“Legal music downloading is slowly gaining traction. More and more companies are offering online music stores, and the number of songs available at most of them has now crossed 500,000. Apple Computer, the first to offer a good legal download service, is still the leader, by far. Its iTunes music store has sold more than 50 million tracks since last April. Nobody else is even close,” Walt Mossberg reports for The Wall Street Journal.
“But recently, two other big names have launched their own music download stores to challenge Apple and to stake a claim before Microsoft jumps into the business later this year. One is RealNetworks, long a leader in digital audio. The other is Wal-Mart, the giant retailer. I’ve been testing the new RealPlayer Music Store and the Wal-Mart music download service, and comparing them to the iTunes store. My verdict: thumbs up to Real, but thumbs down to Wal-Mart,” Mossberg reports. “There are some drawbacks to the RealPlayer store. It sells songs in its own proprietary format, which only one portable music player, the Creative Nomad Zen Xtra, can play back. Apple’s downloads also play on just one portable device, but it happens to be the iPod, which is by far the most popular player. Wal-Mart’s downloads can be played on numerous devices.”
Mossberg reports, “The process of setting up play lists or searching for music is clumsier in RealPlayer than in iTunes. And, unlike Apple and Napster, Real doesn’t include historical Billboard charts, a very handy tool for finding music. Also, in the new RealPlayer software, album art doesn’t always show up, and when it does, it’s displayed as a tiny, blurry image. But, all in all, the RealPlayer Music Store is a winner. It’s not as good as Apple’s iTunes store, but it’s a worthy competitor.”
Full article here.