Yet Another Important Box Set: Bach’s Sacred Cantatas

Gustav Leonhardt & Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Concentus Musicus Wien

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

If you like Bach, you simply must be familiar with his sacred cantatas. These vocal and instrumental works, written to be performed in church on Sundays and on feast days, feature some of Bach’s finest melodies. This set, conducted by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt, was groundbreaking when it was first released, starting in the 1970s. At the time, it was the only complete set of cantatas, but now many others are available. Performed in what is now called historically informed performance, this set is unique in that it has no female singers; only boys are used for the soprano voices, unlike other recordings.

This re-release is a reminder just how great this music is, and how important it is to know. While I have this set, and like it, I prefer more recent recordings, such as the in-progress complete sets by John Gardiner or Maasaki Suzuki. But the pure instrumental sound achieved in these recordings, and the simplicity of the boy singers’ voices, makes it an essential recording. It’s not cheap, but for Bach fanatics it is a must-have.

Henry James’s Letters: What’s the Point of Publishing Them?

Henry James was a prolific epistolarian: it is estimated that he wrote as many as 40,000 letters in his lifetime. While many are lost, editors currently have access to more than 10,000 letters, and the University of Nebraska Press has recently published the first two volumes of what will exceed 140 volumes of letters! (Volume 1 and Volume 2; a review in the London Review of Books.)

I’m a huge fan of Henry James – he is one of my favorite authors in the English language – and find current collections of his letters interesting. But what’s the point of publishing 140 volumes of his correspondence, especially when the first two volumes are available at the price $90 and $95 respectively. One commenter wrote, about these first two volumes, “[T]he general public has been deprived of James’s full epistolary record until now…”

Can one really say that these books are for the general public? Those with bank accounts like Croesus, perhaps, and Methuselan life-spans, perhaps; at the rate of publication, it will take decades for this set to be published. These books are certainly not for the general public, but rather for scholars, and for libraries. In today’s world, what sense is there in publishing such texts in book form, especially when additional letters will be found in the future, which will not be able to be inserted in to the books in the correct chronological order? After all, the academics behind this project don’t make any money from it; why not just publish it on the Internet, and, eventually, on CD or DVD?

No, there’s something perverse about this. While I would welcome the chance to read some of these letters, there seems no logic in making expensive books, and killing trees, to provide all of them to a handful of scholars. It’s a shame that academia is so behind the times: this sort of work should be available on the web, for free, to all those who are interested, not just to those in ivory towers with the means to have their university purchase them.

Visit my Reading Henry James website.

Book Notes: The SFWA European Hall of Fame

The SFWA European Hall of Fame
Edited by James and Kathryn Morrow
336 pages. Tor, 2007. $27

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Some years ago, at the Utopiales festival in Nantes, France, a group of European science fiction authors were lamenting that no American publishers were interested in bringing European science fiction–let alone much European literature of any kind–to their country. As a translator, I was especially disappointed, since I have long wanted to translated fiction from French to English, but publishers generally balked at the cost of translations. A curious reaction, since so many European publishers paid both royalties and translation costs to publish American works of literature on this side of the pond…James Morrow, award-winning author of such novels as Towing Jehovah, and The Last Witchfinder, who was a guest at the festival together with his wife Kathryn, found this situation unbalanced, and suggested trying to do something about it. Over several years of attendance at the festival, a number of meetings were organized with authors and translators (including myself) to discuss the prospects of editing and publishing an anthology of science-fiction stories from Europe. The Morrows managed to convince SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to fund this anthology, and Jim and Kathy set out to select works, find translators, and find editors to work with the translators to make the results as polished as possible.

The results are available in this interesting and curious book, The SFWA European Hall of Fame, a collection of sixteen stories from thirteen countries. Discover works by authors from Russia to France, from Poland to Portugal, and read science fiction that, while rooted in the American tradition, features ideas with accents. What this anthology shows more than anything is that ideas of this sort are not only owned by the Americans or the English, but are present around the world. The insularity of American publishers is such that they don’t take the risk of publishing much foreign fiction, but perhaps a book like this will give them some ideas.

For the curious, you can read a couple of chapters of one of France’s best science fiction authors, Pierre Bordage, in my translation here. Pierre is not featured in this anthology, being more a writer of epic novels than short stories, but his work features a vision that deserves better recognition outside of France. (He is one of France’s best-selling science fiction authors.)

