Birmingham Post - Keep It Simple

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Why re-invent the wheel? Last weekend I finally hawked my CD and vinyl collection round the record shops of Birmingham. Having moved everything to MP3, and stored a DVD backup in deepest Surrey, I vowed never to buy another mainstream CD.

So when I decided to buy the Flaming Lips new album, At War With The Mystics, I knew the time had come to join the download revolution. I'd previously signed up to HMV's on-line service. I used it a lot when you could pay 1p to listen to any track – a whole evening's listening for 50p. So I fired up the HMV application. It told me that I had to download a new version. I downloaded it, and the install failed, twice. Third time OK. It then decided to scan my disc for music files. Big mistake. Two thousand odd files and about half an hour later it was ready to use.

The new Flaming Lips album had pride of place on the HMV home page so I clicked on the Buy icon – and the system hung. Eventually a message came up saying the store wasn't working. Come back later. I came back later, it still wasn't working.

Now a good hour or so into the exercise I decided to give up on HMV. A quick Google search revealed a number of legal download music stores, including Tesco's. The Tesco's site launched in my trusty Firefox browser, let me add At War With The Mystics to my basket, let me pay simply at the checkout and gave me links to the 12 tracks to download. One by one I downloaded the files to the PC, probably only 30 seconds or so for each. I cursed the manual process, but only as the last track downloaded did I spot the link at the bottom left of the screen to download the whole album as a single zip file. (Note to web designers: never put crucial information at the bottom left of the screen!).

I then checked in Musicmatch, my preferred music jukebox, for the files. Only two problems. First because the files are protected and not MP3s with visible track details all were filed under “Miscellaneous”, rather than being placed with the Flaming Lips great last album - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Second the tracks weren't numbered so I don't know the order they appear on the album (not crucial for the Top 20, but vital for a old prog-rocker like myself). Crucially though the music did actually play, licences being smoothly downloaded as each track started.

Even so, three hurdles still remain. First to play the music round the house on my Netgear/Twonkyvision system it needs to be unprotected, second I'd like to have it on my Palm PDA in MP3 format, and third it would be good to have on CD in the car.

It's at times like these a PC user really does look enviously across at the Mac world and iTunes!

The biggest lesson for me though was how HMV's supposedly cool interface got totally in the way of the task. A large download, lots of functions I already had and a far from robust delivery system. In contrast the Tesco's store was simplicity itself. Downloads just like any other purchase. The web was designed to provide a consistent interface to a wide variety of information. It is now doing the same for applications. Companies and designers who break that model do so at their peril.

Oh, and the music? The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song was great, but the rest weren't a patch on the Pink Robots.

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This page contains a single entry by David published on April 11, 2006 12:33 PM.

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