Thursday, May 12, 2005

 

Why iTunes worked and why Yahoo music would work too!

Yahoo annoucnes it's music store.

Way back in 1998, when I started collecting digital music, I used to use Windows Explorer to organize my music and Winamp to play it. It was not the best of setups but I didn't know any better; Until i got an iBook.

The organization scheme used by iTunes completely blew me away. I actually spent 3 days cleaning up all my ID3 tags just so that I could use iTunes. It was that good. Just type a few letters and the song is there. No more mucking around with folders here and there and remembering where you put what. When iTunes for Windows was released, I made it my default player. Even though Winamp 5 has it's own media library which works similarly, it's no match for iTunes' interface.

Now, iTunes for windows is a 20 MB download but I didn't mind in the least. I just had to have it. The fact that I could buy songs through it was last thing on my mind. And that's exactly why iTunes music store is such a success and so would be Yahoo music. If you want to buy songs from any online music store, you need a special software, which is different for each store! Imagine Amazon.com and BN.com each asking you to download 20 MB big software just so that you could buy books from them! Whereas you can buy books online using just your browser, you can't buy music that way. No special software, no music. So how do you get people to download your special software? You do it the Apple way.

You make it so damn good that they start using it for their personal use, without any obligation to buy any stuff from you. The keyword here is "good". I didn't download iTunes to buy music. I downloaded it to organize the music that I already had. And that's where Real and other stores fail. Their software is designed to make it easy for you to buy music, not to organize your existing collection. You can, of course, use it for that purpose but it is torturous to use. And this is where Yahoo gets it right (as did Apple). Infact, their music player is almost a copy of iTunes but with certain new features. It can play and encode OGG and FLAC, in addition to AAC and MP3. It has a UNIX-style shell. It supports open XSPF playlist format. How much more geeky can you get? It lets you share music through Yahoo Messanger and burn CDs. It even supports iPod for non-DRM files.

Being a beta release, it is missing a few things like an Equalizer and is quite slow to load. The best thing that I personally like about Yahoo music engine is that it supports FLAC format (playing and encoding) right out of the box. Since I rip all my CDs in FLAC and iTunes does not support it, I an switching over to YME. But I'll keep Winamp around just in case and, of course, my trusty foobar2000.

Update 1:
I just ripped a few CDs using YME to FLAC format and the tags it fetched for those songs were the best I had ever seen. All the fields (song title, singer, album etc) were nicely formatted, with proper cases. I tried the ripping the same CDs in EAC and the freedb tags just made me cringe. All CAPS, wrong titles, and incomplete information. I guess YME fetches the tags from its own database instead of freedb. Well, one more reason to use YME.

Update 2:
I am really disappointed at the pace at which YME is being developed. There is still no equalizer, there are hardly any plugins, and there are some weird bugs in it. It cannot "see" an audio CD unless I login as Administrator. iTunes can read the same CDs just fine with a normal user account. It also shows Nero CD burning plugin as a removable device!

The weirdness does not end here. Turns out that YME uses Windows Media Player (or a part of it) in the background to play music. I think it is limited to just protected WMA files but I am not sure. The problem is that it even uses the graphic equalizer settings of Windows Media Player! So if you are not happy with the sound, YME help pages recommend to turn graphic equalizer off in WMP. How much more un-intuitive can you get?

Update 3:
Even though there is no built-in equalizer for YME, you can still use the equalizer on your soundcard. Some on-board soundcards (mostly found in corporate PCs) may not have one but otherwise every decent soundcard should have it. My Creative Soundblaster has a really good 10-band equalizer. And the nice thing about using soundcard EQ is that it is not limited to a particular player. It would work the same whether you use Winamp or Yahoo Music Engine.


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