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Transcript

Napster To Go

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, February 14, 2005; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro was online to talk about his latest review, which covered the Napster To Go portable music service.

A transcript of the discussion is below:

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Rob Pegoraro: Hello everyone! It's a cold, rainy day outside here in D.C., so I recommend that y'all stay dry and hunker down in front of your computers for the next hour or so. Topic A of my chat will be music downloads, keying off of my review of Napster To Go yesterday; Topic B will be e-mail software, the subject of my second-most-recent column; Topics C-Z are whatever you want. Let's get moving...

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Champaign, Ill.: How come you stopped at 20 years? How do the prices compare if you buy a CD every three days, versus use Napster to go, for 30 more years?

Rob Pegoraro: Champaign is asking about my math in yesterday's column--a worthy topic. If I bought a CD every three days, I would be far outstripping the rate of purchase of any music fan I've ever encountered. I mean, at 300 or so CDs I'm already past average. These days, I'm lucky to buy a new album, in CD or download form, once a month, which is a big slowdown from my habits in college and high school (when I had far less money to spend on music). Guess I'm just getting old...

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washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: Math Is Done: Napster To Go Doesn't Add Up (Feb. 13, 2005)

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Washington, D.C. : Do you think the upcoming MGM v. Grokster decision could erode creativity in the digital recording sector?

washingtonpost.com: Disparate Cast Lobbies Court To Restrict File Sharing (Jan. 26, 2005)

Rob Pegoraro: Do you mean consumer electronics and computing in general? If so, sure--the developers of Grokster may be scum, but the court should be very careful about deciding where to draw the line. A lot of technologies can be argued to have no "substantial non-infringing use," to use the appropriate legalese, and you can easily get into a world in which the only products you can program or develop are those that get an upfront stamp of approval from copyright holders.

I'd rather see movie studios and record labels keep using the tools they already have--keep putting spoofed files on peer-to-peer networks, keep suing people who distribute mass quantities of copyrighted works.

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Pittsburgh: Apropos your comments about Outlook's shortcomings, I need to make a couple of decisions concerning which email and contact programs to use. I am brand-new to the world of Macs, having just bought a PowerBook and my wife having recently lugged a G5 PowerMac home from work. Both machines have the usual Mac stuff - Mail, Address Book and iCal - plus Microsoft Office including Entourage. The wheezing old Windows machine has some 330 contacts in Outlook. Before we invest considerable time and patience in converting all those folks, what are your thoughts on where they should go, Entourage or Address Book, which mail program we should annoy them with, and which calendar to use?

washingtonpost.com: E-Mail Race Is Picking Up the Pace (Feb. 6, 2005)

Rob Pegoraro: I'd go with the combination of Mail and Address Book built into OS X. The latter can sync your information across a huge number of devices using Apple's iSync--handheld organizers, cell phones, other Macs (with a .Mac account). Entourage is a very good mail program in general; I like it much better than Outlook. But it's also a bit overfeatured for most home uses. If you don't find yourself clicking too deep into Outlook, you might find that Mail (which is due to get a major upgrade in Tiger, the next update to OS X) will suit you fine as a mail app.

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Herndon, Va.: Will there ever be a service like Napster to Go, where you pay a monthly fee but you get to have SOME rights to the music?

Rob Pegoraro: There already is--check out emusic.com, which charges a subscription fee for a set amount of non-copy-restricted MP3 downloads from indie record labels. (It once offered *unlimited* downloads for the monthly fees.) The major labels, however, have never shown any interest in this business model, even though one of them, Vivendi Universal, owns emusic.com.

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Reston, Va.: I am a Luddite who just purchased his first cell phone. I have noticed that there are a lot of "free" ring tones out there based on various copyrighted pieces of music (rock, movie themes, etc.). We all know what problems Napster had a few years ago. How does one know what is legal to download files for a cell phone even if there is a fee involved?

thanks, Bill

Rob Pegoraro: If there's a fee involved, it's probably legal--part of that money should be going to compensate the artists. If the ringtones are being sold by your own wireless carrier, it's definitely legal.

BTW, I don't get the point of ringtones. At all. I usually answer my own phone (set to vibrate) before it can get around to ringing, and I don't care to hear what's on other people's phones at all. Although, if you could get me a ringtone that sounds like an old black Bell System rotary-dial phone, then I might be interested :)

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Charleston, S.C.: Hey Rob, I've read that once you buy a song from iTunes, you can only burn it to disc a certain number of times. Is this true? If so, aren't you just renting the iTunes song at that point? Is there any way around this? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No, that's not true. Individual downloads from the iTunes store can be burned to CD as often as you want. A *playlist* of songs can only be burned 7 times, but that counter resets if you burn that playlist from another computer.

