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Permalink to this day Friday, October 29, 2004

I am cancelling my Napster subscription.

For the last four months I have been paying $10 a month for a Napster subscription which enables me to stream and download a variety of albums. However, in the last four weeks I have wanted eight albums and of those only one was available via Napster's monthly subscription program. The rest were available which is amazing that they have that much breadth but you have to pay $10USD to download the album. It appears as if more and more new releases on Napster are available for purchase only and aren't provided as part of the streaming package.

So instead of paying $10USD to download the albums I wanted I turned to and picked up the albums for around ~$10USD; the same price as Napster. Sure it takes three to four days for the CDs to arrive but once they do I can rip the CD at home on my Media Center, take the CD to the office where I rip it again for my office Media Center, and if I still had an iPod I could transfer the tracks over there as well. In short, I'm willing to trade waiting four days for the convenience of not having to deal with Napster's DRM restrictions.

It is probably also worth noting that I am now too lazy to both using sites like Soulseek to download music for 'free'.

While the primary reason I am cancelling my Napster subscription is that they are not streaming the artists I want to listen to and I dislike their DRM their Media Center could use some improvement. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Enable mouse support. The reality is that Media Centers are not used exclusively in the living room with a remote control. My office Media Center sits under my desk and I use a keyboard and mouse with it, and while my home Media Center is setup in the living room I have a Gyration wireless keyboard and mouse. I love using a remote control to drive Media Center but at times using a mouse is just faster.
  • Do not use drop down menus (screenshot). They use drop down menus in their UI and I feel that the drop down navigation model is a model optimized for usage at 2' and is inappropriate for 10'.
  • Purchase requirements not bubbled up. If I search for an artist I get a search results page (screenshot)and from there I have to drill down to the artist page (screenshot), the album page (screenshot), and finally the track list track list (screenshot) before finding out that the album I want to listen to requires that I first pay for it. They really need to bubble up that purchase information to the artist page so I don't have to drill down. Where ever they show an album cover they should show a little dollar sign in one of the lower corners of it if it requires you to pay for it.
  • Make selecting all tracks and buying them the same cost as buying an album instead of more. This ties into the point above. You need to drill down to the tracks page to find out if you need to buy the album. If then on that page (screenshot) you do 'Select All' and then 'Buy' to purchase the album you are charged on a per track basis which often exceeds the cost of the album. So what you need to do is drill down to the all tracks view, see that it costs money, then backup to the album details page and click 'Buy' on that page (screenshot). This is hardly intuitive and instead if you select all for an album it should charge you the price of the album.
  • Discogrpahy should have a discernable order (screenshot). You would expect the discogrpahy to be sorted by date, or at the very least alphabetically, but it turns out that it is sorted by popularity.
  • Support triple tap for remote control text entry (screenshot). Instead of using the triple tap on screen keyboard that we make available in our SDK they use their own onscreen keyboard which requires lots of navigating around in order to input an artist/album/track.
  • Music videos should surpress the 'Finished overlay' (screenshot). I really wanted to remove all the finished overlays in the product but we couldn't get enough concensus to do it (though we will for a later release :) ). Still, doing some tricks, Napster can surpress the overlay, and they should since I do not think it offers any value to the user, and in fact is a bit confusing since a friendly file name is not displayed and you can't delete streams.

While I am critical of Napster's Media Center application I must say that I have it used it more than any of the other applications so it wins big points for providing a compelling experience and I urge you to check it out. Anecdotally, it sounds like the most popular Media Center application.

Update: Joe Wilcox in I'm Subscribed is bullish on Napster:

Half a day later and I'm quite excited about the service and the freedom free downloads give to experiment and try out more different kinds of music.

2:24:15 PM  Permalink to this item []

ZDNET UK, Rupert Goodwins' Diary:
Thus, all those carefully set up WMC boxes were reduced to playing back video. Or at least trying to - with loads of remote controls all set up for the same codes, it was more like a game of laser tag. Could you squeeze in a journalist-impressing burst of pre-recorded footie before the next-door stand switched your computer into a game of Reversi? (No.)

Perhaps now is a good time to leak the news that we will soon be releasing a TweakMCE power toy that enables geeks to tweak Media Center to their hearts content. I PM'd this bundle of goodness and we're just waiting for some final pieces to come together (the right EULA, final graphics for the icons) before releasing it along with a few other power toys.

One of the many settings is 'Set Remote Control ID' which tells you how to reprogram your Media Center remote to send a unique identifier with each IR command and then the application tells Media Center to only respond to that ID. We need this because, by default, Media Center listens for all remote control IDs (1-7).

The feature is not compelling for end users because it is very unlikely they have two Media Centers in their living room but I think it will be a popular feature amongst the marketers who are on the road and are often in a remove full of Media Centers.
12:44:52 PM  Permalink to this item []

© Copyright 2004 Matt Goyer.
I work on the Windows Media Center as a program manager on the shell team.

Disclaimer: The posts on this weblog are provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confer no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.

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Updated: 11/5/2004; 3:25:41 PM.