Connected Home EXPRESS--December 24, 2003

1. Getting Connected

- Homemade Christmas Gift Becomes High-Tech Nightmare

2. News and Views

- Get Real: Microsoft in New Antitrust Flap - Wal-Mart Introduces Bargain-Basement Online Music Store - Appeals Court Tells RIAA to Back Off - Dutch Courts Issues Favorable Ruling to Kazaa File-Sharing Service - palmOne Set to Launch Palm OS 6.0 - Video Game Software Sales Increase - New Winamp Hits the Streets

3. Announcements - Announcing a New eBook: "Content Security in the Enterprise--Spam and Beyond" - Order Windows & .NET Magazine and the Article Archive CD at One Low Rate!

4. Quick Poll - Results of Previous Poll: Digital Camera Resolution - New Poll: Attending CES 2004?

5. Event - New--Microsoft Security Strategies Roadshow!

6. New and Improved - Transform Your PC into a Home Entertainment Center - Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

7. Contact Us - See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

1. Getting Connected

By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]

Homemade Christmas Gift Becomes High-Tech Nightmare

In the December 10 edition of Connected Home EXPRESS ( ), I discuss some fun holiday gift ideas that the latest technology trends enable. In this edition, I discuss the dark side of technology gift giving or, if you will, what happens when technology goes bad. I'm not talking about a computer triple-charging your credit card or a software gift destroying a friend's PC, although we're all familiar with those scenarios. No, I want to talk about trying to do the right thing--but with painful results. Like many of you, I have several friends who aren't exactly tech-savvy; we might think of such people as "normal." One such friend, Chris, only recently bought his first computer, and he did so somewhat grudgingly, mostly because of pressure from friends and family who had discovered the wonders of the Internet. I had preached the digital-media dream to Chris for years, promising him that he could easily record his CD collection to his hard disk, then make his own customized mix CDs. I talked up the advantages of a portable audio device such as Apple Computer's iPod. With digital photos, I argued, he could do away with the boxes of 4" x 6" photos clogging his closet. And with a broadband connection, he could easily book trips, find information, write email and instant messages, play games, and even pump his digital-media content to a large TV and stereo. I think Chris finally understood the desirability of all this functionality, but like I said, he's normal. Computers just aren't a priority for him. Chris and I grew up together and share a love of music, so I knew he owned a huge collection of CDs. But he's also a busy guy, and his computer has sat in the corner of his den, largely unused. (He did sign up for DSL service, which I suspect was a big step.) I started pestering him to migrate his CD collection onto the PC, and I even offered to help. Finally, months later, and with the holidays approaching, I offered Chris a deal: I'd find him an external hard disk and copy the CDs to the disk for him. My work would be his Christmas present. Over 3 years ago, I copied my own CD collection to the PC. It was a painful process that I performed over a few months, and it cost me a Plextor CD-ROM drive, which died under the stress. I accomplished that music migration a long time ago, however, so I figured the process (and the hardware) had improved since then. I've been purchasing CDs in the intervening 3 years, but I hadn't performed such a massive CD copying operation since my initial foray into digital music. Like many digital-media enthusiasts, I'm fairly particular about my collection: I want all the metadata (e.g., artist, song, album information) to be accurate, so I can easily make custom play lists and mix CDs, for example. I like the way Windows XP organizes digital music with automatic album art on the folders. And although I prefer Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, much of my collection is in MP3 format because I use an iPod, which can't use WMA files. I discussed these concerns with Chris, and we settled on 160Kbps MP3 files because he wants an iPod for the gym. Chris dropped off a massive duffle bag of CDs, and I prepared myself for what I thought would be a simple but time-consuming task. How hard could it be? I sit in front of a computer all day anyway, so I figured I could insert CD after CD into my CD-ROM drive and use Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 Series--and the third-party MP3 encoder I bought 2 years ago--to encode the music as MP3 files. I pulled the first stack of CDs out of the bag and got to work. Chris has eclectic tastes in music. We had similar tastes (mainstream rock) long ago, but Chris gradually segued into dance and electronica, rap and hip-hop, grunge, and, most recently, a type of noise rock that defies description. He has the occasional country CDs, some promotional CDs from local radio stations, and a bizarre collection of classic rock. (Nazareth? Seriously.) Chris has more than 250 CDs in all--more than I had expected--covering more than 20 years. Most of his stuff was pretty unfamiliar to me, and as I pulled CDs from the bag, I got a kick out of seeing what sort of weird disc would turn up next--Snoop Dogg, The Cover Girls, Headswim, Faith Hill, Sevendust. His tastes were all over the place. Now we come to the problem. When you rip, or copy, CDs in this manner, the application you're using contacts a service such as All Music Guide (AMG) or Gracenote's CDDB service to automatically fill in the album, artist, and track information for each song. This information is almost always wrong. CDDB is a disaster because the service lets individuals populate the database. AMG, which allegedly has a process for ensuring that its data is valid, has grown to be just as useless. The most common problems I've encountered are as follows: - incorrect genres--For at least 70 percent of CDs, the services list the genre as Rock, regardless of the actual content. For soundtracks, the genre is listed as Soundtrack. I've seen a Motown hits compilation, "MTV Party To Go" CDs, and a country CD listed as Rock. For compilations that contain multiple types of music, the services list the tracks as Rock or Soundtrack, depending on the CD. - poorly handled compilations--The services don't handle compilation CDs (e.g., "80's Greatest Rock Hits," many soundtracks) very well because the CDs include multiple artists. Typically, the services use the Various Artists or Soundtrack label as the overall artist name, then individually list the correct artist names at the track level. In XP, you would need a folder called Various Artists under My Music that would be full of compilation CDs, which is fine. But sometimes, the CD-level artist name is Various or some other string. And soundtrack titles can have nonstandard text suffixes, such as Original Soundtrack or Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. They're all different. - spurious characters--On at least 40 percent of the CDs I copied for Chris, certain song titles included odd extra characters, such as "\[*\]", typically because those songs were CD bonus tracks. Who cares? More important, what could these characters possibly signify to the user or application consuming the content? - misspellings and incorrect names--What's the difference between "MTV Party to Go Volume One" and "MTV Party to Go, Vol. 1"? The former is the name of the CD, and the latter is the name as listed in AMG. Why doesn't AMG provide a feedback button so that I can alert the company about such problems? - incorrect dates--I like to make custom play lists that rely on correct dates. If a group's greatest-hits CD comes out in 1999 but the group originally recorded a particular song in 1978, the date of that song on the greatest-hits CD should be 1978. I'm not fixing errors of this kind for Chris because doing so is simply too complicated, but I've devoted quite a bit of time and research to fixing these dates in my own collection.