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Boston: Does Napster provide access to the latest releases? If not, how long before an album is released is it available?

Rob Pegoraro: Depends totally on how labels decide to market their music. Almost all new releases should be available on all the major download sites when they hit stores--sometimes, sooner. But older, back-catalogue stuff is still tricking online. Some artists, such as the Beatles, haven't authorized online downloads at all.

(That, IMHO, is all but begging people to steal their stuff online. Refusing to sell music as downloads in 2005 is like refusing to offer music on CD in 1990, or refusing to offer movies on DVD in 2000. I have zero sympathy for these recalcitrant artists, and some of the higher-ups I've talked to in the record industry feel the same way.)

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Laurel, Md.: Still another way to create .PDFs is to "print" a Postscript file and then use Ghostscript/GSview to convert the Postscript file into a .PDF. It's free and easy, and you have a utility for handling Postscript files.

washingtonpost.com: Writing PDF Versions of Documents (Feb. 13, 2005)

Rob Pegoraro: Printing to PostScript is "easy"? That seems a bit of a reach...

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Manassas, Va.: Speaking of Email,

What do you think of Google email or GMail. I was invited to get an email account thru Google recently. Is it better than my Yahoo web email account? I already have 2 email accounts, one thru my ISP and one thru Yahoo.

Rob Pegoraro: Gmail is very good... forget the extra storage, it's just much cleaner and faster than Yahoo, with an unbelievably better search interface. The text ads automatically matched to the contents of your messages may or may not weird you out; you should give it a spin and see what you think.

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Atlanta: I love Thunderbird (and Firefox), but why is there no auto-save of draft messages (or even an extension to do the same)? Googling on this didn't turn up much. Am I to assume that nobody's TB or Windows ever crashes?!

The Bugzilla bug report has been open for years. Why do you think such a feature has not been made a priority?

Thanks! -Andy

Rob Pegoraro: This can be a weakness of open-source software; if none of the developers think problem x is interesting or critical enough, it won't get solved until somebody else steps up to solve the problem. In some cases, users of open-source programs have offered bounties for anybody who will fix problem x.

Oh, wait, I could say the same thing about closed-source apps, except that there if the developer doesn't care, nobody has any recourse whatsoever.

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Downingtown, Pa.: Dear Mr. Pegoraro,

First, I enjoy reading your material. Originally I thought that you were just another Microsoft shill but I have come to see that you are your own person.

About email programs: I have been using Eudora since 1996. That was when I started working on my MS-IS at a local Penn State graduate campus and it was the email program provided by them in their "starter" kit. Before then, I had used the email software that came with OS/2.

I have stuck with Eudora since 1996 because it works and it does not have most of the security flaws that are present in Outlook. Currently, I have the 6.2 "paid" version and am quite happy with it.

Thank you for your column via email.

Sincerely,

Mike

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome. I'm fascinated to think that you once thought I was a Microsoft shill (what made you think so?)... that might come as a shock to some of the Microsoft PR folks who are unlucky enough to deal with me :)

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Washington, D.C.: I was in the Clarendon Apple store Saturday night gazing with rapt wonder at iPods. I'm lost. I grew up with concept albums and cover art, and I'm just not "there" yet when it comes to downloaded music. I am tempted by the iPod shuffle but in 5 minutes can work by way up through all through all the models and talk myself into that sexy U2 model for $400. Questions: I don't have a PC and have an IBM laptop - would this be compatible with an iPod for downloading? The iPod would be my first introduction to Apple products. Am still uncertain about taking the plunge.

Rob Pegoraro: As long as your ThinkPad has either a FireWire or a USB 2.0 port available, an iPod will sync up just fine--I've paired every iPod made with my ThinkPad without any issues.

The iTunes Music Store downloads do have cover art, but it's a tiny thumbnail image. I agree, there's something missing with an Exile on Main Street when you can't flip through the CD booklet... some stuff is still worth getting on CD (and then copying to your computer for iPod listening!)

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Arlington, Va.: Rob-

I just received the TivoToGo update on my Tivo box, and I have to say that your review was spot-on. The lengthy download times essentially require you to plan out far in advance any show that you'd like to watch on your laptop. I thought that you overstated the annoyance of the playback password, as I did not find this requirement that tedious.

However, the worst part of the TivoToGo upgrade is what it has done to the service itself. Now whenever I change the channels on the box, there is a period of a black screen, the volume drops out, and then the image is pixellated. This continues for about 5 seconds or so. Accompanied with the already annoying delay from the IR blasters, Tivo has become essentially unusable for day-to-day channel flipping. I've reverted to doing my channel flipping on another video feed that doesn't have this delay (but also doesn't have the program information). Several other friends of mine also have had this experience with the "upgrade". It appears to me that Tivo didn't do adequate testing on this upgrade prior to rolling out. I love my Tivo but this upgrade has seriously soured my Tivo experience.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the update. I admit that I haven't spent any time trying TiVo ToGo since that review... the experience was too painful to repeat.

