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ARCHIVE: Why Napster Rocks

Sat. Jun 11th 2005, 02:42pm:

I don't mean the old illegal version where you could just steal any song in existence. I mean the new Napster paid subscription service that lets me do the following:

  1. Use Napster on up to three computers for a total of $10/month.
  2. Access about a million songs from all over the World.
  3. Does not cost me ANYTHING to download most of the songs.
  4. Some songs are 99¢/download, however, there is an option to hide them and prevent them from showing up in search results, taunting me to pay for them. I hate it when some services show you 1 free result for every 3 paid ones. As far as I'm concerned, everything on Napster is free because I choose to hide the paid content.
  5. Server-based Playlsits: If I create a playlist on my computer at home, I can get the same playlist at work without doing anything because the playlists don't reside on the local computer, but on the Napster servers.
  6. Napster Streaming Radio has tons of stations I can just listen to without having to download any songs first.
  7. There's a Bollywood Station. I can listen to Hindi songs without having to make a playlist or anything.
  8. If I like a song being played on the Napster Radio, I can right-click it and select: Add to Playlist > [play-list-name].
  9. The 'Browse Artist' feature absolutely rocks. Anywhere you see a song listing, in the radio station, on your playlist, in search results, in your library history, just right-click and select: Browse Artist and you will be shown every song the artist or band has ever recorded.
  10. Multi-select everywhere: Anywhere you see a list of songs, you can select as many of them as you want and right-click: Download / Add to PlayList. I can download or make a playlist containing every song by Pink Floyd in less than 4 keystrokes and 2 mouse-clicks. In perfect near-CD quality. At no additional cost than my $10/month fee. Try doing that on iTunes. Or even LimeWire/KazaaLite/whatever pirated P2P you use.
  11. Just like the 'Browse Artist' feature, in most places you can select "Find in Members' Collection" to show you a list of every Napster user who has downloaded that song. Then you can browse through each user's entire Napster collection. And of course, you can get every song some user has by just selecting all the songs and choose 'Download Tracks' or 'Add-to-Playlist.'
  12. There is an option if you want to prevent your songs from being seen by others for privacy reasons, especially if you're ashamed of your bad taste in music.
  13. There really is no need to 'download' a song as long as you have broadband.
  14. Their customer support was awesome the only time I had a problem. Walked me very politely through a long process of deleting all the DRM data and helped me refresh my entire music collection.
  15. The audio quality is pretty good. The service is quite fast 90% of the time.
Now the reason I had to call customer support was because I pushed the Napster application a bit too far. The first week I signed up for Napster, I became greedy and ended up queuing over 3,000 songs for download. Mostly I did it by searching for an obscure song, findings users who had that song, and downloading every song from those users. Took me less than an hour to queue over a thousand Hindi songs. I queued a lot more songs for download as I searched for everything from oldies and one-time-wonders to the latest chart toppers and stand-up comedy acts. Frankly, I probably wouldn't have listened to 95% of them but I wanted to have them because I was treating Napster like Kazaa.

So I had about 2,000 songs still queued up in Napster for download when my computer crashed for some hardware reason, absolutely unrelated to my Napster abuse. However, it ended up corrupting the Napster's DRM database. Napster uses the Windows DRM platform as an intrinsic part of their service. DRM, which stands for Digital Rights Management, or more aptly known as Digital Restrictions Management, prevents content of any sort (audio, video, documents, software) to be used against the publisher's policy. Napster (because of these douchebags) does not want me to download a million songs to my hard drive and send them to my friends or just put up them on a P2P filesharing network. While I'm not debating whether DRM is good or bad in this instance, I have to admit that Napster's policy satisfies my pretty demanding needs.

Every time I download a song, Napster updates the Windows DRM database to allow me to play the audio file I downloaded. Sadly if this database gets corrupted for any reason, none of the songs you downloaded can be played. So I had to call up Napster support and after going from Level 3 to Level 1, I ended up talking to someone who knew exactly how to fix my problem. I had to delete thousands of songs that I had downloaded and clear the DRM database to be able to listen to Napster songs again. That sucked but I don't think I can blame Napster for it, probably Microsoft, because it's the Windows DRM API that handles updates to the database and should have accounted for hardware crashes. Hey guys, ever heard of atomic updates or transactions?

Well, I finally realized that I don't have to use Napster like Kazaa. I shouldn't worry about downloading most of the songs at all. The best thing to do is just add them to playlists so I can listen to them in future. Only download those songs that I listen to very often so that I don't saturate my download bandwidth.

All in all, I get to listen to a huge number of songs and access this service from 3 different computers. I can get all of this for only $10/month. There is ABSOLUTELY NO way anyone can ever beat that price and include all those features. I tried Yahoo! Music Unlimited but the experience was nowhere close to that of Napster. Yahoo's service may be technically superior and even cheaper but it's nowhere close to the experience that Napster provides.

However, Napster in it's current avatar, is not without it's shortcomings. Here's a few things that people don't like about Napster:

  1. You can't transfer music to an MP3 player for $10/month. You have to pay $5/month extra for that. In my case, I don't care because I rarely use my MP3 player anymore.
  2. You end your subscription to Napster and all the 10,000 songs you downloaded cannot be played anymore. Previously, I thought this sucked the most because I had downloaded so many songs and didn't want to be tied to Napster for the rest of my life just to be able to listen to them. However, now I have learnt to think of Napster as a library and not a bookstore. As long as I pay $10/month, I get everything I ever want. Once I stop paying, I don't get access to its vast collection. I'm really not buying the music. I'm just renting it for a very very low price. I'm happy with just listening to music and don't care about owning it ever.
  3. You can't burn MP3 CDs. I'm sure the douchebags will cry wolf if Napster ever lets me burn MP3 CDs so that I can listen to them in my car, but I really think it'll be very benefitial to folks like me who hate burning individual Audio CDs just for 10-12 songs when the technology to fit 10x more songs exists and doesn't cost the publisher any more. Of course, since it's the Windows Media API that burns the Audio CDs, they'll have to come up with the codebase to make MP3 CDs instead of the RAW ones.
  4. The Napster application could use some optimization. It's quite slow to load and sometimes songs take 5-10 seconds to begin playing. I have a pretty decent dual-CPU rig and if I can encode live TV feeds into DivX without any slowdown, I don't see how loading one application can take 20 seconds. Yes, I'm impatient.
Once again, while Napster's not perfect just yet, it's good enough for me. Don't tell me you love music so much that you spent $10,000 on your Dolby System and still can't afford $10/month because it's too expensive. If you like music and want to get it for cheap and legally, Napster offers you a VERY good solution. I've been using it for over four months now and love it more than ever.