The Last FairPlay Deal Gone Down

Will it ever happen? Will Apple one day stop issuing keys to unlock the FairPlay-protected music you purchased from the iTunes Store — iike Yahoo just did with music purchased from Yahoo Music, and Microsoft intends to do in three years with MSN Music?




Without the keys to unlock music protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, you can’t move the music beyond the five computers previously authorized to play it. Even if you have five authorized computers at the time the keys disappear, you won’t be able to authorize any new computers to play the music. While these protected songs continue to play on authorized computers, it is unclear what happens if you upgrade your operating system or switch operating systems on any of these computers.

While the headlines seem to blame the vendors (Microsoft, Yahoo, maybe one day Apple), the fine print blames the music labels. If it weren’t for the ironclad agreements with music labels that enforces the use of some form of DRM technology, Apple could strip the FairPlay protection from songs and enable customers to remove it from their previously purchased music. This wouldn’t be hard to do technically, but four of the big five music labels (EMI is the exception) would have to change their policies and accept the purchases of songs without DRM.

I predict that the only way Apple would ever stop issuing these keys would be if DRM finally died the death it deserves. The music labels know that Apple, now the largest music retailer on the planet, can’t unilaterally stop using DRM and can’t afford to alienate its customers, and is therefore locked into this situation and must continue to provide the keys to unlock DRM-protected music. In effect, the success of the iTunes Store has now guaranteed that DRM will remain in place long after the technology is obsolete — arbitrarily propped up by music labels that won’t change their minds.

I hope Apple will eventually strips FairPlay from all purchases songs. It was cool last year when Apple quietly dropped the price of its “iTunes Plus” DRM-free tracks from $1.29 to $.99 each, making its iTunes Plus catalog the largest DRM-free catalog of purchasable music in the world. It would be even cooler for Apple to drop FairPlay entirely, while still playing fair with consumers and the music industry. But that’s a tightrope only Steve Jobs may be capable of walking.

Meanwhile we’ll have to rely on inferior-sounding audio CD copies (not data file backups, but audio CDs burned with this music) for our purchased music. The only other choice would be to find a way to hack through FairPlay and offer a utility for people to break open their protected sound files. Good luck with that.



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iPhone 2 and MobileMe

As I watch the Steve Jobs keynote unfold at the World Wide Developer’s Conference here in S.F., I recall the jackhammers I’d passed on the way in, and figured it to be an apt metaphor: Apple is jackhammering the mobile computing and mobile phone industries to create this groundbreaking platform. The most important parts of the announcement were:

  • Feature-rich — with 3G speed that comes close to WiFi, and GPS for location-based apps
  • Affordable — the low-end iPhone 3G is only $199
  • Enterprise-ready — with the capability to push VPN and tightly-secure configurations and new custom apps that work behind the firewall, iPhones could replace laptops in the field
  • Lifestyle-ready — with MobileMe you can keep all devices synchronized all the time, and use all your computing resources on the road with just an iPhone or iPod touch

See Engadget’s keynote coverage, which is detailed and has great pictures; MacRumors Live coverage, which offers a concise report (and was the most up-to-date as the keynote unfolded); and CNET News coverage, which offers a bit more analysis.

The iPhone and iPod touch are huge, everyone knows that by now. The iPhone 3G, coming in July, will be affordable, removing one major obstacle to mass acceptance. It is by far the best mobile computer and phone out there. As Jobs said in his keynote, “… users love the iPhone. 90% customer satisfaction — that’s off the charts. What products today have that? 98% are browsing — mobile browsing has gone from nothing to 98% with the iPhone. 94% are using email, 90% are using SMS — 80% are using 10 or more features. You can’t even begin to figure out how to use 10 features on a normal phone!”

The iPhone 2 software (which also works in iPod touch) will provide added value to the enterprise world, where custom iPhone applications can be distributed and secured. Besides a plethora of custom iPhone apps, we’ll soon see apps that access all the major business applications (such as SAP and Oracle) and Web services (such as Salesforce.com). The ad-hoc distribution limited to 100 iPhones will work in classrooms in medical centers to completely change the role of mobile computing in those worlds.

