Me, Myself and ITunes

Let’s face it – Apple frontman Steve Jobs pretty much rules Champaign-Urbana, if not the world. You can’t go anywhere on campus without seeing tiny white headphones stuck inside ears, gleaming apples on the back of shiny laptops or the glow from a small, rectangular music player after its click wheel is lightly grazed to turn music off before a lecture begins.

It’s damn near impossible to break the Apple addiction and for the most part there would be no reason for it – they make great, extremely intelligent products and I’m personally counting both my pennies and the days until the extravagant iPhone comes out. However, when it comes to downloading music, 99 cents per song isn’t the only option available. Purchasing music from iTunes and directly transferring it straight into your iPod may be the most convenient choice, but it’s not your only choice. Here’s a few legal (Ruckus, eMusic, Rhapsody) and not-so-legal (MyTunes, SoulSeek, LimeWire) options, that will give you a glimpse into the world of music downloading and file sharing.

LimeWire []

The Lowdown: A good ol’ generic file sharing program using the Gnutella network whose Web site boasts of being “The official site for the fastest file sharing program on the planet.”

PC/Mac: LimeWire is written in Java, so it can be used on both PCs and Macs.

The Good: Highly efficient for downloading single songs and popular mainstream music.

The Bad: Everything is track-by-track, so it’s hard to get complete albums. And if we’re getting nit-picky, files sometimes get corrupted and song titles and artist names load-in sloppily, which is quite irritating if you like your music to be organized.

Difficulty: Easy to use, yet more difficult to transfer files into iTunes.

Cost: Free for LimeWire Basic, $18.88 (one-time fee) for LimeWire PRO, which offers better search results, faster download speeds and up to six months of free updates and customer support through e-mail. In both cases, though, it’s illegal.

Bottom Line: Don’t pay for PRO, because it’s practically the same as Basic. For quick, popular song downloads, this program is your best bet.

Ruckus []

The Lowdown:Ruckus, run by the previous chief operating officer of Napster, offers free and legal downloads to anyone with an .edu e-mail address and is shaping up to look like a possible iTunes competitor.

PC/Mac: It’s Windows-based with WMA files, so it’s fine for PCs, but only works with Macs that have an Intel processor (newer Macs) or Windows emulator software (older Macs).

The Good: It has over 2 million legal tracks from both big-time and independent record labels, it’s easy and has quick album downloads.

The Bad: It’s a no-go for non-students. Also, it’s not compatible with iTunes and iPods at all, and only works with select mp3 players, for a fee of $20 a semester ($4 a month).

Difficulty: Easy

Cost: Free to download and listen, $4 a month to put files on a compatible mp3 player.

Bottom Line: It’s the easiest downloading site I’ve used, and if you can conquer your iTunes obsession, it’s great for listening to music on your computer.

Rhapsody []

The Lowdown: Rhapsody is an online music service with a few different options. Its free service offers 25 one-time streams per month with access to 25 Rhapsody Channels. Rhapsody Unlimited offers unlimited access to millions of tracks and all Rhapsody Channels, and Rhapsody To Go allows you to put music onto (compatible) mp3 players. Music can be streamed off of their Web site, but the plans require downloadable Rhapsody Software.

PC/Mac: Rhapsody software is only PC compatible, but Rhapsody Online is both PC and Mac compatible.

The Good: Members with an Unlimited or To Go membership get 10 percent off of paid music downloads and access to all of the genre-specific Rhapsody Channels. Also, they sell their own portable player that is fully compatible.

The Bad: Not compatible with iTunes or iPods. Also, their free plan will only last you an hour (literally).

Difficulty: Easy, but I got confused differentiating between the plans, the software and the channels.

Cost: Free for 25 song listens and access to 25 Rhapsody Channels per month, $9.99 per month for Rhapsody Unlimited and $14.99 per month for Rhapsody To Go.

Bottom Line: If you have a student e-mail address, Ruckus is a similar yet cheaper option, for both listening and using on a non-iPod mp3 player. If you’re not a student though, fully committing to the Rhapsody subscription and their mp3 player seems like it might be a decent iPod alternative.

MyTunes Redux []

The Lowdown: MyTunes is a file sharing program requiring Mozilla Firefox that lets you search through various iTunes libraries on your network at once.

PC/Mac: Compatible with Windows XP and Windows 2000, but not with Macs. It’s also incompatible with version 7 of iTunes.

The Good: Comes in handy if there are a lot of users on your network, or if you’re trying to get music from a roommate/friend sharing your Internet. It can also load directly into your iTunes.

The Bad: If no one is online, it’s absolutely pointless. Finding what you want can be a pain, and iTunes libraries only allow five users per day, so they can max out quickly in a largely shared network.

Difficulty: Rather hard to install, and slightly difficult to use.

Cost: Free, but illegal.

Bottom Line: It’s only good if you regularly use a largely shared network (sorority house, wireless at a library or dorms if they allow it) and are looking for something specific, or if you’re trying to get music from a friend sharing your Internet.

Soulseek []

The Lowdown: Soulseek is a community-oriented file sharing application that encourages communication through chat rooms and focuses its intentions on giving unsigned/independent artists a place where they can share their music.

PC/Mac: Soulseek runs through Windows, so it’s good for PCs and Macs with Intel. For pre-Intel Macs, use Nicotine, an alternative program found at this horrendously long link:

The Good: The program has user-created chat rooms that are usually titled with different music styles, making it easier to find people with the same musical interests. It’s also spyware-free and allows you to download entire folders at once.

The Bad: If you’re looking for mainstream music, this may not be your best choice.

Difficulty: Medium. I’ve heard good things, but I had trouble both downloading and using the program.

Cost: Free, but illegal.

Bottom Line: If you want to download independent music and are computer savvy, then go for it. If not, forget it.

eMusic []

The Lowdown: eMusic, the second-largest digital music retailer, focuses on independent music. They offer an extremely large variety, have a staff of music experts and journalists, and run
a well-organized, easy-to-browse Web site.

PC/Mac: Compatible with both, since all music is in mp3 format.

The Good: Downloaded files are yours for keeps and transfer into iTunes and onto iPods easily. Also, when you refer a friend, you get 50 free downloads.

The Bad: 30-day subscriptions charge per song download, so you may have to budget them (they don’t rollover), and an album with many short songs will cost you precious downloads.

Difficulty: Easy

Cost: $9.99 for 30 song downloads per month (Basic), $14.99 for 50 song downloads per month (Plus), and $19.99 for 75 song downloads per month (Premium). They also offer a free trial, and Booster Packs if you’re running out of downloads during the month.

Bottom Line: I’ve been a member before and enjoyed it, but it can be hit or miss, depending on how into independent music you are. Regardless, sign up for the free trial – you get to keep all the tracks you download, it costs nothing, and you’ll get a true feel for what the Web site is all about.

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