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.