Saturday, October 22, 2011

Google Music

I'd gotten an invite for Google Music a month or two ago but hadn't done much with it until recently. The other day I logged in again and started playing with it again. Here's a few notes for those who are interested in that sort of thing.

Here's the short version: Google Music is cloud-based music streaming service, which you can use to upload (I hesitate to say "store" for reasons I'll describe later) and playback MP3s. You get to store 20,000 files, apparently regardless of size. Right now it's in Beta with limited availability (get in line and wait for an invite). It's similar to what Amazon recently launched and what Apple seems to hope iCloud will be.

I don't want to call this "cloud storage," because, although you can upload music to play back, there's no way to natively download it - so you won't be using it to back up your music collection. So far it's a one-way street. That being said, I've seen a couple of Chrome plug-ins that will let you download your music, one...song...at...a...time. This needs to change - and soon.

Unlike Apple and Amazon, you can't buy music from Google - yet - but there's speculation that this is on its way. I would expect once they are selling music there will be provision to download it, or else this service is going to be pretty short-lived.

At this time, you can download an Android app for playback but no iPhone app, at least not from Google. Given the current lack of love between Google and Apple (and the fact this goes head-to-head against iCloud) I doubt we'll be seeing one anytime soon. The web app, though spartan in design, does an okay job on my iPhone and iPad. Still, with bandwidth caps on data plans, the whole notion of cloud players seems to have arrived a the party a little too late.

Back to the service itself.

Uploading music is done with a "Music Manager" application: you install it, tell it where your music lives, then let it start moving files. The good news: there are versions for Windows, MacOSX as well as .deb and .rpm based Linux distributions. Since I store my music on an Ubuntu Linux box, I went with the .deb version. It installed cleanly and easily.

Be forewarned, if you have a lot of music files, the upload process is going to take a while. I've got around 7,000 (lot's of free samplers from Amazon MP3 store) and after a day, I had about 1,000 moved over. You can set the bandwidth limit so as not to clog your broadband connection.

If you don't feel like spending a week or so uploading your files, you can populate your collection from a number of free files Google has made available. Don't scoff - there is some very good stuff in there, spanning a broad range of musical tastes.  Besides it's free - try something you normally wouldn't listen to. To get a feel for what they are giving out, go to their Magnifier blog. There's also info about the Music Beta.

The browser interface used to manage your files is vintage Google design: clean and simple. You can view/sort by Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, and New/Recent. You can also create playlists, auto playlists (based on rating or newly added), and "Instant Mixes," where you seed the playlist with a song and it generates a list, much like Pandora.

I haven't used iCloud, but compared to the Amazon Cloud-player, the interface seems a little rough around the edges. Also, with Amazon, you can store your purchase in their cloud storage AND download them. Not being able to download as well as upload seems a distinct failing for Google Music.

Still, this is the Beta phase, so I'm expecting a lot of fine-tuning and tweaking as time goes on. Google has a history of throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. Time will tell whether bandwidth caps on broadband and smartphone data plans kill this one.

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