The press is gushing about Apple’s new iTunes service, hailing it as the first appealing online service for downloading music. Articles hailed it as “revolutionary” (Wininformant), “unique” (The New York Times) and “we’re impressed” (Forbes). Today’s Press Democrat goes so far as to write an editorial to that effect, in addition to the glowing articles it published in the business section in the last couple of days.

Reality check.

The Apple service implements digital rights management (“DRM”) just as thoroughly as the other online services. All Apple has done is loosen the strings ever so slightly.

These are not mp3 files. The service is currently irrelevant for 98% of the world’s computer users, since its songs can only be played on Macs. Apple promises that it will provide a way for Windows computers to play them. Eventually.

The song selection is thin at best. Apple claims to have 200,000 titles, which sounds like a lot. It’s not. It’s a modest selection of popular tunes, with several labels missing completely and huge holes in the back catalogs that ought to be available.

You can burn the downloaded songs onto CDs, and there’s no requirement that you continue to pay a subscription fee for the songs to keep playing. These are nice steps forward. On the other hand, a buck a song still strikes me as wildly overpriced.

And as to the DRM, here’s a selection from Apple’s technical support documents that give the flavor of what you’re getting into:

Purchased Music Does Not Play [Apple KnowledgeBase article 93035]

About Authorization and Deauthorization [KB article 93014]… “You should deauthorize your computer before you sell or give it away”

How to Backup Purchased Songs [KB article 93033], which warns you:

“If your hard disk becomes damaged or you lose any of the music you’ve purchased, you’ll have to reimport all your songs and buy any purchased music again to rebuild your library.”

And remember:

“Initializing the drive will not deauthorize the computer. If you will be initializing the drive, deauthorize the computer first, then initialize the drive.”

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Ignore the hype and fire up Kazaa, just like before.

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