Napster goes free for online listening

The Napster odyssey continues. The once-defunct, once-sued, downloadable music web portal has turned over a new leaf, once-again a free one.

Yes, that’s right, you can use Napster for free again. But if you look closely, you can find some of the catches.

First of all, there are two hot new features; Napsterlinks and Narchive. The former is a free tool on the main Napster website that allows for quick creation of weblinks to specific songs, albums, or artists. These links can be inserted into email messages, instant messages, blogs, and websites.

Napster envisions Narchive as an expanding public music archive, populated by users’ personal stories and photos on the subject of music, designed to join the bio profiles of thousands of artists already on the Napster site.

The service is supported by advertising, which allows people like you to avoid paying a download fee. And even though your choices number in the millions, the number of times you can listen to each of those tracks is just 5. (Further requests for listening will be greeted with a message asking for 99 cents to buy the track, for unlimited listening.)

The Napster tracks are in .swf flash format and can be run on the company’s web-based music player, which runs on PCs, Macs, and Linux machines using a handful of Web browsers including Netscape, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. And because those music files are flash files, they cannot be downloaded to a computer or a portable music player.

Still, if all you want to do is listen to your music online, with your PC hooked up to a killer home stereo, then Napster has a free service for you. And you’re always welcome to become a Napster member, which still requires the US$9.95 monthly fee but gets you downloadables and other features not available under the free umbrella.


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