Spotlight’s Secret Search Syntax

With the release of Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard, Apple has greatly improved its search technology, called Spotlight. Introduced with the previous version of Mac OS X (Tiger), Spotlight was both brilliant and stunted; brilliant because it can work so well in certain situations, but stunted because it was so limited. It didn’t offer Boolean searches (AND, NOT, OR), which meant all your searches were, like Google searches, based on every word you entered. So if you typed King and Lear, you’d find anything with both words, but not with King or Lear alone. And there was no way to find a file containing Kind and NOT Lear. All that’s changed.

Boolean searches, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Tiger had a couple of operators you could use with keywords, that most people didn’t know about. They were the kind: and date: keywords. You could type, say, kind:pdf to find PDF files; or kind:music to narrow a spotlight search down to music files. And you could use date:today to find files modified today, and date:tomorrow to find appointments scheduled for tomorrow. (You can use both these keywords in the Spotlight menu, or in the Finder’s Search field.)These two keywords still exist in Leopard, but are greatly expanded. Let me begin with the date: keyword, since it’s the simpler one. To start with, Apple has added operators that you can use with this keyword: they are >, <, and -.

Here are some examples:

date:>1/1/07 will find any file modified after January 1, 2007. (The dates you enter must correspond to the short date format you have set in your International preferences.)

date:<12/31/07 will find any file modified before December 31, 2007.

date:1/1/07-12/31/07 will find files modified between those two dates.

But things get interesting when you look at the kind: keyword. Apple has expanded this to dozens of new kinds, and made it potentially limitless. There is no list of kinds, but you can get an idea by doing the following. In the Finder, type the letter “a” in the search field. Choose List View (click the List view icon, or press Command-2). Then click the Kind column to sort by kind in alphabetical order. You’ll see a wide range of kinds: from Alias and Application to ZIP Archive, by way of MP3 Audio Files, Folders, JPEG Images and much more. Now try a Spotlight search, either from the Spotlight menu or the Finder: type, say, kind:word, if you have Microsoft Word documents on your Mac; if not, try kind:text. The former will show you all your word documents, and the latter will show you all your text files, at least those created by TextEdit and some other applications.

This is especially useful when tracking down files you made with specific applications. For example, I’m writing this article in BBEdit; I can search for all BBEdit files by typing kind:bb (you don’t always need to type out the entire kind to get hits; two or three letters may be enough).

Well, you may think that’s powerful, but you haven’t seen anything yet. In addition to these expanded operators, Spotlight now has a limitless set of other operators. Not only are there kind: and date: keywords, but there are dozens of new keywords. None of this is documented yet, but you can get a glimpse of what’s available by selecting the Other attribute in the Finder’s search bar, or by checking the following file:

/System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Frameworks
/Metadata.framework/Resources/English.lproj/schema.string

The former gives you names and explanations, and the latter shows you exactly how to type the operators. For example, to use Audio Bit Rate, you’ll see in the latter file that you have to type either audiobitrate: or bitrate:.

Here are some examples of the new operators:

Find a file by searching for the person who created it (in programs that store this information) by typing author:. For example, I’ll find files I’ve created with author:kirk. For now, the only programs I have that come up are Word, Pages, Mail and iChat (chat logs). There are also some PDF’s I’ve created from Word or Pages files. (You can also use from:, with: or by: to find the same information.)

Find files created using the AAC codec with codec:aac. This finds both music and video files.

Find files with comments using the comment: operator. This applies to comments made to iTunes files as to Spotlight comments added in the Finder; other programs may also support this.

Find files with an audio bit rate of 32 kpbs by typing audiobitrate:32, or bitrate:32.

Find music files where Bach is listed as composer: composer:bach.

Find pictures taken at an ISO speed of 400 by typing iso:400; find photos taken at an ISO speed higher than that by typing iso:>400.

I’ll stop here, but you can see that the possibilities are quite extensive. In addition, third party programs can add their own attributes that can be searched. One way to find what they can do is to take a file and run the mdls command in it in Terminal (mdls <filename>). This will display all the file’s metadata, and will allow you to discover which attributes it is using. You’ll also see this information in the Finder, when you choose the Other search attribute as explained above.

As yet, Apple hasn’t documented this, so let’s hope they do so soon with a complete list containing explanations. (For some of these operators it’s not clear exactly how to use them; however, if you have files that they can find, some trial and error should help you discover the answer.) These operators are likely not something you’ll use daily, but when you’re trying to find that lost file on your Mac, or simply trying to sort a group of files, will come in handy.

