route from its location to your computer's hard drive, landing it much quicker than if it was downloaded from a single server.
This works best when used to look for files that may be commonly available in multiple locations - such as anti-virus programs, operating system utilities and other executable files that have been made available by their creators. In addition to speeding up your downloads, Download Accelerator Plus comes with a built-in FTP program that allows you to access, download and upload files stored on a web server, and a Private Disk function allows you keep your downloads away from prying eyes.
2. JDownloader 2 BETA
JDownloader2 is the sequel to the popular file downloader JDownloader. Like others on our list, the program can download files from regular websites, but JDownloader2 stands out for its ability to easily download files from one-click hosts - such as Rapidshare, MediaFire, Uploaded and NetLoad.
Some download managers don't allow this due to incompatibility with the file formats that one-click hosts use, but JDownloader2 runs into no such problems as it supports the Rapidshare Downloader Format (RSDF), Cryptload Container Format (CCF) and Download Link Container (DLC) formats.
Other handy extras featured in the program include automatic captcha recognition, allowing you to bypass the common (and irritating) security mechanism, and you can even set up your downloads workflow to automatically move downloaded files into various folders based on their filename, allowing you to keep organised with minimal effort. Note that you'll need to download Java Runtime to get it to work, and the program is still BETA, so bear in mind that it's not the finished product.
3. Free Download Manager
Torrents have something of a reputation when it comes to illegal content, with owners of website such as The Pirate Bay appearing in headlines for being commanded to the dock for allowing its users to share copyrighted content. But there are numerous legitimate reasons to use torrents too, and if you're looking to get involved, Free Download Manger combines the best bits of regular download managers with torrent downloading programs.
Free Download Manager allows you to start downloads directly from the BitTorrent network or by clicking on torrents hosted on other sites, in addition to being able to download files over the regular HTTP, HTTPS and FTP protocols. The program's makers claim they have managed to increase the tool's speed by up to 600% in the most recent version, which now has the ability to continue previously cancelled downloads. With a slew of other features including the ability to convert audio and video into different file formats, Free Download Manager aims to be a one-stop shop for downloading a multitude of files from a wide range of online locations.
4. YouTube Downloader
YouTube Downloader is a hassle-free way of ripping YouTube videos to your hard disk drive, with the option to convert files into multiple different formats. It may have YouTube in its name, but it also works with a multitude of other video websites - from DailyMotion to Facebook.
The use of a tool like Free YouTube Downloader is necessary as many video websites stream video in the Flash format, which tends not to be compatible with smartphones, tablets and other devices. To save time, you can select from a variety of video formats - including AVI, MP4 and WVM - before pasting in a YouTube URL to automatically convert the file after it's downloaded.
5. Freemake Video Downloader
Freemake Video Downloader can download videos from a range of websites before converting them into different file formats. If you're running Firefox, you can even grab a plug-in that allows you to download any video from YouTube with a single click, which is useful for archiving your own video collection to hard disk or quickly grabbing copyright-free content from other users' accounts.
The program uses Freemake's own video conversion technology that powers its Freemake Video Converter, allowing you to convert files into formats including MP4, WebM, FLV, MP4 and 3GP. Aside from the basic conversion options, there's a whole heap of additional features - from allowing you to download - from social media sites such as Yandex, Facebook, Nicovideo and VKontakte - and you can set it to download through a proxy server and even filter adult content.