Let’s talk music and software for a moment. Shall we? This post is about the software I use at home to organize the audible bits I have accumulated and keep accumulating everyday. You must remember that I am not an expert on any of the software applications discussed below. If you have technical questions, try the forums of the software you are curious about.
For the past one month I have begun to regularly use three OSes at home (Mac OSX, Ubuntu Dapper, Windows XP). Ubuntu and Windows are new to my home. Like all new arrivals, they’ve given me both joy and pain. Ubuntu’s Disk Manager can be a big pain. Windows registry is a nauseating garbage bin. While at it, let me just say OS X Finder is plain stupid. But, we shall restrain ourselves. This post is about sharing and playing music on computers that have different operating systems – all within a simple home network.
With the arrival of Ubuntu and Windows, my tiny little apple cart was upset irrecoverably. All my audible bits – music, audiobooks – are in iTunes Library on my Mac with iTunes as the high priest. This is always a dangerous situation because you have pawned your freedom for convenience and you must be very cautious. The iTunes Library of mine has bits purchased from iTunes Store, from CDs and some music given by friends. An important aspect of high-priestiness is exclusivity. Only the choosen can access the treasures. iTunes Library is accessible only by iTunes and iTunes does not run on Linux. To play the music on Linux I have to move the music files to a more ‘open’ library. The best ‘open’ library is, IMHO, a folder with ‘open’ format song files in them, like ogg files in a simple folder structure. Music players can monitor the folder and use the song file’s metadata to expose the song info. Anything complicated than this is a waste of my time and energy because it will require maintenance on my part and unnecessary conformation to arbitrary conventions. I get rashes when I need to maintain things I don’t have to.
My most basic and important requirement is to be able to play the music collection irrespective of which OS I am running at any moment. I want to listen to music at times and not be encumbered by silly things like OS and DRM and Pope Steve. Not being able to play it when I am sitting right beside the Digital Library is like sitting in front of a closed door when you can hear laughter and smell good food on the other side. The situation demands rectification. There’s just one problem. iTunes.
iTunes is a good program. Good programs are very rare and I am reluctant to let iTunes go. But, iTunes asks for a high price. It asks for my freedom in exchange for keeping the audible bits. While this may be a price many would be willing to pay, freedom with my bits is a non-negotiable issue for me.
iTunes uses a locking technology called FairPlay to lock the songs you buy in iTunes Store. FairPlay is a cunning name. It neatly hides the face of those it is fair to. FairPlay is how Digital Rights Management (DRM) is implemented for music. While Apple’s DRM is slightly better than other DRMs, it still restricts the legitimate freedom of a consumer like me. The bottomline, DRM sucks. Due to the locking strategy of iTunes even if I find a program like RhythmBox for linux which somewhat satiates my craving for iTunes, I would still not be able to play the music purchased at iTunes store. I cannot take the music files in iTunes Library and play them in RhythmBox. iTunes DRM would not allow it. But, we are talking about technology here and technology is all about innovation and change. Locking someone into sticking to a single source is the antithesis of technological progress. Time to remind ourselves of a fundamental technological truth.
All technologies can be circumvented as long as humans remain analog. However locked ‘digital’ music is, it must in the end, flow into our analog ears. That means at some point there is a hole from which rightful content can be extracted into whatever container we choose. So, while DRM and other locking technologies are a problem, it is not a problem that is insurmountable. And, surmount we do. QTFairUse6 cures DRM infections. When I write this, iTunes may have been updated to break QTFairUse. My guess would be that QTFairUse would break iTunes quick enough. Making a paying, rights-respecting person like me jump so many hoops is highly counterproductive. My last purchase at iTunes Music Store in the past and will remain so.
I mentioned RhythmBox. RhythmBox is a music player for Linux that is inspired by iTunes. I tried it and decided it’ll do. I cured the audible bits in the iTunes Library and moved them to RhythmBox in Ubuntu. I am still looking for a player that is truly cross platform and is as good as or better than iTunes.
After getting the audible bits sorted out, the next step is to make them available anywhere. I could setup a Digital Library that Ubuntu, Windows and Mac machines can share. It would potentially be my first cross-platform Digital Library. The digital bits can follow me whereever I go. I can walk like I mean it. Well, I do walk like I mean it now. We’ll talk about how I setup the Digital Library in another post.
Update: Yesterday was the Day Against DRM. DefectiveByDesign website is a good resource on what’s wrong with DRM and a place to start and share your own campaign against DRM.