A little background: One of the ways Apple manages protected content, including music you buy from the iTunes Music Store, is to make every iPod upload a one-way trip: You can't move music between computers, and you can't even download it to the same computer. As the name suggests, iPod Download simply restores the two-way connection that Apple's own crippleware took away.
Apple's response to having its crippleware un-crippled? That's right: iTunes 4.7, an application that enables Apple to keep telling you when, where, and how you can use the products you just purchased from the company Think different, indeed.
Apple's running battle against the iPod Download was, at first (and second) glance, a spectacular failure: A patched, iTunes 4.7-compatible version of the software quickly surfaced, as have many similar types of software. Or, if you'd rather wipe Apple's smudgy DRM fingerprints off your iTunes purchases entirely, there are free, easy to use tools available to convert Fairplay-wrapped files to MP3, Ogg Vorbis, or various other non-crippled formats.
Besides giving customers a choice of music players -- iTunes on Windows isn't bad, but it really isn't that good, either -- converting one's iTunes purchases to an open format deals with another issue: Apple's increasingly obvious penchant for building bait-and-switch tactics into its iTunes and iPod software. Last March, iTunes 4.7.1 imposed a five user per-day limit on the number of users allowed to access an iTunes library over a local network. Motorola's iTunes-enabled mobile handset, for all of its geek-chic hipster appeal, is also the only device besides the iPod to support Fairplay DRM-protected content, which means that if you ever switch to a Windows, Palm, or Linux smartphone, you'll be parting ways -- permanently -- with your now-incompatible mobile music collection.
The same caveat applies, by the way, to Apple's new Video iPod -- a device saddled with a long list of DRM-enforced restrictions, including refusing to play content ripped from your own DVDs, whether or not you own them legally. Not that it matters, since there's now a free, open-source licensed tool allowing you to rip DVD movies to your iPod anyway.
When I look at Apple's DRM technology from a practical point of view, I keep arriving at the same conclusion: Fairplay, just like every similar scheme I've encountered, is junk technology: It adds absolutely no value to the products it claims to protect; it annoys and places unnecessary restrictions upon paying customers; and it's absurdly easy to break or to remove, which makes it utterly useless as an anti-piracy measure.
If that's true, then why does Apple bother with it? Because the company wants, more than anything else, to make one action more difficult than putting up with its antics: not putting up with its antics. For most users, it will always be easier to keep paying for new iPods, or iPod cell phones, or whatever comes next, rather than mucking around with unfamiliar software -- especially when Apple breaks that software just often enough to make it look scary and suspicious to the majority of its captive audience.