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Linux users no longer have an excuse to pirate MP3s

FIRST INQpressions Amazon.com 's MP3 store only lacks Vorbis and FLAC
Wed Sep 26 2007, 10:38

ONLINE RETAIL giant Amazon.com has - as our Charlie D reported - surprised everyone with its MP3 store. So how would it work for a DRM-free Linux user?. It turns out that very well.

Despite Charlie's - and Amazon.com's - warnings about the process being for U.S. customers only, I loaded my SeaMonkey browser and decided to check how far I could get.

Amazon-com-apos-s-mp3-store

I typed the name of the first obscure song that came to my mind... hrmm... late '90s obscure band 'Cowboy Junkies' came to my mind. So I typed the bands name and lo and behold, a good list of songs to choose from, most of which at $0.89. Not bad. I selected the band's surely one-hit-wonder "Common Disaster ", which was also what I expected from online music purchases.

After clicking on the "Buy MP3" button, the next screen suggests you download the "Amazon MP3 downloader", available in versions for Windows XP and Mac OS-X. However, the page made it clear that it was an optional step. "If you would rather not install the Amazon MP3 downloader, you can purchase individual songs without it." Bravo, Amazon!

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The next step is a confirmation screen where you can still back out from the purchase. I clicked on "Download Song" and was taken to the payment page. I selected my international Mastercard, selected my Miami, FL U.S. mailing address - OK, so here's where I cheated, because I DO have a US shipping and billing address, and I've had one for years. After that screen, a download of the MP3 file was initiated!. The file was named "2 - A Common Disaster.mp3", hinting that the file names include the track number on the original CD.

alt='amazonmp3-4'

After this step you're taken to the payment page

Six minutes later - as this poor scribbler only has 256K broadband- I had the 6.5MB big song in my PC, an unprotected, DRM-free MP3 legally purchased from Amazon.com. Oh the wonder. I played it with the open sauce Audacious MP3 player - an XMMS derivative but with a nice Gnome interface-, and confirmed the song quality is as good as you can get by ripping your own legal CDs and encoding at 256K quality. Checking the ID3 info showed that the MP3s contain full and accurate information, with an interesting oddity which is the ID3 "Comments" field includes the Amazon.com "song ID#". In the case of this file, it was " Amazon.com Song ID: 202593139".

alt='amazon-mp3-5'

So what was next?. Checking how extensive are the offerings... I looked at the ceiling and tried to come up with obscure songs I liked in my youth... one instantly popped up: "Weather with you" from the Australians Crowded House. It's also available at $0.89. So far, not bad. Two out of two. Again I tried to come up with some obscure song and I surely found one: "Here is the News" by Electric Light Orchestra and from the album "Time" the very first record I got as a kid - a darn fine one to boot. I typed "ELO"... nothing. So I switched to "E.L.O." and that didn't work either -Amazon.com said nothing was found. I tried one last time by typing the full name "Electric Light Orchestra". Bingo. A list of songs appeared. But not "Here is the News". That song/album appears not to be part of the current offerings. Two out of three. Not bad, yet not perfect.

alt='amazon-mp3-6'

Trying to push the envelope I typed the name of a local .AR band you probably never heard of "Soda Stereo". The result? One song. Apparently from a compilation CD of Latin pop/rock. So I typed "Tango" and got a whopping amount of Carlos Gardel songs. Impressive.

alt='amazon-mp3-9'

The good
1. The download process is quick. Downloading custom software is not mandatory. 2. Linux-friendly process. You just need a browser and a credit card. The way it should be. 3. Files are DRM-free

The bad
1. It would be really great if, based on GEO-location or the country where the credit card is registered, prices could be adapted to the realities of the local market -that is, the price of a new CD in the customer's market-. 2. Three years ago, little outfit Mindawn showed how digital music purchases should be done. Now Amazon.com awakened to what customers want. Great. But what about copying the innovation of Mindawn as well, and offer the files not only in MP3 format, but patent-free OGG Vorbis as well?. Not all Linux distros can play back MP3 files due to patent concerns, and OGG advocates say that Vorbis (.OGG) files sound better and take up less space. 3. Despite the advantage of MP3 files, they still offer less quality than a music CD due to the "lossy" compression. There is, however, a way to compress a CD by 50% or more yet don't lose a single bit of information: it's a codec dubbed FLAC which is also open for all to use. Want to charge $1 instead of $0.89 for "high quality" songs? Fine by me!. And guess who's been offering FLAC files as well since 2004? Yes, Mindawn.com.

The Ugly
It should be really open to everyone, not just U.S. customers. It should offer Vorbis (.OGG) in addition to MP3, and it would be great to have FLAC as a " high-quality" option, at a higher price. Finally, the biggest drawback I've found is that you cannot currently pay the purchase price of MP3 songs with your Amazon.com credit, or a gift certificate.

Other than that, they should drop the "Beta" tag... it looks ready to go. On second thought... no, it's not ready until I can order the full "Time" album from Electric Light Orchestra.µ

Bartender's Report alt='beer07'

L'INQs:
Amazon.com's MP3 Music Store

 

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