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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro
Sony's Connect Music Service Offers Fair Pricing, Little Else

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Sony's Connect clicks with Sony CD players, probably not with users.


_____Live Online_____
Transcript: Rob Pegoraro was online on May 10 to discuss this review.
_____Recent Columns_____
Two Roads Diverge for Three New Handhelds (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004)
Flexibility Comes Relatively Cheap (The Washington Post, Apr 25, 2004)
Restrictions and Price Remain iTunes Turnoffs (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2004)
Fast Forward Archive
___Personal Tech E-letter___
Washington Post personal technology columnist Rob Pegoraro answers reader e-mail and expands on themes he touches on in his weekly newspaper column. The e-mail version of this weekly feature includes links to the latest gadget and software reviews.
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Connect permits an unlimited number of transfers to portable players -- except for songs from Warner Music Group's labels, which are restricted to three transfers. Ever.

Similar control-freak behavior ensues when you move purchased songs to the other two PCs you're allotted at any one time: Those copies lose all their transfer and CD-burning permissions. Sony says an upcoming software update will restore transfer rights, but not disc burning, to those copies.

Connect's Web site (www.connect.com) doesn't list even the basic outlines of these usage rights, so you'll have to digest a dense license agreement to learn the ugly details.

This service is an embarrassment to the company that gave the world the Walkman. And it didn't have to happen this way: To see a different path Sony might have taken, just look at the improvements Apple made to its iTunes Music Store and software on April 28, one year after the store's debut.

To start, Apple upped the number of computers that purchased songs can be played on at any one time from three to five.

In return, the company cut the number of times you can burn a playlist to an audio CD from 10 to seven, a limit that can no longer be dodged by reshuffling the songs in a playlist.

But this restriction is less drastic than it seems: Each song can still be copied to CD infinitely, and if you copy a maxed-out playlist to another computer, you get another seven chances to burn it to disc. Songs bought before April 28 keep the old 10-CD limit.

The other changes to the store make shopping more interesting. Users can publish their playlists to the store as "iMixes" for others to browse, and a radio-charts interface lets you see what songs are getting airplay across the country, from Abilene to Youngstown (college stations, unfortunately, seem to be absent from this list).

As for iTunes itself, the new 4.5 version (Windows 2000 or newer and Mac OS X 10.1.5 or newer) adds a Party Shuffle feature that automatically builds a playlist based on a few basic criteria, the ability to convert Windows Media Audio files to MP3 or AAC format and an Apple Lossless Encoder option that, like an earlier feature in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player, can archive CDs at full quality in roughly half the disk space.

This update also finally adds the ability to print CD-case inserts, complete with low-resolution versions of cover art for songs purchased from the store.

Apple's combination of song and store isn't ideal -- as I've complained before, Apple needs to make song files downloaded from its store playable on more than just iPods.

But just compare it with Sony's Connect: One of these stores has a future, and one of them does not. And the difference comes down to nothing more complex than each company's willingness to learn from experience and listen to customers.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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