It all adds up to a burgeoning platform for developers to change the world of mobile computing, and it leaves all competitors in the dust — especially Microsoft Windows Mobile and whatever new service Microsoft comes up with to compete with MobileMe. Essentially Apple has found the perfect way to please existing customers and bring new customers into the Apple ecosystem, and which is a far richer ecosystem than any competitor.
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It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My iPhone

The recent study by Rubicon about how people use the iPhone came to several interesting conclusions, but the one that resonates with me, a baby boomer, is that 28% of respondents said “strongly” that they often carry the iPhone instead of a notebook PC. Another 29% “mildly” agreed. Only 21% “strongly” disagreed.

I think the question made sense more for the older generation (over 30), because the younger generation wouldn’t answer this question the same way — they don’t carry notebook PCs as much because they already use phones for texting. Roughly half of all iPhone users, according to this study, are under age 30 and 15% are students, and I think it’s likely this entire half of the iPhone population didn’t react the same way to the question. Students, for example, couldn’t use an iPhone in class in place of a laptop.

Besides, younger people don’t feel the weight as much. A large percentage of the older-generation users — those who once carried laptops around for email and browsing, and baby boomers whose shoulders are now stooped — are carrying iPhones instead. I’m certainly one. Neck strain is a thing of the past.

Another interesting conclusion is that among the one-third of iPhone users who carry a second mobile phone, Research in Motion’s Blackberry was the most popular second phone, carried by almost one iPhone user in ten. Another question skewed to the older generation — Blackberries are popular mostly with business users in enterprises, who need them to access Microsoft Exchange mail servers. As this capability reaches the iPhone, the need for a second Blackberry evaporates.

Another study from iSuppli points out that owners of competing products — such as Nokia’s N92 or the Blackberry — use their phones for voice communications 71.7% the time compared to iPhone owners spending just 46.5% of their time with voice calls. The conclusion is that Apple has come closer than any other company to making a  truly convergent device used for multiple purposes.





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Apple and Google Put the Squeeze on Microsoft

As Apple eats away at Microsoft’s market share on the consumer side of PCs and mobile devices, and Google chips at Microsoft Office’s share in business, Microsoft is caught in the middle and facing a two-front war. The giant in Redmond is already weak in the knees in the enterprise world, where the largest companies on the planet are virtualizing their systems and transitioning to services-oriented architectures. There is very little innovation going on in packaged applications — the new focus is online (with some offline capabilities). This fundamental shift to a service model, which has been going on for quite some time, will get seriously businesslike this year and change the business world over the next few years, putting Microsoft at a disadvantage.

This is no April Fools joke (note however that the article uses Techmeme as its example — so much for trusting only one source!).

Apple’s big gains with the Mac are not as newsworthy as iPhone or iPod stories, but according to analysts quoted by Philip Elmer-DeWitt in Fortune, Apple has about 21% of the consumer market in the U.S. (10% worldwide); its share of the total PC market worldwide grew from 2.4% in 2006 to 2.9% in 2007. About twice as many Macs sell as PCs: after Apple introduced the Intel Macs, Mac sales grew 37% in 2007, more than double the industry-wide rate of 15%. The analysts also found that while most people tend to believe Macs cost 20-30% more than comparable PCs, the actual difference is more like 16% for desktops and 9% for laptops.

Meanwhile, Forrester analysts posited that Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo is partly about fending off Google in the enterprise. Google has moved tentatively into the enterprise software market with a cloud-based model, adding enterprise capabilities to online applications — including the ability to work offline and to sync your library of saved files with your local computer. Productivity and collaboration software in a cloud-based model has clear benefits — it’s potentially much less expensive, easier to manage, and  available anywhere, at any time, on any computer.

Microsoft remains a threat but the company seems to be standing still, getting nibbled at from all sides. Vista stands in the way of true virtualization, but it won’t stop the virtualization of applications, which will sweep the industry and loosen Microsoft’s stronghold on the industry (which is based on tying the operating system to the user through applications). Nor will Microsoft be able to put the breaks on the virtualization of servers and ultimately personal computers, which will be capable of running multiple operating systems if need be. Microsoft will very likely acquire technologies to keep competitive with the emerging software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms.

