DRM

A new audio format that brings nothing new

In an article titled Is The World Ready For The Successor of the MP3? Wired.com reports about MusicDNA, a format developed by german firm BACH Technology. From the title it sounded like the article would be talking about a new audio file format. Disappointingly, the successor of 19 year-old MP3 turns out to be… MP3, with extended upgradeable tags.

The sales pitch is that MusicDNA would be reverse-compatible with current MP3 players, and the format would include upgradeable additional info like lyrics, album cover and newsfeed.

What’s worse, since MusicDNA gets information downstream from the labels, what tells us that the labels are not able to collect information upstream? That would be a good way for them to monitor the end users, whom I am sure would be thrilled to use anything that has a backdoor.

A lot of music library management applications now have the option to fetch song, album and artist info as soon as a file is played, not to mention scrobbling. Why not work along those lines and instead improve the performance of data compression? MP3 is by far one of the worst destructive compression formats.

Labels should make it easier for users to purchase digital music online. I am writing from one of the most economically dynamic countries on the European continent, and yet options are still limited from here. This is why I am still getting my music through purchasing second-hand CD’s on Amazon and ripping them… in OGG Vorbis.

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Got a Mac

On my personal home computer I permanently switched from Windows to Linux in 2001. The latest Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution automatically updates itself and allows to do all the mundane stuff like handling electronic mail, surfing the internet, viewing and editing text or spreadsheet documents.

There are outstanding free applications allowing me to create and retouch high-colour graphics, rip and apply audio filters to songs, manage and hand-edit my music and photographic library, and securely store all my critical data. The X Windows System allows to place applications windows in any of its multiple screens and keeping a movies window on all screens on top of all applications.

Linux is good and I love Open Source. My only dissapointment however is the difficulty of setting up and flawlessly running multimedia (music or video) composition software. There is also a file management system issue: since the file and folder owner alone has write priviledge, I have often found myself unable to write files on a wearable Linux device’s memory card. For example I cannot place files on my HTC memory card under Linux. I need to resort to Windows or OSX to do that.

Which is why I pondered wether to get a Mac mini and I eventually ended up doing it.

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Last.fm taking care of business

Founded in 2002, British company Last.fm offers three complementary services: playing customized audio broadcasts on its corporate player, keeping track and statistics about of all the songs played or rated on one’s multimedia application, and building an extensive artist and songs database.

Failing to load music on the Last.fm player for the last few days, I logged onto their portal only to find out that Last.fm now asks users to register for a 3$ monthly fee. This comes as no surprise, considering that in order to be able to podcast copyrighted audio content, the company must have had a way of monetizing it. This seems to be a logical step two years after the company being acquired by CBS.

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No wonder it is so hard to find a pan-european digital music store

I started using Apple Inc.’s iTunes back in Italy. The software has many locks-in: it doesn’t play Microsoft’s proprietary WMA or the open OGG Vorbis audio format. When instructed to consolidate the music library, iTunes does it with a logic of its own, separating the audio files and the images in completely remote registries; and the library manager also operates on its own will: it always switches back to the default music library location even though I specified my preferred one.

Pentafoil tangle

Pentafoil tangle by Carlo H. Séquin

Despite all its drawbacks, iTunes remains the only solution for a European citizen considering digital music purchase over the Internet. The songs are a child’s play to locate, samples can be played, and it only takes a couple of clicks to get the files on the local disc. Moving them from there is another problem… The biggest drawback I could see was the unability to buy music from other European countries. An abberation considering the many laws safeguarding the free movement of goods across the EEC.

Why cant Apple Inc. sell music licenses across internal European borders? I thought it should be easy. Well it turns out that for the time being it is actually impossible. Andrew Orlowski explains on The Register why the European intellectual propriety laws, or lack thereof, makes it very hard for entrepreneurs to launch a pan-european digital music store.

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To Mac or not to Mac?

As this blogs bears testimony, I have been a hardcore GNU/Linux user since 2000. When I migrated from Windows to GNU/Linux, I was well aware that it meant sacrificing certain commodities due to poor (if not non-existing) driver support. The good part is that I became very proficient with open-source graphics and desktop publishing tools like the photo-editing GIMP, the vector drawing Inkscape or the desktop publishing Scribus; to the point where I now use them at work on a Windows® workstation.  I seem to have found the distribution that does it for me (Linux Mint) and from surfing the Internet to managing my music library, everything works flawlessy. I can save and encrypt all my files in open formats, knowing that there will always be software that allows to access the information in a  remote future.

In the meantime, the drivers issue has greatly improved: GNU/Linux now handles most digicams and it is often possible to run a scanner or a printer. Video cards keep getting better support, but sound cards are somehow left out. I am a music composing hobbyist, and the migration from Windows to GNU/Linux left me resourceless. I am aware of all the music editing software available on GNU/Linux, but I haven’t even been able to get it to work because of ALSA problems. I can’t even get Audacity to work properly on my Ubuntu Dell for crying out loud! Edit: Ubuntu Studio now comes preloaded with drivers and applications for audio and video editing. I managed to install it, but there was a bug with the WiFi configuration application.

Apple Garageband on OSX

Apple Garageband on OSX

Which brings me to the point: I would certainly not consider going back to Microsoft Windows, but Apple Inc. seems to offer pretty good proprietary solutions when it comes to music editing, and I am so eager to go back to composing music that I would consider buying a Mac Mini to add to my home setting of 2 GNU/Linux computers. Apple hand-picks the hardware to make sure it works, the BSD Unix-based operating system is pretty stable and the applications are user-friendly. If my main concern about Microsoft is its strong endorsement of closed standards and closed formats, then Apple Inc. is even further down the spectrum. Just think of the amount of effort they put into fighting jailbreak, making sure nobody sells or explains how to install OSX on generic hardware, or rejecting iphone applications based on abstruse criterions.

is Apple good or evil?

is Apple good or evil?

So, To Mac or not to Mac, that is the question. Norbert Cartagena is as much mitigated as I am when switching from GNU/Linux to Mac. Eric Fleming wrote a long article explaining why he’ll never switch back from Linux to Mac, while Greg Detre describes some of the differences he observed when switching from Mac to Linux.

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