Amazon's MP3 Service a Hit

I really didn't want to be a criminal, but it was late and I was prepared to risk the wrath of the RIAA for my wife. You see, she needed an unfettered copy of "The Way We Were" in the worst way, and Barbra Streisand just wasn't giving it up.

Yes, I was all ready to fire up my torrent server—until I remembered Amazon's new MP3 download service. It promises DRM-free versions of many popular songs, for under a dollar, downloadable immediately. So before I set out (some would say "continued") on my life of crime, I popped over to Amazon and gave the new service a try.

It's impressive. (See our review at My wife also needed a copy of Sister Sledge's classic "We Are Family," and that was readily available for just 89 cents—in more than 50 versions, including a less-than-family-friendly rap version by CC & Butterball, which apparently is not something to be served at Thanksgiving. I installed Amazon's download manager easily, paid my pennies, and almost instantly had my first song in hand.

But Barbra, as is her wont, proved more difficult. Her catalog has not been uploaded to Amazon's service, and my only choices were DRM-enabled copies from iTunes, Real, and Napster. Now, the last thing I needed was a protected version, because I wanted to make "fair use" of it. And I'm anti-DRM by nature anyway.

A quick torrent search found a copy of the song readily available via some friendly outlaws in Lithuania. I was just about to fire up Azureus when I decided to try Amazon one last time. Much to my surprise, searching for the song name without "Streisand" turned up 70 different versions!

Now I must admit, I'm not the biggest Barbra fan. There's nary a soft spot in my heart for either the schmaltzy movie or its title track. But after previewing (another great Amazon MP3 feature) a smattering of these cover versions, I have new respect for Babs's abilities. If I never again cross paths with the Shalimars, Wayne Gratz, or the incomparable Val Doonican, my life will be not a bit less complete. But buried amid the dross were two nearly pitch-perfect versions, one from "The Filmscore Orchestra" and the other a "Sound-A-Like" from the Studio Group. And, hey, because they were both available for just 89 cents, and my wife was staring a hole in my backside, I decided to buy them both.

They're not exact copies, but either was good enough for her purposes. And although both claimed to be encoded at 320 kilobits per second, the one from FSO was nearly 30 percent bigger, for virtually the same length. Needless to say, it sounded much better. So in the end my wife was happy, I stayed out of jail, and the RIAA missed yet another chance to make me a martyr. The only loser in all of this? Oddly, the artist herself. Streisand missed out on selling a song, and the mysterious Filmscore Orchestra ended up with a few cents in its pocket.

What a world DRM has wrought. Musicians can copy songs down to the last quarter note and get paid, while consumers have to suffer through either debilitating DRM or the threat of a crippling lawsuit. It's madness, but such is the mixed-up world of music at the end of 2007.

Oh, and why did I need the songs? For a DVD my wife was making for her father's 70th birthday. She planned on underscoring a lifetime of old photos and Super-8 movies with the clichéd tunes. It worked out just great, and no one but you and I know it's not really Barbra singing "Memories . . . ." You won't tell my father-in-law, will you? —next: Web Dev Languages >

Here's an interesting look at the future of Web-development languages, as David Weekly, the founder of PBwiki, told me. The language you choose—PHP, Python, or ASP—is more significant than you might think, as it determines not only how your application will be constructed but also who might end up acquiring you.

If you choose Python, you have to compete with Google for developers, but you're also better positioned for Google to buy you. Similarly, PHP and Yahoo! are inextricably bound, as are Microsoft and its Active Server Pages, aka ASP.

Weekly thinks the schism will become even more pronounced. He predicts that Google will have its own free university, delivering a four-year computer science degree. The rub: You'll be learning the Google/Python method of development, which will become ever more irrelevant to PHP, ASP, or any other frameworks. Yahoo! and Microsoft will have to follow suit with their own programs or risk losing out on the best and brightest.

So if you're considering a new Web site, tool, or service, follow David Weekly's advice and carefully consider the language. He did. His latest company, PBwiki, is built in PHP. Yahoo!, wake up!

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