Find and Conquer Duplicates in your iTunes Library

Doug Adams, the AppleScript guru, has just released Dupin 1.0, a nifty new (Mac-only) program that assists with locating, sorting, filtering, and deleting duplicate tracks in iTunes.

Here’s what Dupin can do:

  • Quickly find all sets of duplicate iTunes tracks based on your choice of criteria
  • Select the “Keeper” tracks from among a number of duplicates automatically using a variety of versatile filtering options
  • Purge duplicate tracks from iTunes and send files to the Trash
  • Manage intentionally duplicated tracks
  • Copy tracks to new iTunes playlists
  • View duplicates in non-loaded libraries created with iTunes’ multiple library feature
  • View duplicates in iTunes libraries on other machines on your local network
  • Sort tracks and view track info
  • Export a list of duplicates to a text file
  • Locate tracks in the Finder and in iTunes
  • Play tracks

Dupin is a very cool program; I was fortunate to be able to test it before release, and can attest to its usefulness and coolness. If you’ve got lots of dupes in your iTunes library and want to control them, give it a try.

What to do with a Dead iPod

For many of us, who have had iPods for several years, the time is fast approaching when our iPods will die. They have a limited life-span, like all electronic devices, and at best, the batteries will die; at worst, they will go to hard drive heaven.

But even when your iPod is dead, you may find uses for it. If you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on repairs, and would rather buy a new iPod–which does make sense in many cases–is it worth simply tossing the old one? Here are some ideas for using a dead iPod.

First of all, you need to decide how dead your iPod is. If its hard drive has cashed in its chips, then it’s really dead; there’s not much you can do on your own. It’s probably best to go to an iPod repair service and have the hard drive replaced. That’ll cost you much less than buying a new iPod.

Aside from the hard drive, there are many other components that can die: the screen, the backlight, or the actual digital signal processor (the chip that converts bits and bytes to notes). Failures to any of these components can result in a dead iPod – and many are reparable – but, in some cases, even without going for a fix-up, you can use the iPod.

If the backlight has died, you’ll still be able to see the screen if you hold it at the correct angle (though not in the dark; get into shuffling your songs!). If the screen itself is dead, you can get it fixed, and probably should if the iPod is recent enough (though see below for other uses for an iPod). And if the DSP is gone, well, basta; you can use it as a paperweight, or simply keep it on a shelf as a reminder. Or perhaps sell it to your local geek who might want its parts…

However, in my experience, this sort of catastrophic failure is pretty rare. Generally, such events occur early on in your iPod ownership (following the general rule of tech problems: the first month is crucial), or after several years of hard usage. The most common reason your iPod will die – aside from your dropping it and breaking the screen or ruining the hard disk – is because its battery will have reached its limit. iPod batteries generally last two to three years, depending on how often you use the iPod. You can replace them, sure, but it’s not for everyone. Several companies sell iPod battery replacement kits, including instructions – and you can get some from Amazon.com – but for those not technically inclined, this can be a daunting task.) While I’m a card-carrying geek, I haven’t bothered to try replacing the battery in any of my old iPods, because it seems to be too much of a hassle. But, again, there are companies out there that can fix it for you, so you don’t have to get your hands dirty or even worry about damaging the iPod’s other elements.

If you don’t want to replace your iPod’s battery, or don’t feel it’s worthwhile, you can still use your iPod as a music source, as long as it is plugged into an AC adapter. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for $29, or you can buy a combination cigarette-lighter charger and FM transmitter for your car (my favorite is the Monster iCarPlay). Just connect the iPod to the adapter then to your car stereo, or your home stereo, perhaps with an Apple iPod Dock, and turn it on. You’ll have plenty of music, and for a very long time (or at least until another component goes south). You may find that having an iPod just for the car or for your stereo is very useful. Personally, I use an iPod connected to my stereo through the Dock, and control it with Apple’s Remote.

Another way to use an iPod sans battery is to use it as a music source for iTunes on your computer, at home or at work. If you manually copy music to the iPod (which you can still do, even without a battery, as long as the iPod is connected to power), you can then connect the iPod to any computer running iTunes and play its music back, browsing, using playlists, or simply selecting songs, exactly as if it were an iTunes music library on that computer.