Apple will continue to be a source of innovation for truly personal computing, communications, and entertainment. Google and Apple will work together to change mobile computing, and the pair have a big head start on Microsoft/Yahoo. Google will certainly win the battle for advertising with Microsoft/Yahoo in the short term. Both sides will get heavy with acquisitions this year, so innovation may in fact slow down for a time as these mergers settle. But Google has plenty more big plans up its sleeve, and you would have to be extremely optimistic to say that about Microsoft or Yahoo.

The very nature of software applications will change so radically and provide so much choice over the next five years that people will look back on the operating system wars, Windows domination, and the Microsoft monopoly with amusement and nostalgia. Yes of course we will.

In the world of business IT, everything is moving toward on-demand business services. To excel in a competitive market a high level of autonomy is required, including the freedom to select the appropriate supporting IT systems. Services-oriented architecture (SOA) is a corporate means of normalizing the aspects of IT systems to make them more shareable, rewirable, dynamic, and integrated. SOA is converging with Web 2.0 technologies because companies are tired of waiting for a return on their SOA investments and the demand for change is pushing IT to search for new, more effective approaches, especially using the Web. As the intangible concerns with highly federated data and software get surmounted, expect to see the proliferation of just-in-time enterprise mashups and the tools to create them. These solve situational business problems and support dynamic business processes — the biggest potential benefit of merging SOA and Web 2.0.

As a result, it will be less important which kind of personal computer you have, which operating system you use, and indeed, which device you use to access business applications. Mobile devices will embed workers into business processes and collaboration, and mobile applications will explode. Microsoft Office, Outlook, Exchange, and all the rest of it will be obsolete as these mobile applications take hold. You probably are already using software as a service and your budget most likely does not include any packaged applications next year, so your ties to any particular operating system (Windows, OS X, Linux) evaporate.

And there you go. If you haven’t already decided to “get off Microsoft” you probably won’t do so consciously, but it will happen anyway. Even if you buy a Vista PC and run Office. At some point you will be using software as a service — even Outlook as a service — and bit by bit your computing activities will be virtualized: only loosely coupled to whatever operating system or PC you are using, loosely integrated with whatever applications you are using. Microsoft will no longer have a hold on you.

Unless, of course, you like to be held. Good luck with that.

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iPhone, iPod touch, iFund, i-Conquer the Enterprise

Blogs are just gushing about it. The iPhone and iPod touch will soon act like the handheld computers they were made to be. Apple announced iPhone 2.0 software and the software development kit (SDK) for software developers, the App Store online store for developers to place their wares, and the new capabilities — including better VPN support, Microsoft Exchange compatibility and push mail — that put the iPhone in head-to-head combat with the RIM Blackberry.

The SDK has exceeded developer’s expectations — in fact, Apple’s servers supplying the beta for download were overwhelmed. Third-party native iPhone and iPod touch applications will flood the market by June, sporting the touch interface. Developers have a solid database (SQL Lite, an open-source database) and Cocoa Touch, the built-in set of APIs that re-creates the Cocoa tool set used to handle the user-interface-generated events in Mac OS X. It also includes programming interfaces for Core OS, Core Services, and Media technologies. EA and Sega were on hand to show games, and Salesforce.com demonstrated a cool interface to its software-as-a-service — all created in a matter of weeks. A $100M “iFund” set up by KPCB will help goose this development platform with funding for third-party app development. The touch interface is great for games, and rather than using a thumbpad and buttons, you can steer using the iPhone’s motion sensor, almost like a Nintendo Wii.

Support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, the technology required to synchronize mail, calendar, and other data directly with Microsoft Exchange rather than use third-party gateways or synchronization services, makes the iPhone far more useful in the corporate world — in some ways easier to use to grab corporate email than using a lonely Mac in a sea of PCs. IT departments want the remote wipe/lock and on-device data encryption features that secure iPhones to the corporate IT world. Apple is also enhancing the VPN capabilities with support for Cisco IPsec and two-factor authentication, certificates, and identities. And iPhones can finally receive push email, so that you get a new message almost as soon as it is sent without having to manually poll the server or wait for the iPhone to poll it automatically (usually at 15-minute intervals). This feature, actually pioneered by RIM, when combined with the above communication features, makes the iPhone an attractive Blackberry replacement that also, by the way, includes an iPod. The one major drawback is that large enterprises may not want to commit to AT&T if they use other carriers.