Because of these problems, I find myself babysitting each recording by checking the artist names, CD titles, song titles, genres, and other information against the original source. I'm not familiar with a lot of Chris's music, so I often have to sample a few tracks to determine what kind of music it is. This Christmas gift is taking a very long time and has somewhat disrupted my week: I've been chasing down album art (which occasionally doesn't appear, for mysterious reasons), correct album titles, and other information, all while trying to get work done. A week into this project and with Christmas just days away, I don't begrudge Chris the time. We've been friends since 7th grade, and I'm excited to see him slowly entering the digital age. But I'm astonished that this process isn't easier, and I have to wonder how a normal (nontechie) person might handle these challenges--assuming he or she would know about the ability to edit this information so that it's consistent and correct. Aren't computers supposed to make this sort of thing simpler?

2. News and Views

An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman ([email protected])

Get Real: Microsoft in New Antitrust Flap

Media giant RealNetworks filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft last week, accusing the software giant of stealing its customers, limiting the market for digital-media software, and forcing Windows Media Player (WMP) on users. RealNetworks is apparently upset that Microsoft's digital-media software is both cheaper (it's free) and easier to get than its own wares (because Microsoft bundles WMP in Windows). But a bigger concern that RealNetworks might want to address outside the court is the quality of its oft-maligned software, which is notable for its unfriendly installation programs and nasty habit of trashing file-association settings. We're all for punishing Microsoft when it's done wrong, but in this case, RealNetworks better get real: Its lawsuit is out of line.

Wal-Mart Introduces Bargain-Basement Online Music Store Retail giant Wal-Mart last week quietly introduced its online music store, Music Downloads, offering customers singles at a bargain-basement price of just 88 cents, or about 11 cents less per song than competing services such as Apple's iTunes, Napster, and Wal-Mart hasn't launched a full-scale site promotion yet, hoping that early adopters will provide valuable feedback to help the company improve the service in the near future. But as the fourth most visited e-commerce site on the Web, Wal-Mart's Web site will probably draw in a large number of users anyway.

Appeals Court Tells RIAA to Back Off

In a surprising but wonderful setback for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a US Court of Appeals ruled late last week that record labels can't force ISPs such as Verizon Wireless to provide them with the names of users who illegally trade music on the Internet. The RIAA had used this subpoena capability to charge more than 220 individuals with theft, often reaching settlements of several thousand dollars each. The court described the RIAA's legal argument for the subpoena capability as "bordering on the silly" and backed Verizon Wireless's argument that the RIAA would have to sue it to obtain customer names.

