Music in the free world

Another product for making tunes portable doesn't cost a cent, doesn't demand anything more complicated than a connected PC, and is so slick it blew our socks off. Beam-It's the name, MP3 streaming is the game.

Here's how it works. You download and install the Beam-It software from My.MP3.com (my.mp3.com). Next, stick an audio CD in your PC's drive. Beam-It reads the CD and identifies it. Beam-It then looks for matching MP3 files in a 45,000-song collection at MP3.com. If it finds matches (which happens more often than not), an MP3 version of your album appears on your personal My.MP3.com page. Click any of the tracks, and My.MP3.com streams the music to your PC, where it's played by whatever program is set to handle streaming MP3 files (such as RealJukebox's companion, RealPlayer). To minimise skips and drop-outs, you can choose between hi-fi (for fast connections, like satellite or cable) or low-fi (for everything else, including ISDN and 56Kbps analog dial-up).

Beam-It's mission in life is to let you prove that you own certain CDs. Once that's done, the My.MP3.com service lets you play your music from any computer connected to the Internet - even a Mac or a Linux box, for cryin' out loud! No more carting CDs back and forth between home and work.

There's gotta be a catch, right? Alas, there is in this case: the Recording Industry Association of America (www.riaa.org) is using legal means to try to bring down this service.

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