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Princeton, N.J.: Regarding e-mail programs: can you be more explicit about why Outlook is a "sloppy" IMAP e-mail program? Is this claim anecdotal or based on technical analysis? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Long experience with Outlook. Let's see, my two big objections are:

* store sent messages on the server
* properly delete messages (they remain in your mailbox views until you purge them manually)

If you're interested, have a look at Microsoft developer Omar Shahine's blog--he wrote something a while back comparing IMAP clients. (He liked Thunderbird a lot as well as Entourage, which he happened to have worked on :)

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washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: Recordings Made Way Too Hard ToGo (Jan. 16, 2005)

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Arlington, Va.: Sign of the times? Our friend's house was broken into last week, presumably by kids, seeing that all they took was a jar of quarters, a beer, and. . .his IPOD (not his digital camera, TV, or computer).

I thought he would be relieved his loss was minimal - but he kept saying "What if they had taken my computer, too? Then I would lose my ITUNES."

Of course, when the cops asked him to list the stolen items, they had no idea what he meant by "IPOD."

Rob Pegoraro: I thought the Arlington cops were pretty high-tech these days... good reminder about the need to back up your data regularly, BTW.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob:

Here is an interesting question - I have a iMac G5 and I did a self install of some RAM even before I booted the machine up for the first time. I installed 512 to complement the 256MB that came with it; however, the machine was always buggy. I figured that the factory install of OSX was bad and after two months, I figured I might as well do a clean install. Well after 9 hours, I finally was able to get a clean install because I was able to deduce that the after-market RAM that I bought was bad. OK - here is the question - how often is this an issue?

The only reason why I even thought of RAM was that my father's dual G4 was going buggy as well after three years of good service and my brother ripped out one of RAM modules and it worked with no problem!

Rob Pegoraro: This is an issue at times, although I haven't gotten that many direct reports of it. (The iMac G4 I've got at home has whatever third-party memory the reseller put in it, and that's always worked fine.) Either way, you've got a defective product and should get your money back from that reseller.

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Fairfax, Va.: There are many free or low-cost e-mail clients that are much better than Outlook and Outlook Express: Pegasus Mail, Scribe, Foxmail, and Mozilla Messenger to name a few. Why didn't you mention them? People might want to try them.

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at today's newsletter. Briefly, though, I'd say that Pegasus is too old and too quirky, I've never heard of Scribe or Foxmail, and Mozilla Messenger is basically Tbird with extra clutter and integration into a slower, much less elegant version of Firefox.

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NYC: I agree with the assertions in your review of Napster-to-go. But one thought keeps occurring to me -- how is this any different than cable TV? You pay $50+ a month to watch your favorite shows or movies on HBO etc, but no one complains that if you stop your cable subscription that you can't keep the movies. Or what about Sirius radio? You can listen to the broadcasts on your player only as long as you pay the subs fee. I'm starting to think the Napster service is more like radio-on-demand. And not such a bad deal if you think about it in those terms.

Rob Pegoraro: Very good point. I thought for a long time about this one... the difference, I think, is that with these other services you're paying for somebody to go out and find the good stuff for you. That is a service worth paying for (although there are enough good Web-radio stations that I've never seen the need to pay for a service like Rhapsody or whatnot).

I should add that the cable company doesn't care if you record movies to watch later.

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Tyler, Texas: Will there ever be downloads for Foreign and Classical music?

Rob Pegoraro: There already are--all the major download sites have decent collections in those categories.

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Washington, D.C. : What does I.P.O.D. stand for?

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing--it's not an acronym. It's iPod, not Ipod or IPOD or any other variation.

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Mountain Lake Park : I do not use any type of online music service. The key point is I am an albums person and all the songs are not there. Ownership is the key for me. Since I own a Powerbook Napster is not an option for me anyhow. I use Itunes to listen to my cds and burn them. I won some free songs with the Pepsi Itunes deal last year. I downloaded the songs and thought about buying. That night my hard drive failed. I could not get them back. The point I'm making is that if you purchase the songs and they have your information you should be able to get the songs back without having to pay again. That turned me against buying music from download stores. There is no reason they can not keep track of the information so that your songs can be replaced. So I use the radio stations on Itunes the most. If Apple did offer a service like Napster I would not use it. Like you I want the ownership of the songs.

Rob Pegoraro: I disagree with your logic. You only lost your iTunes downloads because you didn't have a backup when your only copy vanished. How is that any different from losing your CD or vinyl copy of a record if it gets stolen or scratched?