If you don’t use a battery-less iPod for music, remember that your iPod is also a hard disk or flash memory device. Because of this, it can come in very handy, even with no battery power. Say you have an 8 GB iPod with a dead battery; you now have a portable 8 GB hard disk. When you connect it to your computer, it will have to power up, but you’ll then be able to use it to transfer files from one computer to another, such as between your home and office computers. (Note that you can’t do this with an iPod touch…)

To use the iPod in this manner, connect it to your computer. On the iPod screen, uncheck Open iTunes when this iPod is attached, then check Enable disk use. Check Manually manage music and videos, then click the iPod in the iTunes Source list and select everything, then press Delete. (You’ll have backed up any music that’s only on that iPod first, of course…) Check the other tabs to make sure there is nothing set to update: podcasts, photos, videos, contacts, etc.

You’ll now have a totally empty iPod, ready for use as a hard disk. Just unmount it (click the arrow next to its name in the iTunes source list), and, the next time you connect it, the iPod will power up and mount on your computer. (You’ll need to connect it to a powered USB or FireWire port–depending on the model–in order for it to work as a hard disk. But as long as it gets power from your computer, it will spin, and you can copy files to and from it.)

Many people (unfortunately) never back up files from their computers, then, when something goes wrong, complain about losing all their hard work. With an old iPod as a backup drive, you have no excuse–just connect it, copy your personal files, then unmount it. Depending on its capacity, you may have a small drive for a handful of files, or as much as 160 GB of disk space to store your photos, music and videos.

If you can think of any other ways to use a dead iPod, add comments to this story. While the above hints are very useful, I’m sure my readers have their own ways of using their iPods. Finally, if you don’t plan to use it, find a geek who will take it off your hands, or, if you are going to dump it, contact Apple to find out how to have it recycled correctly. There are some evil metals in an iPod, and if you toss it in the trash, it will do some bad things to the environment.

iTunes Plus: No DRM, but Breadcrumbs

Today, Apple released its first “iTunes Plus” tracks, music in 256 kbps AAC format with no DRM. So you can copy this music to any computer, play it on any device or computer that supports AAC, with no restrictions. However, while there is no DRM (digital rights management) in these tracks, there are breadcrumbs.

If you look into an iTunes Plus file–just open one with a text editor–you’ll see both your name and your iTunes account ID. Here’s an example of my name showing at the beginning of the file:

And, here is where my iTunes account ID shows up (I’ve replaced the actual ID with XXX@XXX.XXX:)

You’ll also see this information in the Info window for the tracks in iTunes.

So, while nothing is stopping you from sharing these files, remember that anyone will be able to find out who initially bought them. You can most likely edit the above information with a hex editor, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Apple Bungles Bluetooth in Mac Pro

(When I wrote this article in late October 2006, I assumed that Apple would eventually discover the problem and fix it. After all, there are many posts on Apple’s Support discussion boards about this issue. But, no; I get one or two emails a week from readers who have Mac Pros and have the same problem. I’m astounded that Apple still hasn’t fixed this–in fact, it is clear that the problem is not just in factories, because this morning I received an email from a reader who had the Bluetooth module installed (and wired incorrectly) in an Apple Store.

One more thing. I had the motherboard of my Mac Pro changed last week–there was a problem with USB ports. The technician who came to change it was the same one who walked me through the wiring change for the Bluetooth module over the phone–see below for more on my change. He was very interested to see which wires went where; when he took out the motherboard, it was very clear: the wire that had been originally connected to the Bluetooth module was the one that ran to the AirPort antenna at the back of the computer.)

When I got my new Mac Pro, I was delighted to have such a fast, quiet, powerful new Mac. I was also very happy to be able to use it with my recently-bought Mighty Mouse, which is one of the nicest input devices I’ve used yet. So to do this, I had to order the Bluetooth module, which is a build-to-order option on the Mac Pro. Alas, Apple bungled very badly, connecting the wrong wire to the Bluetooth module. But I’m not the only person who has had this problem; it seems endemic. Read on to find out the whole story…I started wondering what was wrong when my mouse skipped across the screen. Tracking was, at times, normal, but at others it was jerky. I’m right-handed, and the mouse is to the right of my keyboard; the Mac Pro is on the floor, just next to my desk, at a distance of about three feet. It’s in a kind of bookcase, and there’s a desk between it, but the bookcase is open at the front and back, so those two pieces of particle board couldn’t be blocking the Bluetooth transmission, so I thought.

