alexpgp: (Barcode)
I am on the brink of downgrading my Audible membership to a level where I don't end up buying audio books simply because I've got the credits to do so (courtesy of what can be described as a subscription membership).

My first complaint has to do with the medium itself. I've found, first hand, that about the only use I have for an audio book is to listen to a mystery thriller while driving cross-country. It keeps my head clear but doesn't require a high level of concentration. (What passes for music these days just doesn't do it for me.)

My second, has to do with the digital restrictions management (DRM) that Audible (actually Amazon, if memory serves) foists on its customers, along the lines of Apple's iTunes, where devices are "authorized" via the Internet, up to some number deemed reasonable by Audible.

I just spent an interesting half hour trying to (re)-authorize my SanDisk Sansa e260, and kept getting a strange error ("Failed to set activation data to device") for which the Audible site proposed a number of solutions, including formatting the Sansa's drive.

Before I undertook that drastic step, however, I thought a little about what was going on when I connected my Sansa to my VAIO. Specifically, upon plugging the Sansa into a USB port, XP mounted two disk drives (drives I: and M:), where I: turned out to be the (empty) slot on the side of the device, and M: was the drive inside the unit.

The Audible software, however, assumed that the first mounted drive (I:) was the internal drive, and would not write to M:, which was assumed to be the external drive.

So after fooling around with editing my registry (which didn't solve my problem), temporarily killing off my firewall (which didn't solve my problem), and finally making sure Internet Explorer was operable (which didn't solve my problem), I refrained from reformatting my Sansa (which wouldn't have solved my problem), and instead inserted a chip into the side slot of the unit, which the Audible software thereupon recognized as the unit's internal drive, after which the whole authorization thing went off without a hitch.

Now, I just have to remember not to idly remove or replace the chip, else the Sansa'll become "unauthorized" again and the audio books won't play.

I guess some vendors just figure their customers don't have enough to do.



Sep. 25th, 2008 11:09 am
alexpgp: (Computing)
Some time ago, I shelled out some shekels for an application called Babylon, which does an adequate job of looking up individual French words (and the occasional phrase). It was installed on webster and I assumed, when I bought hammer, that the common convention of allowing purchasers to install software on a desktop and laptop applied.

Well, not only is the answer no, but no-and-we've-disabled-your-installation-please-refer-to-our-email-for-a-new-license-code. Apparently, if I want to use the software on two machines that I and only I use, I need two licenses, and while the cost of a second license is discounted, it turns out I'd also have to license a second copy of any dictionary that I'd want to be able to use on both machines.

If deciding which machine I want the application installed on isn't difficult enough, the whole situation is particularly irksome, as I had just purchased an upgrade to the program about a week ago. Presumably, I'd want to have it on hammer, which is my designated "travel" machine, for those cases where I need to use a dictionary where there is poor or no Internet access (although in my experience, the program's performance is markedly weaker without such access).

We are, I think, at the cusp of a very unglamorous future, where it will be common for software vendors to retain control over their products - and this can only mean "over how you use their products" - long after they have been bought and installed (the elephant in the room in this regard is Apple, which seems singularly bent on controlling what applications people run on their iPhones, to the extent that the company reserves the right to remotely disable applications for reasons that Apple deems appropriate).

As it is, I have not enjoyed my experience with Babylon, and as the application is only so-so in terms of performance (I bought the upgrade for the dictionaries that came with it), I doubt I'll have much to do with the company in the future.

alexpgp: (Default)
When Amazon bought Audible, they made noises to the effect that they'd deep-six the Audible DRM if enough customers complained. One customer has gone so far as to create a web site to Stop the DRM. I dropped by a little while ago and, in the course of things, sent the following note to Amazon:
Hi, I'm both an Amazon customer and an Audible customer. I'm given to understand that if you hear enough outcry about the DRM in Audible products, you'll improve the customer's experience and get rid of it.

To be frank, I don't buy as many Audible books as I might otherwise buy because of the hoops I have to jump through to listen to the product. What hoops? Well, basically, figure that my decision to stop using iTunes to manage my iPod pretty much meant either acquiring a second non-iTunes player just for listening to Audible books (and not just some cheap-but-adequate player, but one that can handle the DRM), or ripping Audible downloads to mp3.

Frankly, if the second alternative were impossible, I would have quit my Audible membership ages ago. However, the fact that it is possible and that Audible persists in selling a product that is apparently designed to deliberately inconvenience me... well, we get back to my saying that I don't buy as many Audible books as I might otherwise buy.

