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Found Deals and Discounts / Maya for Free
« on: April 05, 2006, 12:56 PM »

Autodesk is offering a free Personal Learning Edition of it's 2D & 3D modeling/animation/rendering program called Maya. Go here for details:

This company also owns 3DS Max and AutoCAD, so they've some experience with these types of programs. I haven't used it myself, but I've always liked dabbling in art programs. Hopefully it comes with some good tutorials.

General Software Discussion / A List of Freeware Utilities
« on: March 10, 2006, 04:10 PM »
My friend sent me this yesterday. I've tried out a few of the applications mentioned.

I'm just guessing, but I'd say it has about 250 programs listed.

Best Music Service / Napster not good for casual music purchasers.
« on: March 10, 2006, 01:08 AM »
I have to disagree with this review, at least for my needs.

I'm a casual music purchaser, generally sticking to the artists I already know and like. If I explore new music, it is almost always on the recommendation of a friend. I don't listen to the radio because I can't stand all the horrible music it plays. I don't follow most of the popular trends in music. If I get in a car with a bunch of people and they start singing along to a song on the radio, I usually don't know it. I couldn't believe it when, back in high school, a few people asked me what radio station I listened to and the look of utmost surprise (and as if I was some kind of freak) when I told them I didn't listen to any. Sorry for delving into personal history, I just wanted you to have an idea of where I'm coming from in my personal tastes and musical desires.

For an audiophile, your review may be correct, but my experience with Napster has not been a pleasant one. That may be partly because I'm just ignorant on how it works.

In all my searches for music online I have found iTunes to have a better selection of what I'm looking for. Not only that, but it was iTunes' shopping cart that initially led me to prefer it over Napster, even if Napster had the music I was looking for. I didn't like that Napster made me buy one song or one album at a time, and didn't let me pick several individual songs or a couple of albums and buy them all at once.

Also, when I initially tried out Napster, I had a small monitor and liked all my windows maximized. I was more than a little frustrated that my task bar would not pop up from being hidden when Napster was maximized and I moved my mouse to the bottom of the screen. I reported this "bug" and they began to tell me how to go into the settings to make it so that my task bar didn't hide, as if I had no idea that the task bar was at the bottom of the screen and I only needed to move my mouse down there to reveal it. That was at least three years ago, but last time I checked (minutes ago), it still does that. Indeed, iTunes shared the same disfunctionality initially, but it has since been resolved. That problem doesn't affect me much anymore now that I have a bigger monitor and don't maximize all my windows (and don't use Napster), but it bothers me that they blamed my ignorance on how to use windows, as if it worked correctly the whole time, instead of their inability to make a program that allows the task bar to pop up.

The 30 second streaming preview playlist is a nice idea, if it only worked properly. Unfortunately any time you add music to it, it immediately starts playing the most recently added song, which is at the bottom of the list, effectively skipping over songs that you are currently trying to preview. I'd rather have not have a feature than one that doesn't work properly.

And the DRM is what tops it all off. The worst feature right there. I can't believe they won't let you burn your music to CDs when you're paying them each month for music. That's ridiculous! If you're someone who operates on principle, as I am, that's reason enough to stay away from Napster. As the free account user, they've allowed me to burn my music in the past (haven't tried for years, though) so I could easily burn and rip the disc into MP3s. A hassle, to be sure, but it doesn't seem to be much better or worse than stripping the DRM. And I'm not fond of WMA files, either. I much prefer the widely supported MP3 format, though in recent years WMA support has become more available. If I buy something, I want to use it how I want to use it. I don't want to have to search through the limited products that support something as universal as simple audio.

I don't particularly love iTunes. In fact, I absolutely hate that it comes with QuickTime and you have no choice but to install both programs if you want one or the other. I've been using it for a couple of years (ever since I found myself dissatisfied with Napster's selection and functionality) and I still can't figure out how to make proper playlists. As a music player, I hate it. I stick with WinAmp. I don't have a portable music player and if I did I'd just use the USB cable to transfer my music over. I don't need an additional program to "help" me transfer files when Windows Explorer works just fine.

iTunes also has DRM protected M4P files, but natively allows and encourages you to burn your music within the iTunes Player. Again this requires ripping (and effectively having two copies of all your music) to be able to listen to the music anywhere but iTunes or iPod, but I haven't ever questioned the legality of it. I bought it, it's mine. I'll have it in what format I want.

I understand the necessity of both programs limiting the music to 3-5 computers. Unfortunately for me, I had no idea about this "feature" until I'd already re-formatted once and later gotten a new hard drive. Now I have two "computers" that are worthless on there, even though I've been using the same computer the whole time. I don't know how Napster handles this, but I think that unused "computers" on iTunes will eventually timeout.

iTunes was only briefly mentioned in passing in this review (saying it was ripping users off and costing more, when in reality, iTunes it offers albums for about a dollar less and often will include bonus tracks or videos. Not much, but for the miser it adds up) and yet as the main "competitor" of Napster, I feel it deserves further investigation. In this review we were just told about Napster's subscription service; we were simply told that Napster was the best, and saw no objective comparison between the very similar experience of the free account users, in which I feel iTunes comes out on top. That's a shame that readers of the review were not able to see for themselves which program would best suit them by comparing their features.

If you're looking to buy music, stick with iTunes. If you want to explore new music you haven't heard of before, then perhaps Napster is for you. But as a casual music purchaser with a very limited income, try or (both free) to find new music you'd like, then purchase it with iTunes. Your experience should be much less stressful that way. If you can't find it in iTunes, you probably won't find it in Napster.

Neither are perfect, but have "features" that annoy me extremely. But for just buying music, iTunes has provided me with the better price, a better selection, an easy to use store (with a shopping cart!), and an overall better experience.

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