The Download Challenge Page 2
Musicmatch 8.1 Musicmatch was the ripping and song-management program that came with most of the early MP3 players. Like iTunes, it was later used for streaming Internet radio stations and has now added a music-store component. But unlike iTunes, it still looks like a database-management program. The home page greets you with a single photograph of the artist of the day boxed with selected tracks. Below that you'll find two dozen tracks from other artists available for 99¢ each.
You don't need a subscription to buy songs or albums, but Musicmatch, like Rhapsody, is stronger at streaming than downloading. For $2.95 a month, you can create your own radio station playing only music by your favorite artists or composers. When you hear a song you like, you can select it from the playlist, buy it, and download it while you're listening.
While 99¢ covers a simple download, a $4.95 a month subscription gives you Artist (or Composer) on Demand, which lets you stream everything by any artists or composers in the Musicmatch repertoire - whenever you want. Unlike the radio playlists for the lower subscription level, Artist on Demand lets you skip over anything you don't want to hear, but when you hear something you especially like, you can still click on the title to buy and download it.
Napster 2.0 Since Napster was once synonymous with free music, you're probably wondering if anything on the site is still free. Well, the 30-second song clips are. Subscribe for $9.95 a month, and you can stream entire songs whenever you want. But actually downloading a song will set you back 99¢, and it costs $9.95 to download a whole album.
The only portable that Napster 2.0 will let you download into is Samsung's YP-910GS hard-drive player. Since the service uses the WMA format, though, Windows Media Player 9 will let you transfer songs to upwards of 30 different portables.
Napster's colorful opening page is animated with constantly changing panels featuring various artists and ads for that Samsung player. (Anyone familiar with the original Napster might be put off by the crass commercialism.) Once you get past the billboards, though, there's a lot of music to be found.
Thanks to Roxio software, you can start to burn a CD even before you've bought a track. Drag and drop the music you want to burn, sort the tracks in the order you want them to appear on the disc, and then click the burn icon. If you haven't already bought the tracks, you're then prompted to pony up. Funny, I don't remember that part in the original Napster.
RealOne Rhapsody There is a kind of philosophical war raging between the legal online music services. One camp, led by Apple, puts the emphasis on pay-as-you-go downloads. The other, led by RealOne (inventor of the RealAudio streaming format), maintains that storing tracks on your hard drive is a waste of space as long as you can stream them to a nearby computer any time you want. After all, as long as you've bookmarked a song title on your computer so it knows where to find it on Rhapsody's server, why bother keeping a copy of the song yourself? Of course, don't tell that to someone who's just lost his broadband connection or who relies on dial-up. And being able to stream on demand at home isn't going to do you any good when you're out jogging.
Maybe that's why Rhapsody does, almost grudgingly, let you burn CDs. At 79¢ a track, it's a good deal, though there's no discount for buying all the tracks from an album, and you have to pay $4.95 a month before you can buy anything. While you can burn only one CD per playlist, you can dub as many copies as you want from that disc. To move a track to a hard-drive or flash-memory portable, you first have to rip it into MP3 or another format.
Rhapsody could be the future of digital music, but for now, you have to work pretty hard to get the tracks you've purchased into other players, or even onto your PC's hard drive. There's no copy and paste for searching titles, alphabetizing of song lists, or searching for all tracks by an artist. Protecting content is one thing, but Rhapsody seems to go overboard.PDF: Chart comparing the 4 systems