There's a sometimes-honest excuse in the tech industry
for why products never ship on time: "You can't schedule
innovation." However, you can schedule
marketing. And, with some luck and advance planning, you
can get the big product launches timed for the right
So my schedule always gets pretty busy this time of year.
Looking at the Sundays between now and mid-January, I know
what I'll be writing for most of them. Let's see, there's Google Desktop, MSN TV 2 (a revived
version of what was once known as WebTV), the cell-phone
guide (it's been bumped to Oct. 31), OQO's miniature laptop, the 2005 edition of Microsofts
Windows XP Media Center Edition, the
upcoming 1.0 release of Mozilla Firefox, the home-computing guide, a year-in-review column, a
report from the Consumer Electronics Show in January... have I left anything out?
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(I hope I haven't sucked all the suspense out of your
Sunday newspaper reading for the next three months. I'd also
worry about giving away my upcoming column lineup to the
competition, but I'm pretty sure their schedules look just like
On one hand, it's relaxing to know what I'll be writing
about that far in advance. On the other hand, I won't mind
having a few more curve balls thrown my way after the new
What's New at MSN Music?
Since I reviewed Microsoft's MSN Music two
Sundays ago, the site had its official debut last Tuesday (read company
propaganda). Along with the loss of the phrase "preview
release" from the site, what's new with it now?
The bulk of the changes at MSN Music (music.msn.com) consist of various
ways for potential buyers to get drawn into the site. As
somebody who's always enjoyed aimless browsing in record
stores, I have no complaint with these added features:
* A presentation of Billboard magazine's list of top-selling albums serves to convince me that, yes, I really am
woefully out of touch with pop culture these days. (Cake really
has an album in the top 10?!)
* A "Map of Music" feature allows you to select a decade,
then see cities highlighted on a map that produced significant
artists in that time. Neat idea, but I can't help noticing that the
list of musically notable cities of the 1990s includes "New
Jersey" and "UK." I realize Jersey (and parts of the United
Kingdom) can sprawl on for a ways, but c'mon, why not give
Newark and Manchester their own shout-outs?
* MSN Music's "Listening Booth" allows visitors to hear
new albums in their entirety in reasonably high-quality
streaming audio. The forward and rewind buttons don't work
here (no skipping past the obvious dreck), but otherwise it's a
* Finally, a "Senior Year Hits" link reveals the, um, dreck
that ruled the airwaves back in the day. Somehow, this has not
yet inspired me to stock on all the Bobby Brown and Warrant
tunes I haven't heard since then.
MSN Music is also now advertising its first big-ticket
exclusive, AC/DC. When I wrote my
review, it looked like MSN Music would bring both AC/DC and
Radiohead to the world of legit music downloads, but only the
Australian headbangers have shown up.
Unfortunately, this debut says more about the self-
destructive instincts of the music industry than anything else.
The band's work is only available as complete albums, not
individual songs. I like these guys, but, honestly, "Back In
Black" is not Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" -- you don't
have to listen to it in its entirety and in its exact order to
The pricing of those albums, by the way, is also on the
high side -- $10.89 or $12.87 a pop. That doesn't beat
Amazon by much and vastly exceeds a used-CD store's
Lastly, the previously U.S.-only site now has some
international reach, open for business in the U.K., France,
Germany, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Korea and Brazil through
various partners. (This is a bigger achievement than you
might think; the legal work necessary to sell digital music
online in separate countries is backbreaking, to the point
where I don't know how this business still functions.)
With all these changes, MSN Music still has its unfinished
aspects (a catalogue that's well short of the announced goal of
1 million tracks) and bugs (the "This type of document does
not have a security certificate" error message I get when I click
the "music.msn.com" link at the top of the site's home page).
I'll keep testing this service, and at some point revisit it in my
column -- I just might need something to write about in
-- Rob Pegoraro (firstname.lastname@example.org)