As mentioned earlier, I have an iPod. On it I have ripped pretty much all of my favourite CDs and a few other bits that I have liberated off the net. Have I brought anything from iTunes? A couple of things, but nothing that I wouldn't mind losing if I ever switched back to a non Apple player. You see, anything you buy from iTunes is encoded with Digital Rights Management (DRM) in such a way that you can only play it on YOUR ipod or your copy of iTunes. Considering there are hundreds of makes of MP3 player out there, this is a bit of a limitation. Especially now that Microsoft have launched the Zune media player. Music purchased from the Microsoft site will play on the Zune but not on the iPod.
So what has caused this stupid state of affairs? Its because the digital music revolution has been lead by the hardware manufacturers up till now. In the old days someone would invent the tape cassette or the CD player and all the music companies would agree to use it. The phrase download is a bit misleading as there are so many sorts. An itunes download would be more equivalent to an Apple CD that could only be played in an Apple CD player. The only thing it shares with an MP3 is that they are both stored as computer files.
There is one simple solution to this whole saga though. That is for the music companies to come up with their own format. This would have all the features of Apples FairPlay but would be licensed to M$, Apple, iRiver and anyone else who wanted it. I am sure it wouldn't take long to come up with some encrypted version of an MP3 file. Then, as long as the manufacturers stuck to the rules you could play the tunes you downloaded from itunes on your Zune and vice versa. I mean, how hard can it be to create a new audio processing codec? I am sure for a fee apple would license the algorithms behind FairPlay. Wrap that round an MP3 file and you are ready to go. Of course Sony has tried something like this. They came up with their ATRAC file format which you could only download from the Sony site and that only played on Sony players. Therefore trying to copy Apple but failing miserably (of course naming your new technology after the old 8 track technology didn't help).
The other thing about DRM is that people say its too restrictive. How many places do you need your music though? Your PC, your laptop and your music player should be enough. M$ have given us the ability to "lend" music to friends for a bit. If you buy a CD you can only really play it in one place at any one time. You could burn a copy for the car and a copy for the office, but who does that? Also, as long as the new system worked with all the various subscription services as well they would have it all tied up. Then digital music would really take off in a big way.