While there are some complaints that Apple is doing to apps what it did to music — monopolize sales through one channel, the online store — the smooth operation of the store, and the ready-made audience of iPhone users more than makes up for it. The 30% Apple charges (you can set your own price on your app) is reasonable. Besides, free apps can be distributed through the store at no charge, and I expect this promotional business to heat up, with lots of free content-infused apps.

At the same time as the SDK announcement, but having nothing to do with it, the BBC launched its iPlayer for the iPhone and iPod touch that plays streaming video from the BBC for free. It’s strictly a WiFi service, so it requires the iPhone to be within WiFi range. The quality in video and audio is excellent — the video is 400Kb/second H.264, while audio runs as a 116Kb/second AAC stream. Check it out here.

Want to bet against the iPhone now? Good luck with that.

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The Seventh Son

Yes, this is the one, the one they call Windows 7. It’s supposed to be the operating system to replace Vista in three years (or less). Microsoft has supposedly learned from its mistakes with Vista and will position Windows 7 for consumers directly, offering a point-release update of Vista for business users right up to 7’s launch.

These are the rumors, but some blog pundits wonder if there’s a deliberate seed-planting effort going on by Microsoft (indeed, here’ an insider talking about it). But Mary Jo Foley doesn’t think so — she thinks Microsoft really wants to keep a lid on it. It’s just harder to do that and still get developers to test builds.

Sources on Neowin.net indicate that Windows 7 should be finished in the second half of 2009, three years after Windows Vista. Highlights include imitations of Mac OS X features such as network-aware connections that detect which network you’re in and switch your settings and devices accordingly, and (with a Live account) the ability to carry your Internet Explorer settings and favorites with you. Screen shots on rumor blogs are almost identical to Windows Vista with only minor changes. One is a new gadget called “Windows Media Center” that displays whatever is playing on your WMC.

Now that Bill Gates has left the building, will Microsoft continue to be as big a threat to innovation as it was in the past? Certainly not with as much wit. Microsoft will very likely acquire technologies to keep competitive with the emerging software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. And count on Windows 7 to be locked into Microsoft’s online services. Windows Live has taken ownership of most of the service-connected features in Windows, including Mail, Messenger, and Photo Gallery. You can expect to see a Windows Live release in the same time-frame as Windows 7 that makes the “Windows + Windows Live” combination a marketing hit — and a potential Trojan horse for deeply integrated capabilities that lock consumers into the Microsoft world. If that world includes all of Yahoo’s services, well, that makes sense to Redmond, doesn’t it?

Care to stick with Vista and wait for the Oz-like world of Windows 7? Good luck with that.

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Thunderclap: New Movies and New Macs

I’m writing this as Steve Jobs delivers his keynote address at Macworld Expo (see Gizmodo or Engadget for live coverage).

Apple‘s theme of “Something in the air” is of course based on the Thunderclap Newman song, “Something in the Air” which appeared on the soundtracks of at least two influential 1960s movies, The Strawberry Statement and Easy Rider.

You can find versions on iTunes, such as the Thunderclap Newman original version (from the Easy Rider album), a new version by the band recorded in 2007 with Zoot Money, and the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover version.

The association with revolution is obvious, but Apple’s intent is to showcase wireless technology and its uses in media — particularly Apple TV. Again by making the most of wireless technology, its iTunes store, the iPod connectivity and an eye-popping, simple to use interface, Apple has become the most important challenger to the established video-on-demand players, offering movie rentals through iTunes and directly to your Apple TV. You don’t need to sync with your computer to play what you obtain through Apple TV, but you can sync back to your computer after you’ve purchased something. Very cool.

The MacBook Air is, according to Jobs, the world’s thinnest notebook computer. It is extremely thin and lightweight, a major innovation in notebook design (it can fit inside a manila envelope). Besides a full keyboard it also includes built-in multi-touch gesture support with its generous trackpad, supporting all new gestures, and a built-in iSight camera. The optional USB optical drive fits in with Jobs’ vision that these drives will one day be obsolete as we get more of our software, tunes, videos, and movies online. With all these innovations Apple is able to increase battery life to five hours.