Since I have AppleCare on the Mac Pro, I called the support team. They made me go through the usual motions–run a hardware test, reinstall the Mighty Mouse software, try another user account, and do a clean install. (Note that this was about two hours of my time to get a EUR 39 Bluetooth module and EUR 69 Mighty Mouse to work together…) Nothing resolved the problem, so they determined that there was a problem with the Bluetooth module and/or antenna, and told me a technician would get back to me to set up an appointment. AppleCare here offers on-site repairs for desktop Macs, and that’s one of the reasons why I always buy such contracts: living in rural France, the nearest Apple repair center is a few hundred kilometers away.

The next day, the technician who would come and make the repairs called to make sure he understood the problem, and to say he was ordering the parts. Yesterday (about a week after he ordered the parts) he called to say he would be coming today to make the repair. But in the meantime, I had looked around and seen, on Apple’s discussion boards, that other users were having the same problem. Not only was the problem the same, but a solution was offered.

Here’s where we get to the bungling on Apple’s part… The Bluetooth module is a small chip placed on the motherboard, and it has to be connected to a tiny wire that runs to the Bluetooth antenna. This wire is one of four, three of which are labeled: one has a “BT” label (this is a sticker that wraps around the wire), one is labeled “2”, and another “3”. For some reason, there is a fourth wire which is unlabeled.

The 2 and 3 wires are shorter than the BT and unlabeled wires: they are just long enough to reach the location where and AirPort card would be added. (I don’t have AirPort, so they’re not connected.) The other two wires (BT and unlabeled) are the same length; both can reach the Bluetooth module. So the solution proposed was to switch the BT wire for the unlabeled wire; as the posters in the thread linked to above have all said, this resolves the problem.

So here’s the rub: what happened is that two wires got mislabeled. This didn’t happen when the Bluetooth module was added to the computer, but during the actual assembly of the Mac Pro. This means that either all of Apple’s process sheets have an error, or only some Mac Pros are affected. It’s hard to know which: not every Mac Pro purchaser will get the Bluetooth module, so they won’t have a problem unless they add one later. Also, since the Mighty Mouse works at a distance of about two feet, many users may not realize that there is a problem: it seems that the module itself, and whatever that wire is connected to, emits enough power to work at short distances. (Whereas Bluetooth is speced to work at up to 10 meters or 30 feet.) These users may, however, have occasional problems, and write them off as battery issues or interference.

This has already cost Apple a bit of money, in support calls, and in exchanging Mac Pros, which they seem to have done in some cases, as well as keyboards and mice. The technician who was to come and change my Bluetooth module was especially glad that I could fix the problem (I did it while he walked me through it on the phone), because he had a total of five hours’ drive to my house and back.

Apple’s quality control has failed here. It’s pretty simple to mislabel one of two similar wires (though I haven’t yet found what the purpose of the other wire is), but to allow a machine to go into production without that being discovered is surprising. Again, this may only be the case on a limited number of Mac Pros, or it could affect all of them.

Apple, if you’re reading this, you’d better resolve the problem in your factories, and you had better then contact everyone who has bought a Mac Pro with a Bluetooth module. Save your time, and save ours–two hours the first time, then another hour yesterday to make the fix (going slowly, with the technician on the phone, to make sure I didn’t screw anything up) is far more time than I need to spend on a mistake that is the result of ineptitude. I grant that mistakes happen, but I’m tired of spending so much time to resolve them, simply because you haven’t found them yet.

July 2010: I still get emails about this, and comments are posted to this article, so apparently there are still issues with Bluetooth on Mac Pros. I sold mine more than a year ago – not because of the Bluetooth issue, but because I wanted to downsize (I got a Mac mini) – so I can’t help those who post asking for more help.

Here’s a link to a site that shows some pictures, which, if I recall correctly, match what I saw in my Mac Pro.

More info, Sept. 2010: A reader has pointed me to the following information that he posted on his web site. He solved the problem using a third-party Bluetooth dongle.

