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Out of tune (Behind the news, January 06)

(This column appears in the January 06 issue of PC Advisor)

Maybe Bill Gates wants a computer at the hub of his home entertainment system. Maybe you do, too. But excuse me for believing that the PC music hub is an idea whose time has not yet come.

Out of tune

This insight hit me once again when I tried to install the latest version of iTunes, purportedly offering "several stability improvements over the original 5.0" on one of my Windows systems. When I rebooted - or attempted to reboot, should I say - I discovered that it had kindly rendered the PC effectively inoperative.

I found similar tales of woe on the web. Then I remembered the time I bought a friend's daughter an iTunes gift certificate to go with her bat mitzvah iPod. It worked for one entire song. iTunes deducted the best part of £15 for two albums, but instead delivered two messages declaring "an unknown error occurred". Since there was no phone number available for Mum to give Jobs's Tune Town a piece of her mind, she used online customer service - and never heard back.

There may be something about music services that doesn't love PCs. When I installed a version of Napster on a different machine a few months ago, it crashed even harder - and, as I discovered when Chkdsk revealed dozens of cross-linked and otherwise mashed-up system files, crashed irrevocably.

I like the idea of Windows Media-based subscription music plans such as Napster's, but I hear enough horror stories to keep me listening to radio and buying CDs. If a CD goes wrong - and I can't remember the last one that did - you're out a few quid. When your hard drive with hundreds of songs on it goes wrong, you could lose many hours of your precious time fixing the problem.

Add in the fact that most PC-based collections degrade the original's sound quality at least a bit, and it turns out that keeping all your music on a computer makes the most sense if you get your collection free by stealing it - exactly what the iPod's packaging smirkingly advises against. I don't steal. So for now, I'll continue to store my music library in a cabinet that software can't break.

CD or MP3? What do you think?

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