It’s not often that things satisfy expectations so I thought I should give some credit where it’s due. I’ve never bought digital audio in the past for a number of reasons:
- Digital audio always seemed like an intangible product compared to vinyl and CDs, in much the same way as software did to computer manufacturers in the early home computing days. I’ve always preferred to buy something I can touch and hold as a testament to the beauty of it’s content, like a book compared to a computer screen. The artwork, the sleeve note and the packaging make it a valuable, desirable artefact. I much prefer to buy the CD over just owning the songs.
- I don’t like much music, but what I do like I become utterly absorbed by. Consequently, for a lot of music out there, I might like one or two tracks on an album, but have to skip over the rest or put the songs I like in a playlist. At that point, buying CDs is uneconomical.
- The marketplace for digital audio has always been dominated by a few suppliers who restrict their music with DRM meaning you need Windows, a Mac, an iPod, iTunes or Windows Media Player to play them. No good for Freedom loving Linux types like me. You can’t move your music files from one MP3 player or PC to another. DRM is deliberately unsupported under Linux.
Of course you can also download music illegally, but I prefer not to do that. I’m happy to make my own music available free of charge and am happy to pay for music if it is affordable and available in a format which doesn’t restrict my fair use. It’s only recently that that has happened.
Recently there have been a couple songs that I listened to on the radio which I really liked, but I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy the full albums as much so I decided to see how much they were as digital downloads. I vaguely recalled announcements by Amazon and Play.com that they were selling legitimate MP3s unrestricted by DRM. Amazon sold tracks for 69 pence each at 280 Kb/s, while Play.com sold them for 70 pence at 320 Kb/s. While the small price difference for the extra audio quality may have been worth it, I actually chose to go with Amazon. Play offers you a limited number of downloads of the same file in case you delete it accidentally or somehow fail to download it successfully. Amazon offer a single shot download but force you to use their Amazon MP3 Downloader application, presumably to ensure a successful download regardless of connection breakages.
What interested me was they had a Linux version. Not only that, but they had versions for a number of distributions, such as .debs for Ubuntu 8.10 and for Debian and .rpms for OpenSUSE 11 and Fedora 9. That’s far better than I would have expected. On the downside, I happened to be on a 64 bit Linux machine and they only offered 32 bit packages which gdebi refused to install. Perhaps I could have forced the installation on the command line though that might have demanded all sorts of 32 bit packages, when I already have the 64 bit versions, I don’t know. Additionally, what Gentoo, Slackware and all of those other popular distributions that don’t use a mainstream package manager are supposed to do, I don’t know. In reality, I think I would probably prefer a straight download with the possibility of going back if I lose my hard disk or something, but I was interested to see how this Amazon tool worked so I switched to a 32 bit machine.
Well it seems to be a native Gnome GTK application, Amazon provide you with an ‘.amz’ file which opens automatically in the downloader application and pulls down your music for you. It was really simple. It uses stock Gnome icons and obeys your desktop and icon themes.
So, while I didn’t try downloading from Play.com, I will, but I was very happy with Amazon and I will buy music downloads from them again.
All this inspired the renaissance in getting a Last.fm WordPress widget working, which in turn resulted in me changing my WordPress theme. I’d been using the Rubric theme by Hadley Wickham (sadly no longer linkable) as seen here since I set this blog up in 2004 and used the updated version hacked to work with WordPress 1.5 and later by Tom Raftery. Sadly though it seems a little dated now and didn’t support WordPress Widgets. Also, I’ve been updating WordPress from SVN since around 2.0 which means that it won’t update any files I’ve modified manually, which with a theme which doesn’t support extra functionality like Widgets was growing with every modification I made so I decided to start with a fresh install of WordPress and a new theme. At the moment, I’m using the stock theme with a few additions, I don’t expect to stay this way for long.
So anyway, I tried again with the Last.fm widget I installed a while back but the Flash file it called wouldn’t load so I had to look into the code. It’s basically just a WordPress Widget wrapper around the Last.fm widget, however Last.fm have moved all their widget stuff around which is why the Flash file won’t load. So I went to the Last.fm website and looked at the widgets. You set up your widget and it gives you the code, so I just removed all of the code between the $widget = <<<LFM and LFM; lines, replaced it with the code from the Last.fm website and hey presto.
As a result, I now have a nice, albeit temporary theme, widgets and a Last.fm box proudly displaying my musical taste. I also found a Facebook application which hooks into Last.fm on the Last.fm website so now there’s no hiding from the embarrassing songs in my collection.
Anyway, after all of that waffling, I just wanted to say that I was very happy with the Amazon MP3 download service and will use it again. It’s nice to see a big retailer like Amazon consider Linux users and even more so, to actually realise that there is more than one version of Linux and not leave all of the users that don’t use an old version of Red Hat in the cold by providing a single, out-dated binary, as hardware manufacturers did a few years back, or making the same mistake with Ubuntu users in more modern times. Good show. Just build some 64 bit packages, 32 bit is edging it’s way out.