10 Points to Consider about iTunes, EMI and DRM

Apple and EMI yesterday announced that the record label will provide DRM-free music to Apple and others to sell online. This has many ramifications for the digital music market, and for consumers. Do you need DRM-free music? Do you need the better-quality tracks the iTunes Store is selling? How will all this affect you? Read on for ten points that you should consider.1. What DRM means to you

With Apple and EMI announcing that EMI music will be sold without DRM (digital rights management), what exactly does this mean to you? If you choose to purchase this “premium” music, you will get not only DRM-free songs, but also higher quality files: 256 kbps instead of 128 kbps. Since most people can’t tell the difference between these bit rates, you probably won’t notice much (though if you listen to your music on a home stereo, and have good ears, you might). However, the big difference is no DRM: you will be able to use the files you purchase on any device–iPod, Zune, or other MP3 player, as well as streaming players, such as the Sonos and others. In addition, you will be able to listen to your music on as many devices as you want–no more five computer limit.

However, it is not yet clear whether there will be any “digital watermarking” in these files. This is a technique that allows a vendor to add unique information–such as your name and account identifier–to the tracks, which would allow the vendor to tell who provided files to peer-to-peer services or illegal download sites. You will certainly be able to “share” music with friends; this is the same as lending someone a CD today so they can rip it. (While not legal, most musicians you speak to have no problem with this, since it gets more people to listen to their music.) You will still have the same “rights” you have with CDs, and the same limits: you are not supposed to copy the music for others, etc., but the vendors all realize that no matter what they do this copying will occur.

2. The price goes up

But only for individual songs. You’ll pay $1.29 per song, but albums won’t cost any more. This is an interesting concept: the record labels will be playing to consumers of two types. First, those who buy individual songs, which represent a non-negligable share of the music download market, will pay more. The labels have wanted to increase prices for a while, and this lets them do so, without looking as though they are simply raising prices with nothing given to consumers in return. But more “faithful” consumers–those who buy albums–will pay the same price, and get better quality and no DRM.

3. Upgrade your songs

In addition to this new price per song, consumers will be able to “upgrade” their songs for 30 cents each. It is not yet clear how this will work for album purchases; will they expect me to pay, say, $6 to “upgrade” an album that contains 20 tracks? What about a set of Shostakovich string quartets I purchased; 62 tracks, that cost me $30. Would I have to pay another $18 to upgrade to better quality DRM-free tracks? Or that Bob Dylan set, with some 800 tracks; at 30 cents a song, it would cost less to buy it again than to upgrade it. Apple has to think this out carefully, in order to not penalize their best customers.

4. Apple can now sell to people with other devices

Got a Zune? Think that Microsoft’s attempt to create an online store, complete with Redmond-only math, is pathetic? No problem. The Zune supports AAC (the file format the iTunes Store sells), so you’re in luck. Just purchase from iTunes and load on your Zune. (I don’t know if you’ll be able to squirt these tracks though…) The same is true for the hundreds of other devices; you will now be able to buy from the iTunes Store, which has much more selection than other online music vendors. Of course, it will take time for all the labels to accept music without DRM, and this won’t be happening tomorrow, but it won’t be long; they’ll have to follow, because it’s clear that consumers will choose no DRM.

5. I can now buy from other online music vendors

While regulators here in Europe have been hassling Apple over iTunes Store sales not being interoperable with other players, I’ve been irked in the other direction. As an iPod user–and especially as a Mac user–I haven’t been able to buy music from the other vendors. I’m not saying that I’ve found anything that I would buy from them, that’s not on the iTunes Store, but at least I’ll be able to now. If they let Mac users into their stores, that is.

6. Competition?

If all online vendors can sell the same music without DRM, then consumers will indeed have choice. Some vendors, of course, will sell in formats that won’t play on iPods; they may sell in WMA format, which only works on Microsoft-sancioned products. But that would shut them out of the largest part of the market. For that reason, I expect them all to move to MP3 or AAC format eventually. With no DRM, anyone can buy from anyone and play the music on any device. This is a Good Thing. However, I expect the iTunes Store to sign exclusive deals with some artists; not to be the only vendor to sell their music, but to have bonus tracks that aren’t available elsewhere.

7. Apple protects itself from regulators

Speaking of regulators, Apple has now shown that they can and will offer music without DRM, and this should lift the threats from EU regulators regarding interoperability. Of course, not all iTunes Store music will be DRM-free, but Apple can now show that it is the record labels who choose, not Apple. (Note that today’s announcement by European Union regulators of an anti-trust action against Apple and record labels is about different things; it is about territorial restrictions, which, again, are imposed by the record companies. So, once again, the EU is picking on Apple rather than going after all the various online vendors, who all apply the same geographical restrictions.)