Dutch Courts Issues Favorable Ruling to Kazaa File-Sharing Service The Dutch Supreme Court ruled this week that a music-copyright agency can't place controls on the Kazaa file-sharing service. The message is that Kazaa's developers aren't responsible for the ways its customers use the service. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI)--which represents major music companies BMG, the EMI Group, Sony Music, Universal Music Group (UMG), and Warner Music Group--had hoped to see the distribution of Kazaa stopped and the program changed to prevent the trade of copyrighted materials. "Today's ruling on Kazaa by the Dutch Supreme Court is a flawed judgment but leaves no doubt that the vast majority of people who are using file-swapping services such as Kazaa are acting illegally--whatever country they are in," the group wrote in a statement.

palmOne Set to Launch Palm OS 6.0 On December 29, palmOne will launch its next handheld OS, Palm OS 6.0, the company said this week. The release sets the stage for a new generation of connected, media-capable devices. Because of its capabilities, Palm OS 6.0 will find a home on high-end devices throughout 2004, the company noted, whereas the current version, Palm OS 5.0, will reside on low-end and mainstream handhelds. Palm OS 6.0 will improve on its predecessor with better multitasking, better support for background applications, advanced graphics, and easier adaptability to new kinds of devices.

Video Game Software Sales Increase According to NPD Group, video game sales rose 7.2 percent in November, with companies such as Activision, Electronic Arts (EA), and THQ seeing the biggest gains while competitors Acclaim Entertainment and Take-Two Interactive Software nose-dived. However, despite the gains, overall video game industry sales--which include hardware and accessories in addition to software--were somewhat flat or even falling when compared with 1 year ago. Major video game makers--Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo--might have the cure for that problem, however: Each company is expected to soon announce its next-generation hardware platforms, which should be in stores by late 2004.

New Winamp Hits the Streets AOL finally released its long-awaited Winamp 5.0 media player, which builds on the successes of its previous two versions (version 2.0 + version 3.0 = version 5.0 in AOL math) to deliver a more powerful albeit more complicated digital-media experience. After enjoying massive success with Winamp 2.0, AOL saw its fortunes and mindshare plummet with its miserable 3.0 release, which was dogged by poor performance and a buggy application-development language. So, the company regrouped and worked out version 5.0, which is faster than version 3.0, but includes advanced features such as a media library, CD ripping, and support for Dobly AAC. A $15 pro version will also include MP3 encoding and a faster CD ripper.

3. Announcements

(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Announcing a New eBook: "Content Security in the Enterprise--Spam and Beyond"

This eBook explores how to reduce and eliminate the risks from Internet applications such as email, Web browsing, and Instant Messaging by limiting inappropriate use, eliminating spam, protecting corporate information assets, and ensuring that these vital resources are secure and available for authorized business purposes. Download this eBook now free!

Order Windows & .NET Magazine and the Article Archive CD at One Low Rate!

What's better than Windows & .NET Magazine? Try Windows & .NET Magazine and the Windows & .NET Magazine Article Archive CD at one super low rate. Read Windows & .NET Magazine in the office. Take the Article Archive CD with you on the road. Subscribe now!

4. Quick Poll

Results of Previous Poll: Digital Camera Resolution

The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "What resolution is your digital camera?" Here are the results from the 234 votes: - 25% 1 to 2 megapixels - 34% 3 or more megapixels - 19% 4 or more megapixels - 22% 5 or more megapixels

(Deviations from 100 percent are due to rounding error.)

New Poll: Attending CES 2004?

The next Quick Poll question is, "Will you be attending the 2004 International CES?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes or b) No.

5. Event

(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine)

New--Microsoft Security Strategies Roadshow! We've teamed with Microsoft, Avanade, and Network Associates to bring you a full day of training to help you get your organization secure and keep it secure. You'll learn how to implement a patch-management strategy; lock down servers, workstations, and network infrastructure; and implement security policy management. Register now for this free, 20-city tour.

6. New and Improved

by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

Transform Your PC into a Home Entertainment Center

CyberLink announced the availability of PowerCinema 3, entertainment software that can turn your computer into a digital-media entertainment center. PowerCinema 3 lets you watch DVDs, create dynamic photo slide shows, view and manage video files, listen to and organize music tracks, and access online Help guides through the CyberLink Web site. PowerCinema 3's interface is optimized for TV display and lets you operate the software from a universal remote control unit. For pricing information, contact CyberLink on the Web.

Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

Have you used a product that changed your IT experience by saving you time or easing your daily burden? Tell us about the product, and we'll send you a Windows & .NET Magazine T-shirt if we write about the product in a future Windows & .NET Magazine What's Hot column. Send your product suggestions with information about how the product has helped you to [email protected]

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==== 7. Contact Us ====

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