Yahoo Music Gives Napster A Run for the Money

By Leslie Walker
Sunday, May 15, 2005

Want to hazard a guess when the price for listening to music from RealNetworks and Napster will drop? It's hard to imagine the Internet's two leading subscription music services can continue charging three times what Yahoo is asking for the rival service it introduced on Wednesday.

Yahoo's Music Unlimited ( ) lets people listen to a library of about 1 million tunes for just under $60 a year -- or $6.99 a month if they don't pay for a full year. Yahoo's new offering also includes the ability to transfer songs to some Microsoft-compatible music players. Napster and RealNetworks' comparable plans cost about $15 a month.

The concept behind all of these services, however, has so far proven unpopular. All three companies are peddling the idea of renting music, meaning you can hear it only as long as you pay the rental fee. Cancel your subscription, and any songs you have downloaded will stop playing. Users can remove expiration dates by buying songs -- 79 cents apiece from Yahoo and Rhapsody, 99 cents from Napster.

By contrast, Apple Computer's iTunes music store, the most popular online music retailer, requires no monthly subscription. It offers songs for purchase only, at 99 cents each and about $10 per album.

As part of their subscriptions, Yahoo, Rhapsody and Napster let users transfer any tune in the library to portable players, but only those using the latest version of Microsoft's Windows Media software. That, unfortunately, excludes Apple's iPod music player, by far the leading portable -- although if services such as Yahoo's do catch on, that could boost sales of competing players.

In addition to lower prices, Yahoo is hoping the integration of its music service with its instant messaging software will appeal to users who can use that feature to create and share playlists with friends. Music Unlimited is still in a trial state, so there is no guarantee that Yahoo won't raise prices when it officially launches this service.

Medical Records by Mouse

The American Medical Association and other health groups think it's time people organized their personal medical records on the Internet. To jump-start the process, they banded together and last week launched an online service called iHealthRecord.

Free for patients and $25 a month for participating physicians, iHealthRecord provides electronic health forms people can fill out and make available to their doctors online -- more than 90,000 of whom use the network iHealthRecord runs on. The idea is to spare people the trouble of remembering their medical history and repeatedly filling out the same forms, then to make that information available to authorized doctors at the iHealthRecord site. Four dozen medical societies, in addition to the American Medical Association, are backing the project, one of many efforts to digitize medical records.

Critics worry that hackers could gain access to online health records, even if the files are protected by passwords. They also worry that people could provide false or inaccurate information about themselves. Supporters counter that the mostly paper-based system in wide use today leads to even more mistakes.

Google Puts the Brakes on Its Accelerator

Google has stopped signing people up for its free "Web accelerator" service after critics revealed glitches that caused some users to see pages with other users' data. The service works by saving frequently accessed Web pages on Google's computers for quick access, and then showing users those copies instead of making them fetch fresh copies from the original Web sites.

Google declined to say when the glitch might be fixed and the service might reopen to new users. On Friday, it posted this message at its accelerator software's page: "We have currently reached our maximum capacity of users and are actively working to increase the number of users we can support." E-mail Leslie Walker

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