I started writing this entry about “Giving advice on technology to friends and family…”, but I realized after I had rambled on for a bit, that it was more about technology decisions… when companies force us to decide between MP3 and WMA or iTunes and WMP or even Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio or Blu-Ray DVD vs. HD-DVD… in every case, there will generally be a wrong decision that you can make. I hate that situation, it can stop me dead in my tracks from adopting a technology altogether…
As is probably true for most of the people who read this blog, people often ask me for advice about
technical matters, even things that I have no real training or credentials in. Case in point, it seems
everyone these days is asking me what type of music player to buy (MP3/WMA player that is). I guess
that is a sign of widespread adoption, when even the non-gadget folks are getting into a technology, but
being a computer-related gadget, I’m automatically assumed to know what I’m talking about. Well, I
certainly have my opinions, and I know a fair bit about how it all works, but I have to be honest and tell
you that I haven’t really spent much time looking at the ‘other’ side of the world in terms of music
players. When someone first asked me what player they should buy, I decided that I needed to look into
the various iPods so that I could consider them as options, but I was very puzzled by what I found. I had
assumed a few things that turned out to be incorrect. I knew that iTunes was focused on MP3, and I
knew that it didn’t support WMA, but I had no idea that it only supported one family of devices (iPods). I
was also surprised to learn that there wasn’t any real alternatives to iTunes for putting music onto those
devices as well.
Personally, these facts ended up being a deal-killer for me… I couldn’t recommend an iPod to
anyone in my family without worrying that they would end up unhappy in the end. Now, don’t get me
wrong, iPods seem great and wonderful and I am 100% sure that anyone in my family who tried one
would like it… but things change over time and they eventually may want to buy another device. At that
point, after they’ve put all their music into iTunes and when they know no other way to work with digital
music, what choice will they have? Can they buy a Rio device and sync it with iTunes (without using
hacks… that is definitely not mother-friendly)? By recommending an iPod for a single christmas
purchase, I would be locking them into one set of software and hardware for a very long time. Instead, I
end up looking around at all the other options (Rio, iRiver, Creative, Samsung). These devices work with both
WMA and MP3 (and some work with other formats as well) and they work with multiple media players,
including but not limited to Windows Media Player. So, if I recommend a Rio today, and they decide
they want the new “brand x” player in 3 years… odds are they won’t have a problem just syncing their
existing music files with that new device, probably with the same software…
It ends up being a dilemma for me though, knowing that I have unreconcilable differences with a line
of devices/software that is very popular and may well be the current market leader, and still trying to
provide folks who ask with the best possible advice. I’ve had this problem before though, where I have
fundamental issues with a brand or product, but other factors keep forcing it back into my list of likely
choices. Sony has always been that way for me. I love their stuff, I always look at them first for TVs and
audio equipment… I have a Sony camera, a Sony TV, a Sony camcorder, a Sony stereo and CD
changer in my car, etc… but they don’t support WMA and that is a pain in the butt for me… since all my
music is already ripped into that format. So when it is time to buy a new car stereo (my current one is a
bit smashed up from a failed burglary attempt), I’ve decided that it makes sense to get one with WMA
support… and yet I keep looking at the Sony models.
It is a sickness perhaps.
My brother asked me a few years ago if a Sony “network walkman” would be a good digital music player and I said that it was a
Sony… it would probably be great. Horrible mistake. The software that came with it forced you to
‘check-out’ music to put it onto the player… then you had to check it back in (removing it off the player) if
you wanted to use it on your computer. Windows Media Player could work with the player in certain
circumstances involving weird driver and device configuration, and then you could sync files like ’normal’,
but my brother never managed to get anything other than the Sony software working. He has a Rio now,
a little 64mb job that he was able to expand using SD cards, and he has been much happier… although
the Sony device certainly looked nicer. In the end though, I’m still easily tempted by Sony; I saw that
they had a new digital music player and I clicked on the link in seconds, even though I’ll never buy it.
Whenever I decide to spend the money on a new car stereo (it still works, what’s a cracked faceplate
worth?) I know I’m going to find it hard not to just get a new Sony one… brand loyalty that goes against
my technical opinions.
I have vowed on numerous occasions to refuse to give advice on these topics, but people keep
asking and I keep telling them what I think. I don’t actually have any doubts about my advice, I try very
hard to be objective and break down the options for them so that they can make the final choice, but you
never know whether or not it will be the best possible choice for that particular person and their
situation. When you are making the choice for yourself, you accept that risk that you are making the wrong decision… and you decide to live with that risk, but it is always hard for me to make a similar decision for some one else, some one who might end up frustrated with the result in a few years time. Sure, it is only a gadget, but try telling that to someone who spent $2,000 dollars on music for iTunes or Napster (or has even taken the time to rip a few hundred CDs to a certain format) and has now decided that they don’t want to use that technology anymore.
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e06898f @ 2019-03-31