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Annandale, Va.: I noticed you didn't mention Pegasus in your alternate e-mail review. It's not great but it's stable, supports multiple users, does everything I need, and it's free. Is there something I'm missing?

Rob Pegoraro: Jargon-prone setup that shows its age badly (what kind of home user, or even corporate user these days, still has to contend with a NetWare server)? Cluttered UI. Weak address book (only one phone number and e-mail address per contact? What is this, 1988?).

Look, Pegasus may be great for people who use separate address books, are comfortable with setting up custom filters and have a well-developed mail routine--power users, in other words. But that ain't who I write for here.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I have been using Napster to Go for about 4 months now and for me it seems to work. I use it with my Audiovox SMT 5600 cell phone from AT&T Wireless/Cingular. My phone has a 512MB mini SD card that holds somewhere around 5 hours of music. To date I have downloaded 613 tracks. I like being able to have access to the entire library to sample. One feature I have recently discovered is the custom radio station. To set one up, select a few songs in your library and Napster will build a playlist of songs in the same genre and with similar artists. The cool part is you can download the list for your player and have an instant mix to go. The songs I really like and want to keep for CD, I pay $0.99/track. I have bought a few--the $50 Napster gift card my wife gave me has about 1/2 way to go. I don't see the $14.95 subscription as a problem. It gets me a preview of anything I want and the bonus is I can take it with me and let it grow on me or not. It's my choice. When I'm tired of the songs, I just sync more new music to my player to sample and maybe burn later. I think I get a better value. Like I said for me it works. I don't think it's for everyone. Napster is really going to have to educate its potential customers about how to use the service. In my opinion, they have fallen a bit short on this so far.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comments. I can actually see Napster To Go working as an adjunct to one's regular music buying--but then $15 a month seems too much, as some months I don't spend that much on music, period.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you transfer the digital music files on several portable devices? Is there any limitation on the number of devices to be used for each account?

Rob Pegoraro: You mean, with Napster To Go? The limit is 3 computers and 3 devices at a time.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob - I'm a 51 year old not-too-computer-savvy music lover with 5000 vinyl albums, 1000 CDs and zero downloads. As far as I'm concerned, all 6000 of those units are mine to do with what I please whether that means listening to them 10 times a day, copying them and giving them to friends, melting them down on the radiator, or playing frisbee with them. (Okay, so the last two options are ridiculous.) Until someone comes up with a plan by which I can SIMPLY download and transfer music to disc AND I OWN that music, I'm not going to be downloading. I would think that record companies would want to appeal to voracious music consumers such as myself. I'm not sure what the question is here other than "when are they going to learn?"

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, I can think of plenty of records that would be worth playing frisbee with :)

Gotta say, what you're looking for in a download site has been available for a while now. Stores like iTunes and MSN Music all offer actual ownership and all the CD burning rights you'd want. They also allow you to escape any of their few usage restrictions by burning an album to CD, then re-copying it to your computer in the open format of your choice.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob ... are there any email programs that will let me access my yahoo email instead of using their web-based interface?

Rob Pegoraro: No, not directly--unless you pay for an extra Yahoo subscription package that adds POP access. Some mail clients let you add plug-ins or libraries that can check Web-mail accounts such as Yahoo... I know there's one available for Apple's Mail, but that's all I can remember offhand.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, About a year ago I heard a cell phone ring tone that mimicked a rotary phone ring. I was kind of weird but quite wonderful. Don't ask me where the woman got it from but it does exist. Try google.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Bloomington, Ill.: Happy valentines to you and your family.

Your review of Eudora and Thunderbird was very good and answered many questions I have about these applications. Although you point out problems with POP with Thunderbird is it enough of a problem for an average email user?

I use Thunderbird with a couple of POP accounts without having a problem but I have some clients I am trying to move from MS. Both clients have heavier email use than I do but I doubt it is anything like your email requirements. Can you describe the point where Thunderbird becomes a problem for POP users. Remember that many of us out here don't really know some of these "features" exist, much less as to what we might do with them.

Roger

Rob Pegoraro: Tbird is awkward with a POP account if you have to check that account from two places. In that scenario, you have to leave the messages on the mail server until you've fetched mail from all your computers. The problem then: Tbird will delete any messages from a POP server if you delete them locally (which makes sense) or if you move them your local inbox (which does not). I.e., in this case you can't move any messages out of your inbox until you know they've been downloaded to all your PCs.

I don't think this will affect many users, who only download to one machine. But the more adventurous/ambitious types--those who might try Thunderbird--could find this a real pain.

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Washington, D.C.: "I should add that the cable company doesn't care if you record movies to watch later."

