Apple’s Fledgling Music Service Rocks

I never got into the whole song-stealing thing. I say “stealing” rather than “trading” because despite all the rationalizations, that’s exactly what it was and is: stealing. In the beginning, there might have been some folks who were sampling music or doing the modern day equivalent of dubbing a friends CD on to tape. But it quickly went beyond that, with millions of people deluding themselves into believing that downloading thousands of songs on to their hard drives some how constituted some form of “fair use.”

Not me. I know when theft is theft, and I was never delved into the electronic wasteland of Napster and its assorted file-sharing kin. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t hungering to be able to download songs legitimately, just that I couldn’t find anyway to do it. The existing music services had draconic conditions attached to them. Some wouldn’t let you burn CDs, others would … but deleted your copies of the songs as soon as you stopped subscribing to the service. Others were integrated into the Windows Media Player, a clunky, overblown piece of software that I’ve disliked for years. Still others had catalogs with microscopic catalogs, and what songs they did have were from independent labels.

What I wanted was a service that would let me download songs and let me listen to those songs on multiple computers, as well as my iPod. I wanted to own the copies of the songs I downloaded, and I wanted to be able to burn those songs to CD (or better yet, to DVD for archiving). And I wanted it to all be done at a reasonable price, one that wasn’t hyperinflated like that of CDs, but which still allowed the companies and artists to make a buck. Oh … and I wanted it to work on my Mac.

On April 28, I got what I wanted. That’s when Apple launched its new iTunes Music Store, a Mac-only service built into iTunes 4, Apple’s music jukebox for Mac OS X (a Windows version is planned). It’s a service for strict, philosophically motivated anti-looters such as myself, as well as those who were willing to buy music if the price was right (meaning half of what you’d pay for a CD).

The service lets users buy individual songs for 99 cents a piece, and to buy entire albums for $9.99 (some double albums, like Rush’s Chronicles, cost twice that). It lets users keep copies of the music on up to three Macs and as many iPods as you wish. You can also stream songs to other Macs using Apple’s Rendezvous technology, which automatically detects other Macs on the network. I should not, however, that I have been unable to get the Rendezvous tech to work on my Macs — they can see each others playlists, but balk when they try and connect.

The store is accessed via iTunes — it shows up as another option in the lefthand column, where playlists, your file library, and internet radio stations live. Clicking on it brings up a storefront in the main window, displaying the specials of the day as album covers, as well as search tools, genre lists, popular song/album downloads and staff picks. Using the store is gracefully simple — just find a song you want by browsing or searching for it, then click on the “buy song” button. A screen appears confirming that you want to purchase it (this pop-up window can be disabled if you like) and then the song is downloaded into your iTunes library. It works the same way for albums.

It’s that simple. Well, almost. You do need to sign up for an Apple ID (or use your existing .Mac ID) which is a relatively painless process akin to what you’d encounter on My particular case was actually more difficult than the norm — I had a problem with it accepting my existing .Mac ID, but I was able to quickly resolve that problem, and I doubt it’ll affect many people.

For my test case, I searched for and found the White Zombie song “More Human Than Human”, buy it, downloaded it and had it on my iPod in about two minutes. Maybe less.

Too cool.

Now I will say that the new service is definitely still rough around the edges. I’ve been spoiled by, and I was expecting this new service to offer album reviews, product summaries and user comments. It has none of these, and I missed them greatly.

The iTunes Music Store interface is clearly Web-browser inspired, but it needs to incorporate more Web browser tech, namely bookmarks. I’d also like to see the starting page be customized based on my past purchases and the music I already have loaded on my Mac — hell, it has this information, so why not use it?

Another drawback is the album information — it’s not always accurate. For example, I browsed through the service’s Rush offerings looking for albums I don’t already have. I found a bunch, but trying to get a chronological sense of when they were published was impossible — most of them had “1997” as their release date. That’s just plain wrong (I suspect that this may have been their re-release dates). While I was able to find a lot of older stuff without any problems, the service’s offering of current songs can be anemic. For example, I wanted to buy the album Fallen by Evavecance (a new group who’s song “” was on the Daredevil contract) but its not included. Apple updates the store every Tuesday with new music, so I’m it’ll show up before I break down and buy the CD.

Finally, while iTunes itself looks great, the page layout for the actual store leaves something to be desired — it’s basically just a bunch of text and album covers on a pale green background. It’s not nearly as visually attractive as the rest of Mac OS X, and that’s a bit glaring.

All that having been said, the Apple iTunes Music Service still a solid first offering. Despite a somewhat beta-like, rough-around-the-edges feel, the service works and works well, and should prove to be a constant money drain for Mac addicts everywhere.

Product Details

  • Apple iTunes Music Store
  • Mac OS X (Windows version planned)
  • 99 cents per song, $9.99 per album
  • Apple
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