09:52 AM

Review: Napster And Rhapsody For OS X And Linux? Sort Of

With the launch of new Web-based services from two major online music subscription providers, Mac and Linux users can finally get in on the all-you-can-download action. But are these services any good?

Linux and Mac OS X users may have their differences, but the two groups share some common ground. Both, for instance, enjoy the benefits of working with stable, reliable, relatively secure operating systems with open-source pedigrees -- and as a result, both groups tend to think Windows is about as useful as a nagging chest cold.

Web-Based Music Subs

•  Introduction

•  Want To Take A Napster?

•  I Hear A Rhapsody

•  Alternatives

Unfortunately, Linux and OS X users also share a problem that Windows users never worry about -- waiting, often in vain, for popular software that works on their systems. Case in point: Sorting through the small army of subscription-based music services to find one that offers major-label music as well as Linux or OS X support is like trying to find a needle in a haystack -- minus the needle.

Not everyone who uses Linux or OS X cares, or even realizes, what they're missing. That's especially true for OS X users who prefer to buy their music downloads outright, as opposed to renting access to a provider's online music catalog: Thanks to Apple's iTunes Music Store, they can stuff themselves (or, one hopes, their iPods) silly with 99-cent song downloads.

Linux users have it harder: iTunes doesn't play in Linuxland, and Apple is having too much fun tearing its Windows-based competitors limb from limb to care. It's a state of affairs that discourages many Linux users -- and, frankly, gives many of them a compelling reason to keep downloading music illegally, no matter how many old ladies and dead people the RIAA sues to make them stop.

But now there's another way: Two of the leading subscription services, RealNetworks' Rhapsody and the new-and-improved (i.e., legal) Napster, have recently introduced Web-based players that offer access to their music catalogs without using their Windows-based, standalone client software. Although both companies are using their Web players largely to promote their respective free music offers, the result is something many Linux and OS X users figured they would never see: a chance to use a mainstream, unlimited-download, online music service.

Given their limited feature sets, however, are they really any good?

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