TAB – Spiral Frog: RIP

And so ends the life of another would-be iTunes competitor.

Spiral Frog, a Universal-backed subscription music catastrophe, has apparently called it quits. Though the service was “free” (using an ad-supported model), it still suffered from the five things that pretty much all subscription-based music models share…

Read the rest of this article on theAppleBlog >>

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TAB – Universal and Sony Strike Out Again. Totally.

Billboard recently reported that Total Music, a joint venture between Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, has finally ceased operations. The two music giants have “agreed to stop funding the effort, citing both business and economic factors for doing so.”

As far as I’m concerned, this thing was doomed from the start. It was born, like many of the hare-brained music companies’ schemes, out of thinking they could out-do iTunes. It was just one of several ventures that some of the labels entered into in ridiculous attempts to damage iTunes so they could somehow get back to the wonderful world of selling albums, not singles, at $15 a pop, like the good ol’ days of CDs.

Read the rest of this article on theAppleBlog >>

Nokia’s ‘Comes With Music’ Goes With Their Contract.

When Nokia and Universal announced their “Comes With Music” initiative last December, this is what I wrote

This music is heavily DRM’ed — no subscription model can function without it. I suspect the idea that you still “own” it after the year is dependent upon one’s definition of the word “own”. I don’t think I’ll like Nokia/Universal’s definition.

When the full details come out, I bet we’ll discover that unless you continue a Nokia “Comes With Music” contract on a phone (in which case you’re still paying for the subscription), or never change the PC you’re using when the phone terms expire, you will lose the music.

Today we now have details on the thing. The relevant points: 

The user is only able to change registered mobile device or PC every three months for a further two years post termination.

After two years post termination (after three years from beginning of the subscription) users will be able to keep the content on their current device/PC but will no longer be able to re-download it from the service.

In short, as I suspected, I don’t like Nokia’s definition of the word “own”.

You “own” it as long as you stay with one of their devices and keep extending your contract. Once the contract is over, however, the music is stuck on the mobile device/PC you have at the time, and cannot be moved. Own it, my ass.

Universal’s Total Disaster to be Reviewed by DoJ.

Universal’s had so many bad ideas on ways to hawk music it’s hard to keep up with them all. Still, I’ve tried.

Now one of their brilliant schemes — Total Disaster (a.k.a. Total Music) — is facing scrutiny from the Department of Justice.

Personally, I think Total Music is, well, a disaster. Still, I’m glad Universal’s moves are attracting some attention.

More Music Nonsense.

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A good article on The Lefsetz Letter about the Stones deal with EMI. One portion of the article makes it clear that Mr. Lefsetz is as fond of Universal’s Doug Morris as I am:

Doug Morris is waiting for Congress to approve blowing up traders’ computers, possibly lynching them in the town square, he thinks he can beat this thing, he believes the good old days are just around the corner.

Too true.

Pre-Macworld Tech Headlines Review.

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Let’s face it, next week we’ll all be discussing Macworld news, so I thought I’d review some tech headlines from the last few days and get them out of my system before the real fun begins next week.

Microsoft to spare the iPhone.

ms_iphone.pngWhew! Apple can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Bill Gates confirmed Microsoft will not crush them by releasing an iPhone competitor:

“No, we won’t do that. In the so-called smart phone business we will concentrate solely on software with our Windows Mobile program”

Funniest thing about that quote is that Gates called it the “so-called” smartphone business. No doubt because it’s running Windows Mobile. I guess if it were running some other OS it would be a smarter phone.

Windows Vista and Office 2007 flunk classes in Britain.

picture-2.pngThe UK is discouraging the use of Windows Vista and Office 2007 at British schools:

“Upgrading existing ICT systems to Microsoft Vista or Office 2007 is not recommended,” said the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, also known as Becta, in a report issued this week.

To be honest, had they gone after Vista due to its all-around failure in the marketplace, instability and bugginess I’d be all for this. This, however, seems less like a stab at Vista (after all, Office 2007 by all accounts is an OK product) and more a pitch for open source products.Not sure a thousand school systems all running a different flavor of open source OS and office apps would be the best thing.

Bon Voyage to the Voyager.

picture-3.pngVerizon tries hard not to claim the Voyager is an iPhone killer. No doubt they do this to keep people from comparing the two. Still, their ads tout the “touch screen”, and they want consumers to think of them as similar. They just don’t want techies to do that because they know what’ll happen, and it did.In his review, Walt Mossberg was excessively kind to the Voyager regarding it using a 3G network. He’s not a fan of AT&T, so the fact the Voyager is Verizon gets a plus, and he even tags it as costing less, though it requires a mail-in rebate and he doesn’t take into account the data/voice plan! Whatever.OK, Walt, no one will accuse you of sucking up to Apple now because you’ve given the Voyager more than it deserves. You can be honest now:

And it lacks the iPhone’s ability to use Wi-Fi hot spots and home networks, which are often faster than Verizon’s 3G network.

It also has only about half the battery life; a smaller, lower-resolution screen, and just a fraction of the Apple’s internal memory.

the Voyager suffers badly in the area where Apple’s phone shines: software.