Wrong. One cable company (Comcast, I think) is already showing The Sopranos with a copy-protect bit flipped on that erases it from your PVR after a set amount of time.

Rob Pegoraro: Hadn't heard of this. But how does that affect your ability to record it with a VCR or a DVD recorder (which you'd want to do to keep the show around for any great length of time anyway)?

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New Market, Va.: I loved Eudora, but dropped it for Outlook because of Outlook's PIM components (address book, to-do list & calendar). I have checked back periodically with Eudora and have looked at other alternatives, but until there is a robust email application w/ PIM, I am stuck with Outlook.

MS Backlash? Maybe. Reality, too, to a certain extent: Outlook has security exposures that concern me, especially if one accepts the defaults (viewing pane and the like). On the other hand, its icons and use are intuitive, where some other apps I've looked at make you stare at the icon and puzzle out its meaning.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Classes are in the way of me listening to the broadcast.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for taking time to post in advance!

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Buying Music online: What really bugs me about the ever-changing formats used by the music industry is that it forces you to pay again for something you already own. Napster to go is just an extension of this. What I think would be really great is if iTunes or Napster or someone would let you trade-in your CD collection and download tracks you already owned in that format for half-price or so. Of course, you can already make your own MP3's from CD's, but many people don't know how or are too lazy.

Rob Pegoraro: Uh, that sounds like an incredibly bad deal to me. Talk about paying twice for the same content... besides, there are already companies you can pay to convert your CDs to MP3s (one of them just sent me a press release, which of course is working to perfection by causing me to invoke their name, RipDigital).

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Re: Ringtones: I'm with you on cell phone ringtones. I heard a commercial on MTV recently advertising Sir Mix-a-Lot ringtones. Imagine, you're sitting on a crowded Metro train and your phone starts crowing, "I like big BUTTS and I cannot lie!;" I'd be mortified.

Rob Pegoraro: The worst part of that would if my friends Scott and Matt were on that bus, as they would then have to get up and perform their own rendition of it :)

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Clifton, Va.: There was an article in the Post on Saturday about downloads replacing CD's. I don't like downloads for simple fact is the loss of fidelity for home listening. CD's have finally reached a point where they are okay and close to the original recording but still pale in comparison to a properly recorded good old fashioned LP. Yes I am a small minority but LP's sound better than CD's even on my $175k plus system. My Linn Sondek turntable sounds better than a CD on Ayre or Goldmund transport into my either GOldmund solid state preamp and power amp or my locally made Conrad and Johnson tube power and pre amp. A MP3 file sounds like AM radio in comparison. Even on my bedroom system which only costs $35k MP3's still stink. On my $450K home theater MP3's are still bad. Yes I have separate music and home theater set ups. Doesn't everyone!

washingtonpost.com: 10 Million iPods, Previewing the CD's End (Feb. 13, 2005)

Rob Pegoraro: You are in *such* a tiny minority, I can't begin to describe how... please tell me you were making those cost figures up.

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Manassas, Va.: Your article and that of Sean Daly in another recent issue both assume the eventual move to all-digital music is close at hand. However, what about the range of content that will be available? Yesterday I checked iTunes for several songs I heard recently on XM Radio's The Loft only to find none of them available. None. Admittedly, these are artists from the 70s and 80s that I bought on vinyl and were in most cases unable to find on CDs. Hardly mainstream. But what's to become of them? Must I always keep a turntable? Does digitization mean only the elite get digitized?

Rob Pegoraro: Ideally, digitizations that all the dusty back-catalogue stuff can be made far more accessible than it ever will be in the world of CDs. I'm not aware of any record label in the world opposed to that... but it's up to the artists to license their work for online sale.

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NYC: I think the voracious music lover in DC is really waiting for a universal format. I got burned recently when I downloaded an album from MSN music. I thought I had read the fine print, but once I had downloaded it, I could not play it on my mobile player. And since there are no refunds, I had bought a $10 chunk of wasted memory. When I buy a DVD I don't have to worry about what brand my player is. I can't see paying for downloads until I can be 100% they will play on my equipment.

Rob Pegoraro: That is a risk--not all Windows Media-compatible players can accept the downloads offered at MSN, and knowing which is which isn't obvious (here's a guide). With Apple, it's a little more straightforward; if your music player is an iPod, it'll play anything bought off iTunes.

Anyway, your money isn't "wasted"--just burn that album to CD, then re-rip to MP3s that you can play on any device available.

