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Just press play

Apple’s iTunes music store may have a few glitches, like not enough music, but in general, it sure sounds sweet.

As the RIAA wrangled with music swappers and Napster lovers found other places to surf, Apple was quietly developing its iTunes music store, which has the potential to do the one thing that’s seemed impossible up to this point: make everyone happy.

Designed to be part of Apple’s iLife suite, iTunes is a music organization application that allows a user to import music, burn CDs, and make playlists that download oh-so-nicely to the iPod MP3 player. Like many of the company’s other consumer-friendly offerings, iTunes is fairly idiot-proof, with big control buttons and a simple interface that’s easy to learn quickly. Need to put the music library on the iPod so you can get your digital music to go? Here are the instructions: Plug in iPod. Wait a few minutes. Unplug iPod. Done.

The recently introduced iTunes Music Store is an adjunct to the application, and it sits neatly between the icon for your personal library and those for your playlists. This makes it a snap to access, and as some enthusiastic music aficionados will quickly discover, extremely easy to use for buying music. Much like the iPod directions, the music store requires a minimal number of clicks to log on, get the tunes, and go on your way. It’s not too pricey either, with single songs priced at 99 cents and albums at $9.99.

One of the best features is integration. Since it nestles within the iTunes framework, there’s no need to leave the application to go shopping. You can toggle between playlists and the store, which is a godsend when trying to figure out what gaps are in your collection and what CDs have already been loaded. It’s like being able to access a list of all your music while standing in the record store.

Apple has wisely made the store somewhat like the few other services in the legit online music world, like eMusic and Pressplay. The catalog can be searched, snippets of a song can be heard, and purchase is one-click shopping. However, the revolutionary part of the iTunes store is ownership. Once a song or an album is bought, it becomes the property of the owner, much like buying a physical CD lets you put it on your computer, burn a copy on a blank CD, or load it onto an MP3 player. The other services are by subscription, which means that you can listen to the tunes you’ve selected, but downloading to a player isn’t an option, nor is burning. Plus, once you stop ponying up the cash for the subscription fee, say goodbye to “your” music collection.

I do have one gripe: The size of the store’s music assortment is more mom-and-pop than Tower Records at this point. Without all the labels signed up yet, there are significant holes in the collected works, with major artists like Madonna and The Beatles showing up as MIA. Hopefully, as the store gets more business and the labels figure out that they’re staring at the future of digital music, that will change. Perhaps, too, when the store is available for Windows users later this year, it will spark more interest and keep those songs rolling in.

In the meantime, music connoisseurs will just have to content themselves with the smattering of digital music that they can buy legitimately, and be relieved that there’s one music service that might finally get it right.

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