Puretracks strikes out

Recently, a friend sent me a code that would enable me to download a single song at no cost from Puretracks.com. When discussing the junction between the digital world and copyright, I've often suggested that I would use a site like iTunes or Puretracks, if and only if they worked properly for me. Since I would be spending play money rather than my own real money, I decided to give it a whirl!

First and foremost, their web user interface isn't the shiniest penny in the bunch. There were a number of instances where I could swear I put a track into my basket, but when I followed the link to my basket, it was not there. Refreshing the page didn't help either, the only solution was to navigate to the shopping basket page via the "my account" page.

Another little criticism: I couldn't apply the free track amount (valued at approximately 1.29 CAD) to a complete album, paying the remainder with my credit card. I'd actually found an album that I'd been unable to locate in record shops you see, so I thought I might go wild and spend 8.29 CAD of my own real money on this endeavour. Perhaps I'd actually come out of it with something of use. It's a good thing Puretracks' limitations saved me from this reckless decision.

I picked a single track, paid for it with my freebie code and waited to see how they "delivered" my purchase. My web browser prompted me to download an executable file, one which would only run on Microsoft Windows. It's a good thing I just happened to be running this experiment on a Windows machine (I suspected something like this might happen). My own computers, if you didn't already guess, only have free software loaded on them. Strike one: Puretracks purchases can only be delivered to Windows users. It's important to note that nothing warned me this might happen. If I'd not planned ahead, it's quite likely that I'd have wasted the purchase.

After running the download, I was presented with a WMA file. Unfortunately for me, my music purchase was delivered in a closed media format proprietary to Microsoft. This format is currently encumbered with frivolous patents and other nonsense. I've tried to play back my purchase on my own computer (which supports WMA, though perhaps not legally), unfortunately the files are locked via encryption and I don't have the digital key to unlock them; they can only be read using Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Even my Windows-based iTunes player couldn't play these files. Strike two.

When I started this post, I checked on the Puretracks start page, they do display the "plays for sure" and Media Player 10 logos. I guess that was my warning.

Interestingly enough, I do have a "plays for sure" enabled iRiver T10 portable player. I transferred my purchases to this player to investigate further. Once again, these purchases could not be used, even though the logo on my player suggests otherwise. I've recently converted this device to use the UMS firmware rather than the MTP version (I'm trying to work out an annoying little bug with the software I was using to transfer files to the device using the MTP protocol). This conversion "disabled" the ability to transfer files using Windows Media Player 10. The simplest explanation for my player's failure to read these files might be that I'm required to transfer the music using Windows Media Player. That's strike three, if you're still counting.

Conclusions? Puretracks is to be avoided. Not only does the site force to you to use Microsoft Windows, it also seems to force you to use Microsoft music software. Customers who have exercised choice, any choice, including music software (Winamp, iTunes etc), will be disappointed. Furthermore, I can walk down the street to a local record shop to purchase a CD that will play on my computer and that I can rip to play on my iRiver. Once again, I'm forced to conclude that selling downloadable music obfuscated with silly locks will only drive your customers away.

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Your views are shared.

I have read a number of articles describing universities that have services such as Napster (Another Microsoft DRM service) bundled with the university (IE: no additional cost to them), and yet nobody uses the service (See: Free, Legal and Ignored, from the Wall St. Journal).

None of the iTunes, Napster, Puretracks and other such DRM-defective sites are of use to me. I wouldn't be interested if it were free, and I am certainly not going to pay money for this deficient service.

Most of the music that comes into our home recently are via CD, although I do download some DRM-free Creative Commons licensed tracks from the Internet.

We sample first by borrowing from the Ottawa Public Library, and then consider purchasing the CD. These are not major-label titles, although there are some tracks on the Putumayo CD compilations that are licensed from major labels. None of them are DRM-defective, with this being one of the things we check before purchasing. Even if a DRM-defective CD plays on the current equipment we own, those defects may mean it won't play on future hardware, meaning we won't purchase the CD.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Time-lock music?

RE: "Free, Legal and Ignored, from the Wall St. Journal". Spectacular! The students only get to keep their music until graduation.

Wow... To quote a recent TV commericial: "It's only a deal if you get something you want".

The foundation of my current musical tastes was built in university. I ordered CDs online from CDnow (does anyone remember that they had a telnet based ordering system) whenever I had the money. Working at the student radio station allowed me access to dozens of new bands each month. Fire sales at the station allowed cheap access to tons of other new music. I cannot imagine discarding all of that upon graduation.

Fantasy DRM

>> I cannot imagine discarding all of that upon graduation.

No one would! Either this "time-lock" is just a passage in a EULA that graduates would ignore, or fantastical DRM that could (and would) be instantly broken with dBpowerAMP. It just so happens that downloading is slightly easier than transcoding, and students always take the path of least resistance.

Defective DRM

>>Puretracks and other such DRM-defective sites are of (no) use to me.

DRM-Defective? More like defective-DRM. Anyone given a batch of DRM "locked" files, can just transcode to the format of their choosing -- perhaps Ogg for the Flossies.

So, DRM is not the problem -- paying for it is.

Strike 0.9999 - Intrusive delivery

You list strike one as the software being unilingual to Windows. Personally, I feel a far greater strike is being required to download software period.

Instead of Amazon shipping a cd to your door, it's like having the delivery man push his way into your home and start fiddling with your stereo. Unacceptable!

Use of download software

I'd agree that forcing the use of some sort of downloading software is intrusive. Puretracks has a (mostly) reasonable excuse: poor design of the web software. It looks like the "click here to download" page is volatile. When you click on the link (to run the d/l software), the item is removed from the "ready to deliver" list. IMHO they've written custom d/l software in order to cover their liabilities: the software is your persistent d/l link. I presume that the software only works on the machine where you "receive" your purchase.