DRM has long been a scourge of music lovers, and indeed anyone purchasing digital goods.
The basic stated intent is to provide copyright holders with a means of limiting distribution of their intellectual property. While this can be appreciated, DRM too frequently gets in the way of legitimate usage by making the assumption customers are pirates (despite having actually purchased the product in the first place).
The popular computer game Spore was slammed mercilessly in Amazon.Com reviews due to its use of DRM- technology. Originally, Electronic Arts intended Spore to require authentication every 10 days but faced with opposition chose instead to permit the game to only authenticate on up to three computers. This was later increased to five computers and ultimately the rootkit-like DRM mechanism was removed from subsequent releases.
On a personal level, I purchased my first, and only, e-Book from Amazon.Com in 2005. I paid almost the same price for 'Leading Geeks' as a PDF download that I would have for the hardcover book. After downloading I was frustrated by only being able to read the book on specific, registered, computers and only being able to print a small number of pages.
Eventually, with the release of the Kindle Amazon decided to retire its previous e-Book methods and that digital download is now lost forever. I can never re-download it from Amazon and I can't activate it on any other computers. Thanks to the wonder of DRM, I have nothing to show for my purchase whatsoever.
Consider the pain, then, of music lovers who choose to purchase their latest hits from an online store to then find that (for example) the music is a protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) file and cannot be converted into MP3 format for use on portable MP3 players.
Read on to hear what Ubuntu is doing about it.
DRM prevents buyers from being able to enjoy their purchase on the range of modern gadgets they own, and it even works against the buyer being able to enjoy that purchase in the future.
The Ubuntu One Music Store is a tremendous announcement on many levels.
For one, it is DRM-free. If you buy a track from this music store you know your own personal freedom and enjoyment will not be curtailed. You can burn the music to a CD for your car. You can load it onto your iPod or other MP3 player. You can play it on your Linux or Windows or MacOS computer and convert it into other audio file formats if required.
For another, it is Linux friendly. For too long a barrier against Linux adoption was that people could not maintain their iPods using it (well, not without effort, research and experimentation.)
Ubuntu 10.04 will support the iPod, iPhone and iPad right out-of-the-box and coupled with the Ubuntu One Music Store there is similarly an out-of-the-box replacement for the iTunes Store.
The music store may be access directly through Rythmbox, the standard Ubuntu music player, but a plugin is available permitting it to be embedded in other applications such as Amarok.
Tracks purchased through the Ubuntu One Music Store are available in DRM-free MP3 files with a minimum bitrate of 256 kbps.
To use the Ubuntu One Music Store you just need Ubuntu 10.04, Rythmbox, an Internet connection, and a working sound card and speakers. In other words, you pretty much just need a regular download and installation of Ubuntu 10.04 when it comes available.
To purchase music you must sign up for an Ubuntu One account. This offers ancillary benefits such as 2GB of free cloud storage to backup files. Paid accounts offer more space. A previous Launchpad.net account also works.
The music store actually delivers your purchased content to the Ubuntu One cloud storage, and it is then synced to your computer that way. If you are running multiple Ubuntu computers you can sync it to all your machines via Ubuntu One.
The music store offers a good range of features, such as the ability to search by artist, album or track (as you'd expect) as well as recommendations, genre listings, new release information and varying payment options.
Keep your eyes out for Lucid Lynx when it hits the Internet next month. It's advances like these which will bring Ubuntu into the mainstream and giving people around the world a much greater freedom to choose how they purchase digital content without being locked into proprietary software and restrictive media.
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