Friday, September 09, 2005

HMV Microsoft downloads play for sure maybe

In the bad old days you'd buy a tape or CD, take it out of its box, stick it in the music player and press play. What a complicated way to "get access to" music you've bought.

With the brand spanking new world of music piped to your home computer via legitimate Internet digital music sales, things are so much easier, as Andrew Orlowski's description of the new HMV/Microsoft service demonstrates... er... maybe not.
Have HMV and Microsoft banished the compatibility issues that have dogged the market to date? And have they laid the fears of digital activists about locked music to rest?

Microsoft was alert to these concerns when it branded its music technology "Plays For Sure™". So judge for yourself from this explanation, produced by HMV itself.

Will HMV music Play For Sure on an iPod?

It surely won't, we're assured:

"Due to some software and file incompatibility, Apple iPods cannot be used with the HMV Digital service."

And what's the assurance that music you can play music you've downloaded if you choose the HMV Unlimited option, but your subscription lapses?

100 per cent that it won't be playable at all:

"Please note that anything downloaded via HMV Unlimited is a 'conditional' download, and is effectively rented. It will only be accessible whilst your subscription is active."

But doesn't everyone use MP3? Am I sure I can convert the files to MP3?

You surely can't:

"There is no facility in the player to these files using an MP3 encoder."

How sure are we that the music will play on our new PC? Why, as it happens, that's as easy as ... a support call to Bangalore:

"Please contact the Customer Service department. Just use the 'Contact Us' button and we will deactivate your computer [our emphasis].

Deactivate? That sounds drastic. But heck, you've probably already thrown it out of the window already - and this way it will take up less space.

In our blind rush to trust in computers to do absolutely anything better, we're amazingly tolerant of how poorly computing technologies are actually deployed in practice. When I switch on my office desktop in the mornings it takes 3 to 5 minutes to boot up. My home PC takes longer. They can sometimes take almost as long to switch off, (having clicked on the start button). If the TV or music system took as long as that I'd think there was something wrong with them. But hey, computers are so useful and so good at what they do that we're happy for them to be no good at what we actually use them for.

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