AOL's Music Service Has A Good Groove

AOL Music Now is a unique music subscription service, although a bit of fine-tuning is needed.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 11, 2006

2 Min Read

AOL Music Now is a unique music subscription service, although a bit of fine-tuning is needed.

The service, still in preview mode during testing, is Web-based; most of its competitors (iTunes and others) use standalone software. The Web interface means you can download and manage music using a browser in any Internet-connected Windows XP computer. Competitors typically limit downloading activities to three computers.

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Music Now's interface is clean and easy to navigate. The home page lists newly released music and provides access to key features such as streaming media radio stations. It also provides access to music you recently listened to, sortable by artist and genre, and a daily playlist that's automatically generated based on your browsing habits.

You navigate via tabs. The Get Music tab, for instance, is where you find specific music by searching or browsing through genres. One nitpick is that the service uses only broad genres such as "Alternative" and "Classical." This makes trolling for new music a bit more time-consuming.

If you choose to download, music is automatically saved not only to your hard drive but also to your media player, if it's connected. That's nice, but the system provides very little on-screen status information about the download. It doesn't tell you exactly what's being downloaded. And if you only want the music downloaded to your PC and not to your music player, you must either disconnect the player or navigate a somewhat confusing group of dialog boxes in both the Web interface and Windows Media Player. Once the music is downloaded, AOL Music Now requires Windows Media Player--the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it software--to manage your media.

One final issue: While you can navigate the service using Firefox, you can't use that browser for downloads because AOL Music Now uses ActiveX controls that Firefox doesn't support.

I found AOL Music Now's range of selections to be quite solid. New selections are posted almost as rapidly as they are on Rhapsody, the service that's consistently first to post new music. But at $14.95 a month for the "to go" service and $9.95 for the right to download only to a PC, AOL Music Now is at the high end of the price range. Its 99-cents-per-tune and 10-bucks-an-album purchase price is the same as iTunes, and higher than most of the other subscription services.

(To see a comparative review of online music services, go to "Five Music Subscription Services Challenge iTunes,".)

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