Since the early days of the web, downloading large files has been a bit of a pain in the neck.
The larger the file, the longer it takes to download to your computer, and the more strain it places on resources at both ends of the transaction.
There's a limit put in place, the one known as bandwidth. This has often been described as the 'width' of your internet connection.
Imagine your phone line as a water pipe; the wider the pipe, the more water comes through, faster.
As it is with data. Low bandwidth connections take an age to download anything of any size.
If you have a nice fat connection - a broadband connection - everything is speeded up nicely.
But that only deals with the bandwidth at one end. The computer you're downloading from, the server, has its own connection to consider.
If there are hundreds, even thousands of people all trying to download the same file, from the same server, at the same time, something usually goes wrong.
When that happens, the server itself dies, and everyone's downloads come to a halt. Frustrating for everyone involved.
In these days of everincreasing file sizes, this has become too important to ignore any longer.
Music, movie and software files can be huge. The prospect of servers keeling over every time they hosted something interesting to more than a dozen people started some smarter types thinking.
What if, they mused, the act of downloading could be shared among many? If the people who were downloading could spare a small chunk of their own bandwidth to become distributors as well?
That's the central idea behind BitTorrent, free software available for most computers including Mac and Windows.
With BitTorrent installed, you can start downloading files in a different way. They're different files, too, known as 'torrents'.
A torrent is the same as any other large file, except in one very important respect. Once one person starts downloading, their computer begins to act like a server too. Now there are two sources of the original file.
You can guess what happens next. In no time at all, there are four, eight, then 128 people downloading and hosting at the same time.
Everyone gets the file faster. The load is spread among everyone taking part. A classic case of a problem shared is a problem halved.
Once one individual bows out, they no longer need to be a contributor. But as long as there are more people starting their own downloads, it doesn't matter. BitTorrent is ideally suited to situations where lots of people want to download the same large file very quickly.
Having started out as a tool for die-hard geeks, it's fast becoming a useful tool for everyone. Even large software companies, Microsoft included, have started using torrent files to distribute software updates.
Meanwhile, while Windows users have got a new version of Opera 8 to play with what can Mac users try as an alternative web browser?
Well, they can try Opera if they like, although in my experience the Mac version is nowhere near as snappy as the Windows one.
Instead, Mac users should consider the fantastic Omni-Web (www.omnigroup.com), which costs a few dollars but really is a great bit of web browsing software.