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Ocean Pines, Md.: What do these programs offer that the free Yahoo mail and its counterparts don't. I get lots of storage, fairly good filtering of junk to a separate folder, and the ability to create new folders (up to 100 MB, which is more than I need). The address system lets me create group addresses and use nicknames. What additional features do the private mail programs provide to a non-power user? And which would be worth switching my e-mail address to my server (Mediacom. Grabbing messages from the Yahoo mailbox would require a monthly fee for a POP account with them)? Finally, as a Mac user, if I do switch to my own mail program, how does Apple's Mail rate against the ones you have discussed? Jim Y.

Rob Pegoraro: One of my editors suggested there might be confusion on this point... guess he was right. Let me try this again. Standalone mail programs:

1) Work offline. This is huge if your connectivity is less than perfect and constant.

2) Let you store an unlimited amount of messages, subject only to your hard drive's capacity (the mail I've accumulated over the last five years alone would bust a Yahoo account's quota).

3) Lets you use the program of your choice.

4) Is far faster in use when you're switching between folders.

There is no way I'd get by using Web-mail for my work correspondence, and even at home I would find it annoying. Maybe I'm just used to checking mail that way--Hotmail didn't debut until I had been using e-mail for a couple of years--but I really do think that offline mail clients are objectively better.

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Riverdale, Md.: Rob,

Still laughing at Clifton MD and your response. Please never ignore the fact that Ziff-Davis, so prominent in the home PC world, got its start shilling to hifi and Stereo "buffs." Yes, I believe the figures. Do I think I could actually hear the difference between playback through all that stuff and through something costing a quarter of what he's quoted? No.

Bill

Rob Pegoraro: Even stuff at a quarter of the price would still be crazy expensive. I mean, I dunno, shouldn't over-$3,000 purchases be confined to things like engagement rings, cars and houses?

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New York: You reviewed Incredimail - is there a Mac OS version of a similar program. I know that Incredimail doesn't have a Mac version but is there anything similar. Or will you be discussing this next week in your Mac OS review.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Not aware of a Mac version of this, but I can't say I've tried to look for a Mac equivalent either. This is another case--just like ringtones--where I just don't get the appeal of the concept at all.

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of GMail, why is Google still "beta testing" it at this point, and only offering to those who have been invited? It's been out for almost a year now, new/improved features have slowed to a trickle, and last week, I discovered my account had 50 invitations to give out, that are now just sitting there unused. Pretty dramatic switch from the days when invitations were going for $100+ on Ebay. At this point, isn't it about time to declare the testing phase over with, and do away with the whole invitation system?

Rob Pegoraro: Great questions to ask. I'd love to be able to write a Gmail review, but I'm not going to until Google ends this endless beta test.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

I don't have an MP3 player, and don't really feel the need for one (tend to burn mix CDs when I want something along those lines). For someone in my situation, what would you recommend as the best downloading program?

Rob Pegoraro: Meaning, music-download store? In that case, your choice is pretty wide open; MP3 player compatibility is usually the biggest issue most people have. Try iTunes or MSN Music, which both have about the same CD-burning capabilities.

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Princeton, N.J.: Sorry about the off-topic question but do you know anything about tv-out functions for a video card being intentionally disabled by new drivers? I'm asking cause recently my set-top DVD player stopped working so I decided to use the DVD-ROM on my PC to watch DVDs only on the PC screen until I can purchase a new player. I've been able to watch DVD's in the past on the PC but for some reason, this doesn't work either anymore. I'm using Cyberpower DVD 3.0 and keep getting an error that TV out must be disabled and another error about copy protection. I've downloaded new drivers for the Cyberpower, GeForce 3 Ti card...no luck. I don't even want to use the TV out, just watch the DVDs on my PC like in the past. I've already trolled through the internet through google and I've read that I might have to revert to older drivers. I've already spent precious time trying to come up with a fix but I'd figure I'd ask you before hitting the net again. As always...thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No, haven't heard of this. But sounds like it could be a good Help File topic... could you e-mail the details of this to me?

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washingtonpost.com: Help File Archive

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Atlanta: Thank you for the informative column. I look forward to it every Monday. Jumping to my question, do you know if there is a way to password-protect specific folders in email clients like Outlook and Thunderbird. I get certain e-mails which are meant for my eyes only. I assume moving such emil to a password-protected zone would be perfect for me. What are your suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think that's a built-in function of either program. You can encrypt messages with an add-in program like PGP or GnuPG... somewhat technical to install, but then you've got encryption that nobody can break. Another option is password protecting your Windows user account, and setting the screensaver to lock out the computer until that password is entered again.

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NY, NY: I LIVE in outlook. with over 2000 contacts, and, now with web2pop funnelling my hotmail into outlook, I'm in heaven. Is there something I ought to be looking at that might be a bit easier / more fluid to operate? using it as a stand alone, non corporate repository / virtual desktop for my mail calendar appointments, 850 words that I collect every day from dictionary dot com (the 'notes' feature is very handy for making virtual post it notes) - so, whaddaya think - should i stick with outlook or explore something else that i might fall in love with?

