Rhapsody's new version aims to end DRM problems

Rhapsody Thursday morning is releasing a new version of the software used with their internet music streaming service, software based on a Digital Rights Management system the company built itself.

In announcing the refresh, company officials acknowledged what users of the service already knew: the previous DRM, based on what Microsoft mendaciously calls Plays for Sure, just didn't work very well. Tracks you downloaded to your portable player or notebook so you could play them offline would mysteriously fail to play, frequently displaying a cryptic error that gave you little help in solving the problem.

But even if Plays Perhaps worked better, Rhapsody would still probably be making this move because Microsoft hasn't exactly signaled a wholehearted commitment to the system. Redmond's upcoming Zune player will use a new Microsoft DRM system, leading observers to wonder whether Plays for Sure will slip into the black hole occupied by moribund Microsoft products like Outlook Express.

The new version of Rhapsody still supports Plays for Sure devices, but with devices built to work with Rhapsody's new DNA system you'll get some cool new features and, according to the company, more reliable performance. (So far, there's just one compatible player, SanDisk's Sansa E200R.)

For instance, you can download Rhapsody radio stations, collections of tracks in a certain genre, directly to an authorized player. When you later reconnect the player to your PC, Rhapsody will automatically update that channel with new music.

The new version also simplifies considerably downloading tracks to a portable player. With the old version, you first had to download the music to your PC's hard drive, then copy it to your player. You ended up with the music on your hard drive, whether you wanted it to be there or not.

The new system lets you drag an album directly to your player. The data goes through a cache on your PC, but it won't stay there permanently. Rhapsody officials also claim that transfers are much faster, twice as fast as using Windows Media Player, for instance.

My very quick first impression of the new software is positive, but it sometimes takes awhile for DRM problems to crop up, so I'll keep you posted if I run into hassles.

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Edward N. Albro

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