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* Sunday, January 2, 2005

The New Laptop and the Future of Music in Libraries

Last month I asked for advice about laptops, and I got alot of great responses. Enough people advised against a Tablet PC that it was the first option I discounted since I knew I couldn’t afford one robust enough to offset the criticisms. That left a regular Windows-based machine or an Apple iBook. As is often the case when I ask these types of questions, most of the respondents were Mac enthusiasts and they made such a great case for the iBook that I had one all picked out.

However, as I was reviewing what I really wanted the laptop to do, I realized that my music service of choice, Rhapsody, only runs on Windows. As I’ve noted several times in the past, the only way to get my Rhapsody away from me is to pry it from my cold, dead hands. Yeah, I know iTunes is the bomb on a Mac, but it’s just not for me. I like buying single songs, but I love listening to any of over 800,000 songs more. There are more songs I just want to listen to and/or sample than there are songs I want to purchase, even at 99 cents. I can sample hundreds of new albums every week – the whole album – which is something iTunes doesn’t offer. And boy do I love me my Rhapsody when I’m traveling, which made it a required installation on my laptop.

There were a couple of other programs besides Rhapsody that required Windows, so Windows won in the end. Does it suck that a few programs further lock in the monopoly? Yeah, it really does. Sure, I could have jerry-rigged the iBook to simulate Windows in order to run Rhapsody, but I’m getting tired of jerry-rigging things lately.

So I ended up getting a Gateway 4530GZ, a monster machine with a 1.7Ghz Centrino processor (4–1/2 hours of battery life!), a 100GB hard drive, 512MB RAM, an SD/Memory Stick slot, 4 USB ports, 1 FireWire port, a multi-format DVD writer, a 15” screen, and of course, embedded 802.11g wireless. All in a package that weighs just 5.5 pounds and at a great price. I just can’t get over how light it is, especially compared to the previous laptop.

So while I still have a list of suggestions for improvements I want to send in to the Rhapsody folks, I’m back to being a nomadic computer user, and the kids are quite jealous (I’m not letting them use this laptop). Speaking of whom, here’s yet another kid story.

We visited Barnes & Noble last week to let the kids buy some books with their Christmas money. Kailee also visited the music section, and when I caught up with her, she had a list of songs she wanted me to put on a CD for her. At no time did she ask to buy the CDs, nor did she ask us to get them from the library. She just doesn’t think of music that way. She listens to songs on Rhapsody and then she tells me which ones she wants on a mixed CD. Apparently being in the store just reminded her to look for the names of the songs.

Compare that with David Pogue’s recent observation:

See the Movie, Buy the Song

“Yesterday, for example, we drove about 40 minutes to a special Imax theater that was showing ‘The Polar Express’ in 3-D….

Anyway, there’s a catchy song in the movie that my kids kept singing all the way home. Well, the first two lines, anyway; that’s all they could remember. So when we arrived home, although we had only ten minutes before bedtime, I thought I’d put all of this Internet digital-music stuff to the test.

I fired up the iTunes Music Store, typed in ‘Polar Express,’ and had the song bought ($1) and playing on my computer within—no exaggeration—60 seconds. Now that I knew the name of the song, I hit Google, typed ‘When Christmas Comes to Town lyrics,’ and clicked the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button. Boom, I was looking at the complete lyrics.

In the time it had taken my kids to take off their coats and snowy shoes, all of us were standing in front of the computer, volume cranked, happily singing along by reading the lyrics as iTunes played. Three times, in fact.” [Pogue’s Posts]

All of which worries me that music doesn’t have much of a future in libraries, particularly in public libraries. There’s already a digital “box set” of U2 music on iTunes that has 446 songs on it, plus a lot of rare and live goodies. In particular, it has 40 previously unreleased tracks, which means there are 40 tracks out there that no library anywhere can circulate. Talk about a digital divide.

Not only that, Engadget asks 2005 Year of the MP3 Phone? Go read it and then remind yourself that this is a rhetorical question and the answer is yes. So where does all of this leave libraries?

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