This is a full MacBook Pro for $1,799 with the Intel 1.2 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, and since it also runs Windows as well as Leopard (OS X), it is by far the best notebook computer on the market — when it gets on the market (in two weeks, according to Apple). Together with Time Capsule, the wireless backup device that combines AirPort with a large capacity hard drive, Apple is clearly on a roll. I am ready to plunk money down for the MacBook Air and the new Apple TV.

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Burning the Macworld Oil

With Macworld Expo in San Francisco approaching, the rumor mill is working overtime along with developers feverishly constructing demos and beta versions of new applications. One wonders when the expo folks will change its name to Apple Expo — I think by next year. The show covers far more than Mac, and given recent rumors of Windows XP applications running on OS X without emulation — unhindered, side-by-side with Mac apps — the show will need a name change. Besides, the majority of new products and services will be for the iPod and iPhone. You’ll see far more sophisticated iPod-automobile interfaces, lots of cool headphones and gadgets, outstanding iPhone and iPod touch apps in beta, and a mushrooming industry of Web-based apps, some labeled “Web 2.0” and some “Software-as-a-Service” but mostly built with Ajax tools.

There is no doubt that Apple has several important new products lined up for 2008. A next-generation iPhone with 3G capability is nearly guaranteed by June, while analysts also think a new Apple TV is in the works that will include an LCD (display). The sexiest rumor of all is the Mac Tablet or iTablet, which according to some is supposed to be a much larger version of the iPod touch that runs OS X in some form, and according to others is a full-blown Mac in tablet form. An iTablet form factor with a touch interface would killer as a video player as well as an ultra-portable computer. Add a built-in camera you’d have a device capable of portable video communication. It would also be a far, far better electronic book reader than the Amazon Kindle.

Apple TV truly does need a boost, as Apple has sold about 800,000 units, a bit shy of analysts’ projections of one million. Of course, compared to TiVO and other third-party video devices, that’s pretty good, but Apple needs a winner in this category. Apple TV should be capable of working with iTunes and a subscription model for TV shows and movies — media that is mostly watched once. You should be able to dial up a show or movie directly from Apple TV, after having set up a subscription service via iTunes.

As for tablets and other Apple devices, Robert X. Cringely offers a must-read article about Apple’s strategy with the iPhone and possible future devices (including an iTablet) that pins its hopes on WebKit, an Open Source Web browser engine that underlies Apple’s Safari on OS X, Windows, the iPhone, and the iPod touch. Incidentally, the article also explains why you won’t see Flash on your iPhone real soon — Apple would rather see the WebKit (and its underlying standard, KHTML) evolve as a standard for rendering Web pages on all sorts of devices, and would rather promote Ajax for development than either Flash or Java. Ironically, Apple is using Open Source to gain some measure of control over mobile Web rendering, preempting Java and doing an end-run around the proprietary Flash technology.

The software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone and iPod touch is coming in Feb. 2008. Why the wait? On the one hand, Steve Jobs seems to plan these announcements well in advance, to give the press something to chew on every month — like the iPhone price cut. Apple always wanted third-party development, but the iPhone — as market leader in its own class of device — is a huge fat target for viruses and malware, and Apple needed to shake it out first. Apple knocked out all the “jailbreak” hacks and unauthorized applications with software updates, and I’m sure this helped the company immensely in learning how to deal with intruders. One thing is certain: Apple-authorized third-party applications won’t break your iPhone’s service with AT&T.

There is obvious pent-up developer energy waiting to be unleashed on the iPhone/iPod touch platform. Some cool apps are already in beta, such as ProRemote Pro Tools Controller, which turns an iPhone or  iPod touch into a wireless controller for Pro Tools LE — the video shows someone touching and flicking mixer controls on the iPhone as the Pro Tools LE changes on the Mac screen. Musicians can control the board levels from inside the playing area or sound booth. The innovative use of the touch interface will inspire all kinds of new apps. If you want to jump on this bandwagon, learn how to use WebKit, KHTML, and Ajax development tools.