As with so many of the new feature-packed mobile phones, the Voyager’s user interface is clumsy and confusing, requiring too many steps to perform simple tasks.

its applications, such as the photo organizer, music player, Web browser and email program, are primitive compared with the iPhone’s.

That’s enough. You get the idea. The Voyager is no iPhone. This should have been obvious when all the ads show of the “touch screen” is it lighting up when touched. If they showed any more you’d know what a klutzy phone it is.

NBC Universal continues battle against consumer rights piracy.

picture-4.pngNBC Universal has formed a coalition of companies to help develop anti-piracy measures. Good idea, guys. It’s not like that’s ever been tried.I mean, it’s not like anyone or any group or body developed some kind of, oh, let’s just call it Digital Rights Management, or DRM for short, with the aim of protecting content.

“A disproportionately large amount of [internet] traffic on our networks is peer-to-peer. The cost of that traffic is passed on to the user base,” he said. “We all have a stake in solving the [piracy] problem.”

Now that NBC Universal is on the case, I’m sure we’ll finally get solid, fair, un-crackable DRM for video that will be a win-win for everybody!Riiiiiiight.

Sysadmin hacks employer who didn’t fire him.

picture-5.pngThis one’s a real beauty, and gets better as you read it. Let me get this straight:

  • Idiot thinks he’s going to get laid off.
  • Idiot places destructive code in employer’s HP-Unix systems.
  • Idiot does not get laid off.
  • Idiot leaves the destructive code in anyway!

This is a riot, right? What a moron. Oh, but it gets better. So much better.

  • Idiot’s code goes off on appointed day, but has a bug so it doesn’t work.
  • Idiot fixes bug, and resets code for same date next year!
  • Idiot’s destructive code is found by co-worker.
  • Idiot pleads guilty.

Paul Thurrott finally asks a reasonable question.

picture-6.pngPaul is a piece of work. After talking up the Zune 2.0 and following the Microsoft party line, he now decides to mention that it has so many things wrong with it that it needs serious work.Most of us not drinking Redmond Kool-Aid already knew that, but Paul spells it out pretty well.

Adobe updates Photoshop Elements for Mac (finally).

picture-7.pngAfter more than two years (it won’t ship until March) and bypassing version 5.0 completely, Adobe is finally upgrading Photoshop Elements on the Mac.I’ve written about Adobe’s treatment of the Mac before, and this way-too-darn-long delay in getting a modern (and native) PE for the Mac is just one example.I ran PE on the PC before switching to the Mac, and it’s a fine product. I’m not crazy about the new colored interface but the feature upgrades look good even coming from PE 5 on the PC. Coming from PE 4 on a Mac they look great.I’m happy for Mac PE users, but I still think it’s ridiculous they had to wait this long for an update and Intel-native code. I don’t know why the Mac crowd puts up with that. As much as I liked PE on the PC, I’ll always explore alternatives on the Mac.

Warner Hates DRM Just A Little Less Than iTunes.

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So the net is abuzz with the story that Warner Music will sell DRM-free music through Amazon.

Numerous headlines call it a coup for Amazon, saying they beat Apple to the punch. And many are proclaiming it as a change of heart for Warner. It’s neither.

I don’t understand why it’s hard for some people to see that the only motive behind all this DRM-free love from Warner (and Universal before them) is motivated by the labels’ hatred for iTunes, and their attempts to break its popularity in the online music market. Amazon did nothing special to get Warner’s music, it was practically given to them by Warner.

Of the four major labels, only EMI makes their music DRM-free on iTunes as well as Amazon. And they did so long ago, without having to first make fools of themselves in a few more failed efforts. I would say that they have seen the light and shown a change of heart, but Universal and Warner? No.Consider the following:

  • It’s still not clear whether Universal has opened up their entire catalog DRM-free. That was certainly not the case when they initially made music available for Wal-Mart and Amazon.
  • Universal has also made their music available “free” (though not DRM-free) via other means such as Spiral Frog (which is bleeding money) and the Total Music initiative. They dole parts of their catalog out free or DRM-free to everyone but iTunes.
  • Warner is now making DRM-free music available for Amazon, but if it’s really a change of heart why do they care where the consumer gets the music? Why not make the obvious choice of also using the world’s largest online music store? Same goes for Universal.
  • Does anyone think Apple wouldn’t offer Universal or Warner music DRM-free if they could? Please. The labels are withholding it from them (either outright, or via unreasonable terms) in an attempt to gain some alleged advantage. This advantage is supposed to be pricing, and yet Amazon sells for the same (or maybe even less) than iTunes!

There is no change of heart, and the labels’ heads are still securely positions up their rectums. Any move they make to break iTunes, which is raking in money for the labels, proves that.

It concerns me that the labels hurt their own profits and customers’ interests in an attempt to get back at iTunes. It’s stupid, deceitful, and wrong-headed thinking. Why aren’t the stockholders enraged? I’ve come to expect this from the labels, but when I see how some of the headlines spin this latest announcement it’s clear some people aren’t paying attention.

