Gateway to offer tunes with new PCs

Dec. 8, 2002


Computer maker Gateway took some heat early this year from the music industry over its advertising campaign that promoted using its PCs to burn music on CD-ROMs at home. The ad campaign advised computer buyers "to protect their digital rights."

Gateway is going a step further now that it plays to offer packages of music that come pre-loaded on its new computer hard drives.

The tunes aren't part of some illegally downloaded stash of music; they're part of a new promotional deal that Gateway has with the online music service Pressplay.

Pressplay is a joint venture between Vivendi Universal and Sony, and is one of several music industry-sponsored music subscription services that allow consumers to download tunes in a manner that doesn't violate copyrights.

The Gateway Music Vault will offer a "Mega Pack" of preloaded tunes, consisting of up to 2,000 songs. One attraction to the pre-loaded music is the time saved -- imagine how long it would take to download more than 8 gigabytes of music. The range of music available will range from rap to rock and from classical to country. The tunes can be left on the PC, burned to a CD or moved to an MP3 player.

The deal will also promote Pressplay's service. Each PC will come with the Pressplay software, and subscribing to the service is necessary to hear most of the pre-loaded songs, though each comes with a free 90-day trial subscription.

Pressplay and other subscription music services are trying to fill the demand for downloadable music while avoiding copyright violations and giving artists and the music industry a cut of the proceeds.

Pressplay's basic "Unlimited" subscription of $9.95 a month allows unlimited streaming and downloads of music files that are not "portable" -- meaning they can't be burned to a CD or moved to an MP3 player. The "Unlimited Plus" $17.95 monthly subscription offers 10 portable tunes per month. Users who pay a year in advance can save money, and additional portable downloads can be purchased.

Can Pressplay and others like it displace or replace KaZaA and similar free download services? That remains to be seen, though I expect that you'll see more promotion of the industry-supported sites as they continue to take action to shut down KaZaA and others like it.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW. Online commerce continues to grow, and early reports are that this Christmas shopping season will be good to the major retailers' sites.

What do American consumers purchase most often online? The answer isn't home electronics, music or travel arrangements. The answer, according to a new consumer survey by Vertis, is books.

During 2002, books were purchased by 43 percent of U.S. consumers who shopped online. Books have been the top item purchased online for several years running. Music CDs come in a distant second at 29 percent, followed by home electronics and toys.

Online book sales are estimated to hit $2.6 billion this year. For the holidays, more women than men were planning to buy books online to give as gifts.

While books are the top seller, a recent study by Jupiter Research indicates something we all know -- gifts sometimes sit unused, or in this case, unread.

Jupiter's survey found reading a book doesn't rank very high on the list of top leisure activities for most Americans. The study found that people spend more time watching TV, surfing the Web, listening to the radio or playing games than reading books.

Perhaps it pays to keep the receipt on those gifts after all.

E-MAIL ALERT. Having e-mail at your office or workplace has become fairly common these days. One of the features that I've begun to see used more frequently is the auto-reply message.

These are the messages that are sent automatically to anyone who e-mails a person, most often used to let others know they are out of the office on vacation, or will be out until a specified date.

These auto-replies are handy; they let the sender know when they can expect a reply, and there's no one left wondering "did my e-mail get to its destination?"

But some quick-thinking thieves are using auto-reply messages to find the location of empty homes ripe for burglary.

A British technology group is warning that criminals are sending mass e-mails to corporate addresses in a search for auto-reply messages. The criminals attempt to cross-reference auto-reply messages with a phone directory or other source to find an address.

The Information Forum (TIF) recommends that people avoid being too specific in an auto-reply message. Don't put your job title in the message, and never include details that would reveal you are out of town or away from home for a specific length of time. You can also redirect inquiries to co-workers, and avoid putting personal contact information in the message. Keep the message simple.

"You wouldn't go on holiday with a note pinned to your door saying who you were, how long you were away for and when you were coming back, so why would you put this in an email?" said David Roberts, head of TIF.

ANNIVERSARY TIME. This week marks the beginning of this column's eighth year. In early December 1995, I told my boss I wanted to start a weekly column about computers and the Internet. Local Internet access had just arrived in the area at that time, and there was quite a bit of misinformation and even fear associated with the Web. My boss gave me the green light, and I've yet to run out of things to write about.

Technology has advanced at a dizzying pace, and continues to do so. While my old columns have no news value, they're an interesting peek back at the new trends in technology that caught my eye then. I started a Web site that first month as a way to archive the columns I planned to write.

The first columns focused more on new user information, though I did include a review of a Web site that offered visitors a "virtual tour" of Elvis' Memphis home, Graceland.

Streaming audio was still under development in early 1996. Netscape's Navigator ruled the roost as top Web browser, and 33.6k modems were the fastest thing available for Internet dial-up. In 1997, U.S. Robotics and Rockwell/Lucent offered modems with speeds of up to 56k, but their technologies were incompatible. It wasn't until a 56k standard was set (1998) that both makers' modems became compatible.

Microsoft rolled out Windows 98 in June 1998; Apple, under new direction by co-founder-turned CEO Steve Jobs, unveiled the trendy iMac that year; Microsoft's Internet Explorer took the lead as top Web browser.

Virus alerts and e-mail hoaxes punctuated 1999, as more people moved online and were hit by various computer bugs; E-Trade helped spur nearly all the major stock brokers to offer online trading by year's end; a study estimated that computers were now in half of all U.S. homes. The year ended with worries of what would happen to computers due to unknown Y2K bugs.

After millions of dollars were spent on Y2K, January 1, 2000 came and went with very few hitches; Priceline expands into the gas and grocery business just as the Dot-Com bubble bursts; Priceline's stock price plummets, and five months later the company quits selling gas and groceries.

The bursting of the Dot-Com Bubble in 2000 saw massive upheaval in what was deemed a "New Economy." Internet companies went out of business or were sold to other businesses. In the time since, we've seen a rebound of sorts, though the day of easy startup capital for Internet-related companies is over.

The Internet is no longer something that intimidates most people. The use of the Web and e-mail has become so common, my kids' teachers post homework assignments on a Web site.

It's been an interesting trip since 1995, with more twists and turns than anyone could have predicted. It's an experience that whets my appetite for the future. I'm going to hang on and enjoy the ride.

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