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Overcoming the Microsoft Inertia

If you are content with your Windows XP machine, you might see no reason at all to buy a new computer this Christmas, possibly because most of the new PCs and laptops on retail shelves run Vista. And Vista by itself seems not to be a compelling reason to buy a PC.

Security no longer seems to be an issue; people simply don’t believe that Vista is that much more secure. Corporate customers looking for benefits in managing PCs over networks and connecting mobile devices see only incremental improvements in Vista — not enough to drive businesses to upgrade. Most businesses have worked with Windows XP long enough to develop their own tried-and-true manageability and mobility solutions and best practices, so why bother. And yet, many corporate customers are signing Vista licensing agreements without doing the upgrade yet, future-proofing their businesses for future Vista upgrades, and this helped Microsoft project a glossy revenue report.

And so the Microsoft inertia continues, despite evidence that Windows and Office vulnerabilities are off the charts this year. Apparently it’s still extremely lucrative to exploit vulnerabilities, especially those in Excel and Word. The older Windows XP with Service Pack 3 offers about twice the performance of the new Vista, according to recent benchmarks. And it is possible to cut down on the bloat in Windows XP that leaves it so vulnerable by turning off services you don’t use.

So what will change the landscape and make it possible for larger numbers of users, especially corporate users, to overcome Microsoft inertia? Here are the leads I’m tracking:

1. Software delivered as a service will help corporate customers break the Microsoft operating system habit. Successful service operators like Salesforce.com (now Force.com) and NetSuite are changing the business landscape. Web applications like Zoho and Google Apps are helping small businesses and consumers break the Office habit.

2. Apple will continually expand its alternative installed base of machines running OS X, and may soon make a huge marketing splash about running Windows XP applications on Macs.

This is not so far-fetched. Apple developers suspect that Mac OS X Leopard contains at least the building blocks for Apple to one day add a compatibility layer for running Windows apps right alongside Mac OS X apps — without Windows. I think Robert X. Cringely had it almost right back in April, 2006, when he wrote that Apple would offer the ability to run native Windows XP apps not by using compatibility middleware like Wine, but rather by implementing the Windows API directly in OS X. That didn’t happen in the current version of Leopard, but it could happen in the near future. Cringely wrote back then:

I’m told Apple has long had this running in the Cupertino lab — Intel Macs running OS X while mixing Apple and XP applications. This is not a guess or a rumor, this something that has been demonstrated and observed by people who have since reported to me.

Could it be the best of both worlds? Corporate users would be able to transfer existing XP licenses and applications they own. No need for emulation that would be vulnerable to Microsoft meddling.

3. Smartphones are growing in popularity as productivity devices, and the drivers are Google with its Android smartphone software platform, and Apple with its iPhone. Lacking a innovative, dynamic and easy-to-use interface to mobile devices, Microsoft Windows is weak even with the proliferation of Windows-based phones. There is no compelling reason to use a Windows-based smartphone, as the applications that tie corporations to Windows don’t run so well on them.

4. Linux will grow exponentially, especially in overseas markets. You can now order a Dell Inspiron 6400 notebook or Inspiron 530N desktop and have Ubuntu 7.04 pre-installed as an option in the U.K., France, Germany, and the U.S. General reports indicate that laptops normally work out to about $50 cheaper compared to Dell’s “Home” versions running Vista.

Linux also has a major push coming from the XO Laptop, billed as the best Linux laptop ever made, from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project, which will soon be available to Americans, as long as you buy two for $399 and allow one of them to be donated to a child in the developing world. The XO laptop is based around an AMD Geode LX-700 CPU. It also has a 7.5-inch LCD display, two USB ports, an SD memory card slot and Wi-Fi, and is encased in a “hard” case with built-in carry handle.

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Five Easy Pieces

You want wheat toast, but you have to order a chicken-salad sandwich to get it. So it is with iTunes and the iPod: there many things you can’t do, as they break some rules. But here are five easy pieces for the Mac, five easy pieces for Windows, and a few for the road, that won’t leave you holding your iPod between your knees.

For Mac

Awaken (version 3.1.5, $12.95) brings some of that wonderful iPod functionality to your Mac (for Mac OS X 10.3.9 or newer, and iTunes v6.0 or newer) — an alarm clock that wakes you up to your iTunes music, or any of the built-in alarm sounds. You can also fall asleep listening to your music with the built in sleep timer.

