Silly Wal-Mart’s Music Downloads website incompatible with Apple Macs

By SteveJack

The Wal-Mart Music Downloads service only offers about 1/5th as many songs as Apple’s iTunes Store, 1 million vs. over 5 million, but Wal-Mart has just started selling DRM-free MP3 versions of some of those songs.

Of course, Apple has been doing this for some time with DRM-free tracks from EMI via iTunes Plus. Apple sells their DRM-free songs using the more-advanced AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) audio codec which allows for higher-quality results with smaller file sizes, higher resolution audio, and requires less processing power to decode than the MP3 dinosaur (a format that lives on well past its time). Apple’s DRM-free AAC is encoded at 256 kbps, Apple’s 99-cent AAC (with easily-removed FairPlay DRM) tracks are encoded at 128 kbps.

That might be part of the reason why Wal-Mart’s MP3 downloads are just 94-cents each, significantly less than the $1.29 charged by Apples’ iTunes Plus for its version of a song that’s free of copy protection limitations. Sniping aside, an MP3 encoded at 256 kbps from Wal-Mart should sound better than a non-iTunes Plus 128 kbps AAC file from Apple’s iTunes Store. Wal-Marts DRM-encrusted tracks are in Microsoft’s WMA format at 128 kbps and go for 88-cents apiece.

On the face of it, the Wal-Mart move would seem to be good news for music lovers, making it possible to download tunes from Wal-Mart and use them with their Apple iPods (just use Apple’s iTunes software to transfer the music to the iPod) while also potentially spurring price competition (I bet the music cartels, er… labels will have much to say about that bit of nastiness, however.)

One problem is that only a small fraction of Wal-Mart’s downloadable songs are currently available in unprotected MP3 format. On Wal-Mart’s top 10 downloads for the week, only Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” can be purchased as a DRM-free MP3.

Another ridiculous issue is that Wal-Mart’s Music Downloads website is incompatible with Macs for no discernible reason other than either laziness or incompetence. I lean to the latter, as Wal-Mart’s web coders haven’t even mastered the simple art of operating system detection.

A Mac customer, armed with his or her trusty iPod, willing to slum it with the geriatric MP3 format in order to save 35-cents per track, and ready to give his or her business to Wal-Mart is greeted with the following:

We’re sorry, your operating system is incompatible. To provide the best download experience, we can no longer support Windows 98, ME or NT. Please visit again after you upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP.

I guess we Mac users will be visiting again, uh, never. Upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP?! For the love of Jobs, we already use Macs, that wouldn’t be an upgrade, it’d be an upchuck. And that goes double for Vista.

If Wal-Mart can’t even figure out that we’re not using Windows 98, ME, or NT, it doesn’t give you much confidence that they can master and deliver MP3’s correctly, does it?

What solution does Wal-Mart offer? In the Frequently Asked Questions section, Wal-Mart says, “At this time, it isn’t possible to shop and download songs directly from Wal-Mart Music Downloads to a Macintosh computer. However, you can transfer the MP3 files from a Windows computer to a Macintosh using a CD, other storage device or email.”

Gee, thanks Wal-Fart, but that’s a hoop I’d rather not have to jump through; I use a Mac for a reason (because I’ve tried Windows and therefore know better). All of my friends and family use Macs (because I long ago showed them what a Mac can do). What am I supposed to do, ask my 55-year-old accountant to download Wal-Mart tunes and burn CDs for me?

I, for one, will be sticking with Apple’s iTunes Store (even though I’d like to at least try our Wal-Mart’s service, if the geniuses would let me spend my money with them).

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to the MacDailyNews Opinion section.


  1. Ah screw Wal-Mart!… the music is probably censored (where applicable) anyway. I don’t buy any music from Wal-Mart, I go to Target instead ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

  2. So what? As long as PC users can play the tracks on iPods I really don’t care. I think if a Mac user even tries to use the WalMart service, their machine should administer an electric shock and a voice should shout “NO!”, like shoving a dog’s nose in poop.

  3. Since the Walmart empire was built by the spending of the masses of drones, why are we surprised they can’t/won’t sell to a Mac? Most Mac users are not mindless drones as evidenced by choosing a less common, much maligned and often rejected yet superior hardware/software system.

  4. why shop at walmart at all?

    They are the beginning of the end of the lower class.. and eeking their way upwards.

    Remember “Made In The USA” from a few years ago? How much is made in the USA now at walmart… just about nothing.

    And there goes your manufacturing jobs, and the money that when with them.

    Walmart doesn’t play fair, they remind me of Microsoft.

  5. Doesn’t WalMart force the record labels and movie studios to edit their songs and movies for content before appearing on a WalMart shelf? Who wants censored music? Hell, maybe they’re putting in some subliminal messages to buy at WalMart – nahh, they’re not competent enough to know how to do that ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  6. Not really — haven’t stepped into a bogus box in years.

    But, that begets the question…. the iPod using impoverished masses (you know, the same ones who are feeding their iPod off of the only software that works on their bloated, infected, $600- Windoze machines) are going to want to buy the cheap stuff.

    So to that end, has anyone tried using a browser other than Safari? I wonder if the same error message would come up if I used Firefox or Opera. I’m at work right now on a windoze box so can’t try.

    Interesting MDN magic word = range, as in the whole range of browsers….

  7. Wait a minute….I just went to the Wal-Mart site to see if I could spoof it with Safari’s Debug>User Agent setting. Instead, Safari 2.0.4 on a Mac Pro Dual Core Intel Xenon performed flawlessly with Debug>User Agent set on “Automatically Chosen”

    I picked the Fergie MP3 track, previewed (I have the Flip for Mac plug in on my quicktime player), put it in my shopping cart and got most of the way through checkout, creating a user account. I stopped at the payment section.

    Never once did I encounter the “Sorry” dialogue.

    Anyone else try it?

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