Thanks
Frank

Rob Pegoraro: It sounds to me like you've already got your Outlook system configured to a pretty advanced state... best to leave well enough alone. I've heard about, but have not used, a couple of Outlook plug-in programs that supposedly help deal with high volumes of traffic, one called Getting Things Done and the other Neo.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person who like LPs better than CDs or MP3s: for that kind of money, why not just hire the artists to come play in person?

Rob Pegoraro: Haha. Yes, that would work too!

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Milwaukee: I use Firefox and wanted to remove Internet Explorer from my hard drive (I have windows 98). Surprise! It cannot be done...apparently. Or am I missing something? Thanks, John S.

Rob Pegoraro: No, you're not missing anything. You can try a program called 98Lite to yank IE, but I wouldn't try that in newer versions... in XP, it's bolted on pretty tightly.

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New York: You mentioned .mac earlier. I'm a newbie to Apple and don't really feel like the service is worth $100 a year. I mean, I have more storage in my gmail account! Is there something I'm missing here? Or any plans for apple to upgrade it at all?

Rob Pegoraro: If all you want is a mail account, no, .Mac is not worth it. (It was *really* not worth it until Apple bumped the mail disk quota from a measly 15 megs). I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who isn't looking to move data between a couple of Macs on a regular basis.

BTW, my apologies for my sloppy HTML. I left out an "a" at the end of a link before, which I'm told had this entire chat acting as one big link to some Microsoft page. They say we'll fix this when the chat is archived :)

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Alexandria, Va.: Music people tend to be a smart bunch (or at least we like to think we are) along with stereophiles, armchair movie critics, etc.

Napster's music rental system only seems viable to the extremely small percentage of music addicts who would use it to supplement their regular buying habit.

In the old days of buying CDs in the store, how many times have we been excited about a new purchase only to realize it got old 1-month later. If you rent as many songs as you want for as long as you are a subscriber... then you can feel more comfortable about your purchases of the whole song or album. But everyone will eventually want to OWN the product (or at least, technically, the license to personal use).

BUT HERE'S THE QUESTION: Does Napster ALSO allow you to purchase songs outright? And if it does, how much restriction is involved?

If Napster doesn't allow you to purchase songs outright, not only are they barking up the wrong tree (music addicts who understand fully what the system is good for an what it isn't), but it'll lose lots of genuine revenue to traditional retailers, online and off... not to mention the casual listeners it dupes into subscribing.

Rob Pegoraro: Napster does let you buy songs outright--more are available that way than as To Go rentals. But you don't get any sort of discount for having sampled the song as a To Go download.

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Columbia, Md.: Suppose I sign up for Napster To Go, download hundreds of songs, and my hard drive crashes. Let's pretend I don't know that I should be backing up my music and other files. Will Napster have a online record of what I downloaded and an easy way for me to download so I don't have to recreate my song collection?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that service will. It's unique in that respect; even regular, non-rental downloads can be restored once you log in again and use the "sync/restore command." The major, major downside of that is that you can't move songs between computers at all--you can only download them from scratch. Think about trying to do that from a vacation house with only dialup connectivity.

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Denver: I'm in the process of looking for a new desktop computer for home, and am amazed at what $800 will buy these days. (DVD and CD burner, 512 memory, 100 gig hard drive, USB ports sprouting all over the machine, and, if you are really lucky, a 17inch flat panel monitor).

Are we now at a point where purchasing a computer is more akin to buying a toaster, where all machines are pretty much work the same and you don't worry too much about the brand, or are there real quality differences among machines? Are there any particular situations/brands that you would be leery of?

Of course one can spend more money to improve performance, but for basic stuff (digital photos, surfing, music, word processing, work presentations, relatively simple games) the major commodity providers (HP/Compaq,Dell,Gateway,Emachines etc) all seem pretty much the same to me.

Rob Pegoraro: This is what we tried to deal with in our home-computing roundup in November--for the first time, I told the reviewers to ignore the hardware unless it was radically different from the usual, and instead focus on reviewing the vendor. Which meant focusing on topics like its total selection of computers, its software bundle and its tech support--anything but hardware.

The stupid thing is, it's not as if most desktop PCs could not be considerably improved with a moderate exercise of creativity. But most vendors don't seem to want to bother.

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San Francisco: Please explain IMAP vs POP3.

Do you ask your ISP about this?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you do. Most of the time, unfortunately, the name-brand ones will only offer POP. Here's why I think IMAP is cool.