To be utterly frank, I'm getting to the point where I'm going to have to make a decision whether to stick with Audible or quit entirely, because enjoying an audio book shouldn't involve so much bother.
alexpgp: (Default)
According to an item at boingboing,
People who bought music from the MSN music store have been royally hosed by Microsoft: as of today, if you buy a new computer, or refresh your hard-drive, you have to kiss all your music goodbye. Microsoft has shut down its DRM "license server" and left people who bought music - instead of downloading it from a P2P site - out in the cold.
The shutdown will actually occur later this year, but the essence of the piece remains clear: once the servers are shut down, music bought from made available by MSN will only play for as long as you keep your old computer (and operating system).

Indeed, according to the article, the email sent out by MSN speaks about "songs you purchased from MSN Music." If only there were a way to DRM the money used to pay for such "purchased" wares, so that it would cease to be valid legal tender if the merchandise "bought" were to stop working.

A pox on them all.

alexpgp: (Default)
So after it becomes clear that the digital restrictions that Amazon requires are simply incompatible with how I'd like to be treated, I go to the "Your account" page they set up for my account, intending to cancel any future purchases under the automatic plan I had signed up for. There, under "Where's my stuff?" was a bullet pointed link labeled "Cancel items or orders."

Clicking the link revealed that I've no open or recent orders. There was a separate link for "Digital orders", which I clicked.

The page that came up displayed my purchases, but the word "cancel" simply did not appear on the page.

Indeed, after 15 minutes of poking around, I concluded there is no way to cancel my order using the pages available to me.

I left a rather tersely worded note for Customer Service.

alexpgp: (Default)
A few weeks ago, on my old VAIO, I installed whatever it is that Amazon wants you to install in order to be able to watch their videos. (A workable, if potentially expensive solution to insulating potentially mischievious software - the word "Veoh" comes to mind, here - from files that I and I alone should control.) I began a subscription to the new Terminator series, and have downloaded the first few episodes.

Amazon offers their DRMed product for several portable devices, but not the iPod. To get iPod versions of these videos, apparently, you need to buy them from the iTunes store.

As far as I know, there is no utility out there to convert Amazon-restricted video into iPod video.

In a flash of fatigue-induced pseudo-lucidity last night, it occurred to me that, since the prices of episodes from Amazon and from iTunes are comparable (within 10 cents of each other), and since the only reason I would have to pay iTunes for content that I've already acquired for the Amazon system is to be able to play the content on an iPod, then from my point of view as the consumer, the sub-$2 price paid for each episode is being paid very nearly entirely for the ability to read the data in such a way that it is usable (i.e., I get sound and a picture).

In other words - and here is possibly where my lucidity took a turn for the nearest large tree - the value of the content itself is nearly zero - what I'm paying for is the ability to view it.

Apropos of which I plan, from now on, to avoid using the term "digital rights management" and to use the more accurate term "digital restrictions management," because none of what is being done in the name of "rights" is of a positive nature as it applies to me, the consumer.

alexpgp: (Default)
From Ars Technica:
DRM can simply prevent snippets of songs from being made, but cell providers and handset vendors can also block user-created ringtones from being installed as an artificial way to boost carrier revenue. The EFF's displeasure is currently focused on the iPhone and Apple's iTunes, which charges users an extra buck to convert a purchased song into a ringtone. If that's not using DRM to nickel-and-dime customers (rather than stop piracy), then we don't know what is.

And because this is proprietary DRM, Apple can do what it wants. In this case, it wants to charge users a dollar for a ringtone that only works on a single phone (guess which one?). Switch phones and you get the chance to buy the ringtone again. Sweet.

alexpgp: (Default)
Part of Google Video's offering was a store that sold videos, delivered in a proprietary locked format that matched the video to your account and software player. You had to have an Internet connection to play the video, since the player had to "check in" with Google before it would play the file.

In the best of all possible worlds, that sort of sucks for the customer (no Internet? no movie!) and represents gravy for Google (which collects data on who watches what how many times), but I'm getting ahead of myself. That's really not the case, because...

It turns out, according to this story, that anyone who "purchased" a video from Google will no longer be able to view it after August 15, owing to a company decision to no longer offer the service.

Isn't that precious?

So, in addition to denying the customer rights granted under US copyright law (bought videos can be resold, lent to friends, donated to charity, etc. and excerpted and copied under the doctrine of fair use), now it turns out that "buying" a product means you're only really renting it for as long as the seller wants.

According to the article, Google's customers are getting a partial credit that must be used within 2 months to buy something of equal or greater value from a specified list of stores.

Ye gods.



alexpgp: (Default)

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