8. Steve talks the talk

Steve Jobs got dissed by part of the press for his Thoughts on Music, the open letter where he said that Apple would be glad to sell music without DRM. He was said to be just strutting, whereas he wouldn’t really go through with the change. Well, he did. ‘Nuff said.

9. You need a higher-capacity iPod

Yep, if you want those 256 kbps files, you’ve just reduced the number of songs your iPod can hold by half. So that 80 GB iPod video looks pretty good now. Apple has never sold as many of the high-capacity iPods as the smaller models, but now consumers may want that extra disk space. Apple’s the winner here, with increased sales at the high end.

10. File Formats

The iTunes Store sells music in AAC format; this is part of the MP4 standard, and generally sounds better than MP3 or WMA files at the same bit rate. However, not all portable music players support AAC. Microsoft’s Zune does, as do some Sony players, and a handful of other models. If the iTunes Store reinforces its position in the market, you can expect to see other players start supporting AAC. However, if this new open competition gives equal footing to other online vendors, there may be no change. It’s hard to tell how this will play out.

Meanwhile, Wired got it very wrong again. In this article about the announcement, the Wired authors claimed, “Many onlookers had assumed that the company would go with the widely supported MP3 format. The decision to use AAC represents a crack in the wall that has separated services and devices that use Microsoft’s WMA from those that use AAC.” They even link to the EMI press release, but apparently, the smoke got in their eyes, and they missed this part of the release: “EMI expects that consumers will be able to purchase higher quality DRM-free downloads from a variety of digital music stores within the coming weeks, with each retailer choosing whether to sell downloads in AAC, WMA, MP3 or other unprotected formats of their choice.” It’s a shame when journalists can’t read…

DRM Is Dead – Sort Of

Less than two months ago, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, published his Thoughts on Music, suggesting that if the major labels would allow Apple to sell music without DRM (digital rights management) he would be happy to do so. Well, today EMI became the first major label to agree to Jobs’ offer, announcing, at a London press conference, that EMI will make available its entire catalog of music in a new, “premium” format. This format will be DRM-free, and will also be higher quality, at 256 kpbs compared to the current 128 kpbs that is sold on the iTunes Store.

This premium service comes with a price; 30 cents more in the US, though it sounds like album prices will remain the same. (The press conference was not clear enough on this question, which I’m sure will be straightened out soon.) Users who already have EMI music will be able to “upgrade” their iTunes purchases for 30 cents per track. So, the iTunes Store, at least for EMI purchases, will offer two pricing systems: all music will still be available in DRMed tracks at 99 cents, and will also be available in premium format.Now, one must ask the question, if DRM is the problem, then why continue to offer DRM-laden tracks at all? Jobs said that consumers will have choice, and that not everyone will want to pay more for better quality. But, again, if DRM is the problem, then why have DRM on the cheaper tracks? The other difference is quality; users who pay less have fewer rights, and lower quality. Does that really make any sense at all? I can understand that Apple can’t raise prices across the board–remember, this is a 30% price increase for “premium” tracks–but once those tracks are in the wild, it won’t matter if there are DRMed versions. (Just as it doesn’t matter now, since CDs have no DRM.)

After Jobs’ article was published in February, many naysayers criticized him, saying that he was simply tossing out an idea that no one would agree to. Ha!, say I. Sure, it took time for companies to get together and come up with something, but two months is really a very short time for such a major change. (You can imagine that there was a great deal of negotiations to get to this point.) I think we can expect other labels to follow suit. Jobs said, during the press conference, that this option would be available to other labels, so all the independents who want to sell their music without DRM will now be able to do so.

Apple gets too bonuses from this–higher revenue from the iTunes Store (though Apple’s profits are slim, and the Store is not intended to make a lot of money), and, more importantly, more iPod sales. After all, double the bit rate of music tracks sold, and you’ll have fewer songs to fit on an iPod. While most iPod owners don’t buy music from the iTunes Store–or not much–this could be the beginning of a generalization of higher bit rates, which will certainly lead users to need higher-capacity iPods.

To sum up, this is a true earthquake. I can imagine that some executives at other record labels have had to change their underwear today. As Jobs said, there are leaders and there are followers, and EMI has clearly staked out first place in this new market. And Apple, as often, has been the prime mover in this change.