What if tomorrow you went to Best Buy or Walmart or Sam Goody and purchased a CD? What if, before you left the store, the salesman told you that although the CD was in all other respects a standard CD, that you could only play it if you owned a Pioneer or Sony stereo? Would that make any sense? Would it make you a bit hesitant about buying music from that store again?Well, if you purchase music or videos from the iTunes Store, that’s potentially the kind of the bind you’ve put yourself in.
Music sold through the iTunes Store (with the exception of music from the EMI catalog, which includes artists such as Coldplay, Norah Jones, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra and others), is encrypted with Apple’s form of DRM (digital rights management), called FairPlay. Compared with other DRM schemes, I suppose, FairPlay really is fair. It enables a user to play the music or video on up to five different computers, and unlimited number of iPods, and with the case of music, to burn it to an unlimited number of CDs. Compare that to other schemes which limit the number of computers or devices, and don’t allow burning at all (or at least not without an additional payment), and Apple’s scheme isn’t all that bad.
The Itunes Store:
With content from the iTunes Store, however, users may find themselves a bit stuck if they ever want to make the switch to a more open computing platform, such as Linux. Because none of the DRM-restricted content from the iTunes Store will play on Linux. And it’s all because that’s how Apple wants it, to be honest, and not because of any technical limitation.
It’s not that Linux users can’t play the type of files produced by iTunes, because iTunes (in ripping a CD to audio files) produces standard mp3 or aac audio files, and Linux users can play those. And it isn’t that Quicktime or Windows Media files can’t be played in Linux, because Linux can play just as many formats as Mac and Windows. In fact, the music and videos sold through the iTunes Store are standard audio and video files. Take away the DRM and the content could be played by anyone, on almost any computer.
The problem as I see it, is that Apple, in selling DRM-restricted music files, is limiting a user’s choice of computer. Now, I like Macs. I’ve used a Mac since high school, and owned one since college. Everything else being equal, I’d probably choose a Mac over Linux, and definitely over a Windows machine. But not everything is controllable. It was about 18 months ago when my Powerbook died one night, and I haven’t been able to resurrect it since. My work purchased a Dell for me, but my distaste for Windows led me to almost immediately wipe the hard drive and replace it with Linux. And Linux is – in almost every other conceivable way – superior or equal to Macs and Windows machines, when everything is taken into account.