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7/26/2006
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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?

Alternatives
By now, many of you are wondering: Is this it? Aside from Apple's 300-lb. baby gorilla, doesn't any other online music service work with OS X or Linux? And the rest of you -- who already know the answer to that question -- are wondering: Why is this chowderhead sucking up to Big Corporate Music and ignoring [name of the company inspiring your fanatical devotion]?


Web-Based Music Subs


•  Introduction

•  Want To Take A Napster?

•  I Hear A Rhapsody

•  Alternatives


First of all, this article deals with subscription-based online music options. Rhapsody leads the market in this category; Napster (thanks, perhaps, to its marketing strategy of "Do what Rhapsody does, except do it six months later") is not far behind. Even putting Napster in this review was a stretch, but at least its Web-based offering is moving in roughly the same direction as Rhapsody's.

By the way, if I'm wrong about that, speak up. If any other online music service supports Linux and/or OS X, offers a similar type of subscription-based service, and isn't based in a foreign country selected due to its lack of an extradition treaty with the United States, it's doing a great job of making itself invisible.

Second, I'm going to mention some alternatives right here. Note that none of these services deals in the same mass-market, major-label fare as Rhapsody and Napster, and they only sell tracks -- there's no subscription-based access option. As a result, these services are not forced to make the same deal with the devil that leaves Rhapsody, Napster, and the like saddled with DRM-encumbered files. And that, in turn, means they don't have to chain users to their own client software to enforce the rules -- or deal with Microsoft, whose Windows-only protected WMA format is pretty much the only DRM game in town.

Try these music-purchase sites on for size:

  • Audiobubble: A UK-based site founded by two musicians, consisting mostly of music from unsigned artists. Artists set their own pricing; the site's cut is entirely commission-based. Artists also provide the MP3s for download, so sound quality is bound to vary.

  • eMusic: The biggest name in DRM-free music, with more than 1 million tracks. Focus is on independent-label artists, although most music fans can probably find something they like. All music (average bit rate is 192 kbps) is extracted to variable bit-rate MP3 using a high-quality encoder.

    Note that while eMusic calls itself a subscription service, it's not an all-you-can-download subscription service a la Rhapsody. Its "subscription" rates offer a certain number of downloads per month, but you are purchasing these songs, not renting them as in the subscription-service model.

  • Independent Music Online: Small catalog (fewer than 100 artists) of mostly unsigned artists. All music sold in 160 kbps Ogg Vorbis format (future MP3, AAC support is promised). Gives artists 40 percent of net receipts, percentage increases slightly with higher sales.

  • Magnatune: A small but eclectic catalog; subscribes to the "Open Music" principle, which includes Creative Commons licensing terms. Splits gross receipts 50/50 with artists. All music provided as 128 kbps MP3 files; many artists also provide scores and other "source code" on request.

  • Mindawn: Relatively sizable catalog, heavy on alternative/progressive artists and independent labels. Music offered as Ogg Vorbis or as lossless FLAC files; pricing based on format and track length. Artists receive 75 percent of gross for exclusive tracks, 55 percent for non-exclusive tracks.

  • MusicIsHere: A German-based site (with English content). Catalog includes some surprisingly big names. The site caters to audiophiles, with music offered as FLAC and Ogg Vorbis files, plus other popular formats. Unlike most of the other sites listed here, accepts credit cards directly, rather than through PayPal.

    Matt McKenzie is the editor of Linux Pipeline. Over the years, he has broken more PC hardware than most people will ever use -- and he's not done yet. Contact him at mattcmp@sonic.net with questions, comments, complaints, or cash.

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