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Net Gains

Seven things you're not doing on the Internet (but should be)
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 1)

Several subscription services offer downloadable songs. Napster 2.0 (the fully legal service that's related to the original Napster file-sharing service in name only) and RealRhapsody offer more than 500,000 songs each in a wide variety of popular genres—not much classical, but you will find jazz and country represented alongside rock, hip-hop and pop—for $9.95 a month. You can choose an artist and listen to individual songs, or select a virtual radio station featuring a particular musical genre. America Online subscribers can sign up for the similar MusicNet service, with 600,000-plus songs available for $8.95. Yet another option, Musicmatch MX Platinum, offers both an extensive selection of preprogrammed online radio stations and the option to listen to a particular artist for just $4.95 a month. While the Musicmatch alternative doesn't let you choose a specific song for streaming playback, it has one key advantage: it's built right into the Musicmatch Jukebox software, my favorite way to create, organize and enjoy MP3 music, so your streaming music and the MP3 songs you already own are all in the same place.

This is not to say that buying music outright online doesn't have certain advantages. If you know exactly what songs you want, with a few mouse clicks, they're on their way to your hard drive—permanently. If particular CDs have only one or two tracks worth owning, for 99 cents each, you can effectively separate the hits from the filler—and save yourself a lot of cash in the process. And while the audio quality isn't quite up to CD standards, it's not half bad.

On the other hand, if you do want a complete album, paying 10 bucks for the downloaded version isn't the world's greatest deal when for a few dollars more you can buy the CD version and, if you want, easily store it on your computer. Most important, downloaded music is encumbered with digital rights management software. You can play songs freely on the computer on which you bought them and use them to burn audio CDs, with some limitations. However, you can't simply place a purchased music file onto any computer and play it, the way you would with a standard MP3—the computer must be registered with the music service, and only a limited number of machines per account can be included. Similarly, even legally downloaded songs will only work with select portable music players. For Apple's much-ballyhooed iTunes store, for example, your purchased tunes will only play on an Apple iPod, which is a far cry from buying an audio CD and listening to it using any CD player on the planet.

Audiobook fans should check out the downloadable bounty at Audible.com. The company offers a variety of fiction and nonfiction titles, in both abridged and unabridged editions, all with the same production quality you find on traditional cassette-based audiobooks. The version you download from Audible.com, though, can be played back on a wide range of portable devices, including popular PDAs and portable music players. I never get on a plane without a few books loaded on my Dell Axim PDA—in addition to the primal pleasures of having someone read you a story, it's a whole lot easier than shoving one of those fat Stephen King novels into my carry-on bag.

Site Seeing
iTunes www.apple.com/itunes
Napster 2.0 www.napster.com
RealRhapsody www.real.com/rhapsody
MusicNet www.musicnet.com
Musicmatch www.musicmatch.com
Audible www.audible.com

Movies to Go
The files needed to store a standard DVD movie are simply too enormous to pipe over the Internet to your computer, so those shiny discs will still have a place in film lovers' hearts for the foreseeable future. However, movies can be compressed to sizes that will travel via the Net. While not high-resolution enough to look great on a big-screen TV, they are fine for watching on a computer screen, which makes them an interesting option for laptop-lugging travelers. Two services, Movielink and CinemaNow, offer downloadable movie rentals, including both classic films and new releases that are just hitting the DVD shelves. New releases run $3.99 to $4.99, while classic films go for $1.99 to $2.99. You download the movie to your hard drive at your convenience (the process takes from one to four hours, depending on your connection speed), but the rental period doesn't start until you begin to watch the movie. From that point you have 24 hours (or, for some films, 48 hours) to watch as many times as you like.

Both services have similar movie selections and prices, and the audio/video quality is about the same as well—not perfect, but an absolute godsend when the in-flight movie is Duplex with Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore. While researching this article, I was intrigued by an additional option offered by CinemaNow—subscription services providing unlimited access to a subset of its film library. I consider myself a movie buff, so this sounded like a promising idea at $50 a year for the Premium level or $100 a year for Premium Plus. When I searched the site to see which films were available via subscription, though, I was mystified. All those new releases? Forget it. All the classic films? Nope. We're talking Addicted to Murder II: Tainted Blood. Teenage Bonnie & Klepto Clyde. Oliver Twisted, starring the incomparable Erik Estrada. Why should I spend money subscribing to this dreck? Then I found the answer. While it doesn't come up in a standard search for subscription films, there's a section on the Web site titled "After Dark," featuring dozens of porn titles available as part of the subscription deal. Honest, honey—it's research!

Site Seeing
Movielink www.movielink.com
CinemaNow www.cinemanow.com

Online Magazines and Newspapers
Even in the age of digital everything, ink on paper remains a technological wonder. Buy a newspaper or a magazine and you get a huge amount of information and entertainment in an inexpensive, highly portable product that never runs out of battery power and doesn't break when you drop it. Despite my enthusiasm for the medium that pays my mortgage every month, I also use online versions of many publications on a regular basis, including several that I receive in print.

For example, I buy PC Magazine even though everything that goes into the print version appears in the online edition for free, because the physical magazine is more convenient and I find that reading lengthy texts on a computer screen is uncomfortable. On the other hand, the online edition lets me search for a word or phrase throughout the entire magazine in a matter of seconds. What's more, all the previous editions are available and searchable, so I was able to trash my precariously stacked collection of back issues.


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