To satisfy my curiosity, I have started experimenting with alternative download services. Last week, I test-drove Napster for a while, and found it wanting. I like the idea of "music to go" for records I'm mildly interested in but not ready to purchase. But the files are so fat when transferred to my portable device (I bought a cheap 512MB SanDisk because I'm not serious enough to buy a more expensive one) that I can barely fit 40 songs on. This is no doubt due to DRM encoding, which is insidious enough without doubling the size of every song I download.
Napster was my first choice to evaluate because of the tie-in with XM Radio, and I did like listening to XM online and click-dragging good songs into my library. I wish it cached better, and the playlists are impossible to manage.
Next, I tried Rhapsody, and so far I'm pretty impressed. Playlists are a little easier, though the transfer process to my portable device is clunky. If I make a playlist that includes songs already on my SanDisk, when I copy it, extra copies of tracks already on the device are added. With such a small unit, this is beyond irritating.
But – the songs themselves are smaller in size, so I can cram nearly 90 tracks on the device, more than double than I could with Napster. Also, the interface is very intuitive, with little fun factoids about artists and intelligent suggestions based on my taste. The Internet streams are instantaneous, with no audio hiccuping, and song transfer on my 384K cable connnection is faster than iTunes.
So far, so good.