Bottom line is this: If the music is truly without restriction, why do Universal and Warner care where you get it? It’d by like taking their CDs (also DRM-free) and selling them at Best Buy and Target but not Wal-Mart! It would be insanity to not sell your DRM-free CDs through the largest retailer, and yet when it comes to digital music this is just what Universal and Warner are doing. It’s almost impossible to construct a scenario where the reason behind this is anything other than taking misguided shots at iTunes in the face of ignoring your own potential sales, profits, and customers. Why they’re not called on this is beyond me.

Tech Headlines From The Last Week.

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More tech headlines to chew over, with my comments.

Nokia and Universal Give Away Music. Not!

So today Nokia announced a new service that allows those who purchase certain Nokia phones will be able to download music “free” for an entire year.

What kind of music? Well, it should come as no surprise that Universal is all over this, which makes it all the more clear that this music will hardly be free. This is simply the first fruit borne of Universal’s Total Music initiative, which I wrote about here.

This music is heavily DRM’ed — no subscription model can function without it. I suspect the idea that you still “own” it after the year is dependent upon one’s definition of the word “own”. I don’t think I’ll like Nokia/Universal’s definition.

When the full details come out, I bet we’ll discover that unless you continue a Nokia “Comes With Music” contract on a phone (in which case you’re still paying for the subscription), or never change the PC you’re using when the phone terms expire, you will lose the music. And good luck burning a CD.

There is simply no way Universal is going to let you download tunes for a year and keep them forever.

Sales of iWork do impact Microsoft.

There’s plenty of proof that iWorks 08 has been a hit. But some claim that even though it’s taken 16% of the Mac market it won’t effect sales of Microsoft’s Office come their new version in January (or whenever they ship it).

I don’t necessarily disagree that the number of copies sold won’t be impacted much. However, the profit on those sold will be impacted. Look at the deals MS has felt compelled to make on Office lately (e.g., Pro edition to students for only $69; buy Office low now and get Office 2008 for only $7.95).

Bottom line is iWorks doesn’t need to impact Office sales so much as profits. Office is a major cash cow for MS, and taking a bite out of that begins to reduce the free money MS gets to print.

Thurrott Loves the Kindle.

Paul Thurrott wrote a glowing review of the Amazon Kindle.

What bothers me about the review is that he glosses over the real vendor lock-in represented by the device, yet howls frequently about Apple’s alleged (but non-existant) “lock-in” with the iPod.

Another Apple-basher says Leopard’s just like Vista (*yawn*).

This is getting old. It started with the usual MS apologists (Wilcox, Thurrott, Foley), and now we have PC Magazine’s hit piece.

The article is ludicrous, and like most of them simply mentions a personal experience and what was found on various message message boards as “proof” that Leopard’s just as bad as Vista.

But what about all the great reviews of Leopard (even from non-Apple-friendly sources)? He simply doesn’t mention those. Well, I’ll correct his oversight. In fact, I already did so when calling other MS apologists on this silly argument (see the link for numerous links to great Leopard reviews).

And what about all the horrendous news about Vista (from the day it was released up to right now)? Well, he doesn’t mention those either. I’ll correct that as well; there’ve been so many I’ll just pick a few:

I picked the last three because they were written in the last four weeks. I did this in case an MS apologist wants to use the “Joe Wilcox” Vista defense. This is the claim that somehow all of Vista’s problems were early, and have since been cured (though Joe never specifies how they were cured). Well, he’s wrong. It still sucks.

It wouldn’t be hard to bring up another 40 or so articles praising Leopard or denouncing Vista or talking about them both where Leopard is judged superior.

Jermaine Dupri tells us what a good album is.

I’m a music lover, and I like albums, so reading this drivel was especially painful to me. A few thoughts on Mr. Dupri’s screed:

  • You do not get to define what a good or great album is. I would like to think that most artists who create an album at least think it’s good anyway, don’t they? Don’t they?
  • Only history can truly decide what albums are great, but good ones to the general public are noticed pretty readily. It’s already clear American Gangsta is not in that category.
  • So it sold 425,000 units? What’s your point? If singles were allowed it would have sold, what, 250,000 of those? That’s the equivalent of 25,000 more albums whose money you left on the table. And much more importantly, it’s as many as a quarter-million potential new fans to enjoy Jay Z’s music, perhaps attend a concert, buy more of his work, etc., all because they got to buy one song and then wanted more. Do you get it now? You didn’t just shutoff immediate sales, but people who could become actual fans.
  • To drive the above bullet point home, in case you didn’t get it: You need exposure. Selling a single song is a great way to gain that. What will you use instead, radio?
  • You cannot tell your customer how to consume your product. Not in this day and age. You’re as out of touch as the record labels whose credo you’ve adopted.

As for all the crap about how you guys created iTunes, blah, blah, blah, you’re delusional. Sure, iTunes (and Amazon, Walmart, etc.) have nothing to sell if you don’t produce, but without them who’s going to sell the stuff? You? Um, no. You need an outlet for sales, and you need to connect with your fans. Crapping all over iTunes while telling me it’s all or nothing for an album is not the way to do it.