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Falls Church, Va.: I have been using Mozilla for last 3 months, and wondering if any download works from Microsoft's home pages, because all the download requirements has Internet Explorer. Anything that will not work with MOzilla? Trying to download Active sync for my HP jornada. did not work

Rob Pegoraro: Some of Microsoft's download pages do block access to non-Microsoft browsers, others just make it difficult (getting the Anti-Spyware beta was a lot more work in Firefox than IE). But that situation generally does not prevail at other download sites, which have no reason to favor one browser over another.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I just bought my first computer, a g4 iBook and now I need a reliable connection. I'm new to this, but a friend told me I should look to get "evdo" so I wouldn't have to bother with any sort of hardware or wiring in my house. Can you tell me a little bit about "evdo" options? I would love to just find some wireless network somehow and pay someone for that right, but my options are so confusing. If just want a high speed wireless connection, can I find one, or would you advise me to get a DSL or cable modem and then set up a wireless account? Loving the computer, hating dialing up...

Rob Pegoraro: "Evdo" is CDMA EV-DO ("Code Division Multiple Access EVolution-Data Only"), which Verizon Wireless sells as BroadbandAccess. It'll cost you $80 a month--unless you can write off your broadband as a business expense, you do not need this. Cable or DSL will be faster and cost half as much, if not less.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob,

I'm planning on getting the Sony PSP next month when it comes out. It plays games, movies and mp3's. For $250, its a good deal. Instead of an internal hard drive, it uses memory sticks to save data on. Would this be able to play the music if I got napster to go?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--Sony doesn't support Microsoft's music formats. Or anybody else's... the company has only recently decided that it should have MP3 playback built into all of its devices, instead of making users convert their MP3s into Sony's Atrac3 format using Sony's horrid little SonicStage program.

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Bethesda, Md.: I would like to rip my 200-odd CDs, but as long as I'm going to make the effort to do so, I'd like to rip them all in a lossless format and subsequently convert them to MP3s in a batch process, while retaining the lossless files for archival purposes.

I'm not wedded to any particular lossless format such as FLAC.

Do you have a format and a ripper that you recommend? In principle it would be nice if it picked up all the tags (ID0??) and online track info. It would also be nice if its generic operation were sufficiently simple that I can pay my young kids to perform the CD ripping (they have been requesting some paid chores, but are too young to safely mow the grass).

It would also be nice if I could use two CD drives (which I already own) to improve ripping throughput.

Rob Pegoraro: Easiest option is to use a program that can both encode your CDs in lossless format, then convert those files into a lossy format for easy portable listening. That means either iTunes (rip as Apple Lossles, then convert to MP3 or AAC) or Windows Media Player (rip as Windows Media Lossless, then convert to MP3 or regular WMA).

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Denver: I've made the switch to macs and am quite happy. One of the reasons for the switch was the fact that macs aren't subject to the myriad viruses that finally rendered my Dell pc all but useless. Exactly why are macs practically virus- proof? Is it the operating system itself? Too few macs for hackers to bother with?

Rob Pegoraro: Second to last question... gotta get back to the day job. But I can't resist this topic. Mac OS X is not "virus proof"; no operating system operated by potentially gullible humans is. But it is very virus-resistant, to the point where--despite well-publicized vulnerabilites that Apple hasn't always fixed as quickly as it should--nobody's yet staged a successful virus attack against it.

That's not just because there are fewer Macs out there; it's because a Mac is a harder target. You don't have a Web browser deeply integrated with the file system as you do in Windows (when IE catches a cold, Windows can come with the flu). And you've got a real concept of user privilege levels that keeps you from doing major damage even if you wanted to.

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Brooklyn, NY: I use Outlook 2K. If I use Thunderbird and then change my mind, can I back out without destroying anything in Outlook? (Guess this means I'm asking if it can work synchronously with Outlook 2k)

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--Tbird will import (some of) your Outlook data, but it does without removing or damaging the original files. It's a read-only process. And if you use IMAP, you also have near-zero risk of losing access to a message in Outlook when you read it in Tbird.

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Chicago: With respect to the auto-deleting shows from cable companies, it can affect your ability to burn onto DVD, at least. I haven't run into it yet, but I have a combination Tivo/DVD recorder, and the instruction manual makes clear that some shows may be copy protected and cannot be burned to DVD. Not a football fan, but I have heard that some users have not been able to burn NFL games to their combo Tivo/DVD recorder units.

Rob Pegoraro: An interesting and troubling post, which I will wrap up today's chat with. Chicago is correct that TiVo does support some copy-restriction methods broadcasters might use. I had not, however, heard anything about this being used to stop recordings of NFL games. I'd like to know more about this... so if you've got some info, please drop me a note (rob at twp.com).

Thanks! We'll talk again here in a couple of weeks.


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