Court order sends Napster users seeking files elsewhere


April 15, 2001




The court-ordered ban on copyrighted songs on the music file-swapping service Napster has some Americans turning to alternative services for their music.

Napster was ordered to take steps to remove copyrighted songs off its network on March 6. The service has been trying with moderate success to filter out banned material to meet the court order's demand.

While still the dominant file-swapping service, the number of users dropped from 15.2 million users in February to 12.1 million in March, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

Interestingly, the number of visitors to the Napster Web site -- probably seeking the latest news and information on Napster's service -- jumped by 30 percent during the same time period.

Other file-swapping services remain in operation, but some of them are altering the way they operate to avoid the copyright problems that hit Napster.

The Israel-based iMesh, the largest pure file-swapping service next to Napster, agreed earlier this month to disable downloads of copyrighted files.

MOVE OVER MP3. Microsoft's dominance of computer operating systems is fact. More than 90 percent of the world's computers use some version of the Windows operating system.

Microsoft's latest target is the ever-popular MP3 format used for music files that are swapped and traded online.

The MP3 format creates a compact music file that retains excellent sound quality. It's become so popular that portable players for these files are now all the rage.

But Microsoft's next-generation operating system to be released this year targets the MP3 file format and essentially cripples it.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Microsoft plans to severely limit the quality of music that can be recorded as an MP3 file with its Windows XP operating system.

Music files recorded using Microsoft's own music format, Windows Media Audio, will sound superior in quality and require less storage space on a computer's hard drive.

The move to make the MP3 format obsolete stems from the format's lack of a way to digitally protect a file's copyright. As a result, the music industry doesn't support the MP3 format, and is supporting any alternatives that will give it better control over who can record or share copyrighted music files.

And while third-party software for MP3 recording is supposed to operate under Windows XP, beta testers who have used the new operating system say the MP3 software didn't always function properly.

The restrictions in Windows XP for MP3 files will prevent recording the files at fidelity rates higher than 56k per second.

That means your favorite tunes will lose most of their sound quality and fidelity.

PENTIUM 4 PRICE CUTS. Intel plans to dramatically cut the price of its Pentium 4, with some models slashed by 50 percent.

The move is aimed at creating demand for the company's latest computer chip.

Along with the price cuts, Intel will introduce a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 later this month.

Demand for computer chips is slowing, and Intel officials plan to replace the Pentium III in desktop computers by year's end with the Pentium 4.

Analysts say the price cuts will pose a problem for the computer chip maker, because the Pentium 4 is expensive to make, and the company has already been giving PC makers rebates to use the new chip.

ZIP DRIVE SUIT SETTLED. Iomega Corp. has settled a class-action lawsuit which will hand out rebates to U.S. customers who purchased a Zip drive between Jan. 1, 1995, and March 19, 2001.

The lawsuit was filed in 1998, and claimed the company's product had a manufacturing flaw that frequently caused the drives and disks to fail.

An affected drive would refuse to read the disk, and then click repeatedly as it tried to access the disk. This clicking continued until the user ejected the disk. Repeated clicking ruined any Zip disk inserted in the drive.

My own PC Zip drive began the "Click of Death" within the first year after I purchased it. The clicks ruined any disk inserted in it. Iomega agreed to replace any Zip drive affected by the "Click of Death," even those drives outside the warranty period.

One interesting aspect of the problem was the fact that few Zip drives failed when they were used with Macintosh computers.

Macs dominate the newspaper industry, particularly in graphic design, and few, if any, Zip drives failed among the newspaper graphics professionals I have known.

U.S. customers who purchased a Zip drive will be entitled to rebates worth up to $40 for various Iomega products.

The company will also donate $1 million in products and services to schools, and provide free technical support for customers who experience the clicking.

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