[Read the story.]
Mr. Manjoo makes some compelling arguments about the possible appeal of Microsoft's new music store, but I think he cuts them a lot of slack. In my opinion, the problem with the online music stores is that they and their boosters ignore unauthorized file trading as a competitor. Of course, they have to promote the viability of the legitimate systems, but the fact is, the amount of music that iTunes has sold is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount swapped over Kazaa, BitTorrent, soulseek, and the others I haven't even heard of yet. As far as hardware goes, the most traded file format for music seems to be the ubiquitous, serviceable MP3. As long as this is the case, there will always be a demand for players that play MP3s.
Mr. Manjoo also soft-pedals how resistant most people will be about a monthly maintenance fee. We accept monthly fees for things like Internet service and a phone line, but the idea that one should pay a monthly fee to keep music is truly bizarre. Before the advent of Napster, you paid once for music and kept it; after Napster, music was free. At this point, a lot of people will be resistant to a pricing structure that's more invasive than the traditional model. The hassle factor alone will send me searching for an alternative, and I think the same can be said about a lot of people.
Music is entertainment, not a necessity, and it doesn't take too much searching on the Internet to find alternatives to the legitimate music download sites. I doubt that charging people more for music with more restrictions will keep people off the sharing sites.
-- Christopher D. Coccio
Team Microsoft: Freedom Police? I find it ridiculous to believe even for a second that anything Microsoft has or ever will do is on the side of freedom. Microsoft screamed freedom of choice when it stole Apple's very interface, named it Windows, and licensed it to PC manufacturers before it took over the market and made sure that there is little to no freedom of choice in what operating system you can use to do ... well, anything.
Word 2004 for Linux? Fat chance. Long is the list of the fallen Microsoft competitors who fell to "freedom of choice." Internet Explorer, which many probably use to view this very Web page, took down Netscape through the "freedom of choice" argument. Freedom of choice until Microsoft does its darnedest to engineer Windows 98 to make absolutely sure using Netscape is such a pain to use that only the most devoted even tried (hence the trade commission difficulties). Then Microsoft uses its premier place in the industry to ensure a truly subpar experience for all with no need to innovate (how many years has it been without a pop-up blocker built in? The beta of the Apple browser I use, Safari, had that from day one).
Real Networks is desperately grasping at strands such as ripping off Apple's audio format because through "freedom of choice" arguments Bill Gates moved Windows Media Player to the point of ubiquitous audio megalith despite its vast inferiority to both Apples QuickTime and Real's RealPlayer, particularly in image quality.
Now Microsoft is saying, use MSN -- not Apple, Rhapsody or what have you, freedom of choice. Freedom to download in our format to make sure our market share is further increased in yet another venue. To play our songs on our format and make sure that you play our songs on a player that decided to step in line with our program, WMA. Just wait till Apple is gone and suddenly WMA is only playable on the forthcoming Microsoft line of media players. Just as in the PC market, Microsoft only believes in freedom of choice till they are able, through their status as official technology monolith, to run everyone else out of the business. That is until someday, somehow, more people understand that Microsoft is as much interested in individual freedom as Sauron was in the "Lord of the Rings," alluded to in the title "One Music Store to Rule Them All."
Freedom of choice is all well and good until Bill gets the ring.
-- Ed Coughlin
I'm astounded that you could publish an article about online music stores without bothering to mention allofMP3.com or its smaller competitors such as MP3search.ru. Does the fact that they're not run by an American corporation mean that they don't exist?
Both offer a wide selection of songs in open formats. Allofmp3.com goes the extra mile by allowing the customer to choose not only the format (MP3, OGG, WMA, AAC are all options), but also the encoding bit rate. Neither Apple nor Microsoft has been able to deliver a product with anywhere near this flexibility.
Salon's failure to even mention these alternatives suggests to me that the jingoism permeating the rest of the American press has already begun to infect this fine publication.
-- Benjamin Kinder
There were some right observations and quite a few wrong ones in the article about the MSN music store, but one paragraph struck me as extremely odd:
"Is Windows Media DRM so bad? It is if even minor restrictions on what you can do with your media are anathema to you, if you're the sort of person for whom the very idea of songs or movies "expiring" after you've paid for them seems un-American ... On the other hand, ... if Windows DRM allows you to pay $15 a month and take your songs with you on the road -- rather than paying the same fee and just listening to them at your machine, which you'd be forced to do without Windows DRM -- you may well find yourself a fan of digital rights management. "
I'm sorry, but without the DRM, I could put the songs on any device I like. Considering that logic, I should probably also be a fan of Windows DRM because I'm not getting poked with a sharp stick while listening to the music as I might well be forced to endure with another kind of DRM.
"It's not as bad as it could be" is not exactly a compelling argument for anything. And since you're comparing it to Apple's DRM: I'm locked into using an iPod, that's true -- but once I've paid for a song, I paid for it and I can keep it on portable players for as long as I like. I don't quite see how renting this right for a monthly fee is more appealing than that.
-- Jens Baumeister
I disagree with Farhad Manjoo's analysis that MSN or Windows Media Player will become a competitive threat to Apple's iTunes and iPod. I have used the pay version of Napster, MusicMatch, Real, as well as MSN and Windows Media Player. I also own six different MP3 players, including five for Windows, and one new iPod 4G. Not one Windows product yet comes close to the slickness, intuitiveness and ease of use of iTunes and my iPod. The simple fact of the matter is that even with Napster embedded in Window's Media Player, it is still a clunky, awkward, restrictive, ill-functioning, ugly program. The free-standing version of Napster is probably the best of all of the Windows-based products, yet the ability to transfer purchased songs to media players within the application is as severely limited as iTunes is to iPod.
Farhad Manjoo makes the argument that the Windows applications just might be "good enough" to be a threat to Apple. The problem with that analysis is that iTunes and iPod are "Wow!" products, and in comparison the Windows products appear so ... 20th century. But the attitude is endemic to the entire PC industry. So many things could be being done better, with more style, and élan, and panache. Instead consumers are settling for product designs and software that offer really no remarkable innovation because they neither expect more from PCs, nor demand more. When Apple shows us that the future really can be now, why should we settle?
-- Kelly Kinney
In no wise am I a technophile. I'm glad when my stuff (desktop PC, laptop Apple, iPod, Palm, Otis) works; I'm frustrated and on the phone when it doesn't. But even I figured out -- with no help from MSN or anyone else -- that the music I bought from MusicMatch or RealPlayer could be transferred to my iPod if I burned it on a CD first and then imported it into my iTunes folder. For this we need a technology columnist? This is what shocks the experts? Time to get someone less shockable to write this column.
-- Michele Pollak