VoodooPad from flyingmeat, for OS X only, offers hypertext notepadding that can export to your iPod’s Notes section. Built like a wiki, VoodooPad lets you save linked pages as Word documents, Rich Text Format files, or HTML to view wiki in a web browser. Once inside iPod Notes, VoodooPad linked words show up for you to click on, and you can go from page to page just like you were using VoodooPad, only with an iPod scroll wheel instead of a mouse.

iPodDisk for OS X is described as “just another tool that enables you to copy your own music from your iPod” but what it actually does is make your iPod act like an iDisk drive, so that other applications to access it to copy files and music. You can browse, drag from, or even play music directly on the drive, with a convenient hierarchy structure well organized by artists and albums. Rather than burden the program with features such as search, the developer integrated it with Finder so that Spotlight works fine for searching. You can even use command-line tools.

Audiobook Builder v1.0.7 for Mac OS X from Splasm Software is a $9.95 alternative for importing audio book CDs (or any audio files) and converting them to be recognizable in iTunes as audiobooks so that they are stored in the proper Audiobook section and are easy to find. It lets you join audio files, set chapter stops, and save book construction projects.

TiVoDecode Manager (version 2.1, free) for Mac OS X rivals the commercial Toast 8 Titanium in offering one-click transfer and conversion of TiVo videos into iPod- and iTunes-ready files. It can find your TiVo on a home network, and can create 640×480 videos in MPEG-4 format that transfer properly to the iPod. However, it does not do H.264 encoding.

For Windows

Soundcrank is a free program for Windows (Mac OS X coming soon) that helps you find album artwork and lyrics for your iTunes library and see what other Soundcrank friends are listening to in iTunes.

The winamp ipod plugin (aka ml_ipod) is a plugin for Winamp (for Windows) that lets you manage your iPod from within the winamp media library. It supports all models of iPods, from the classic first generation to the iPod mini, photo, nano and shuffle. Since iPod support is built into Winamp version 5.2 and newer, ml_ipod is an alternative for this built-in iPod support lacking.

EphPod (freeware) is a Windows application that can copy music to and from an iPod quickly — it takes under 30 minutes to transfer 1,000 songs to an iPod with a FireWire connection. EphPod supports standard WinAmp (.M3U) playlists, includes playlist creation features, and can synchronize an entire music collection with one click. It also imports Microsoft Outlook contacts and lets you create and edit your own contacts. EphPod can also be used to download the latest news, weather, e-books, and movie listings to an iPod.

XPlay 2 ($29,95m free trial version) unlike other applications for organizing music on your iPod, runs as a system service, integrating your iPod’s music database into Windows Explorer — plug in your iPod and it appears like any other hard drive or storage device. XPlay 2 allows you to use a Mac-formatted or Windows-formatted iPod on your Windows ME, 98SE, 2000, or XP system. Inside the XPlay music folder your songs are arranged just as they are on the screen of the iPod, and you can browse by playlist, albums, artists, genres, composers and songs. You can drag-and-drop songs from your PC to the XPlay Music folder to copy them to your iPod, and copy music files from your iPod to your PC.

TVHarmony AutoPilot (freeware) can keep track of what’s on your TiVo and automatically download shows you are interested in. You can also download and convert videos from YouTube and automatically convert videos into formats for iPods, PSPs, Palm and PocketPC devices, video capable mobile phones, XBox 360s, and Linux devices like the Neuros and GP2X. It requires a networked Tivo with TivoToGo capability, at least 10GB of hard drive space, a P4 or equivalent CPU, and Windows 2000 or Windows XP.


One More for the Road

YamiPod (Yet Another Manager for iPod, version 1.7b3, freeware) lets you copy music files freely from your iPod to your computer and vice-versa. It can copy playlists, RSS news feeds, and podcasts, and synchronize your iPod with computers running Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux. You can run it directly from your iPod.

Lots of free stuff is available in the iTunes Store but Apple only highlights the most recent offerings. Most of the older stuff is still there — a treasure trove of free music and other stuff. Check out Get Free iTunes Store Downloads for links into the store.

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