Napster’s back, and my arms are wide open to welcome it. Come here, Napster. Oh, how I’ve missed you!

Of course, it’s a totally different service now. The old Napster never asked for your credit card number, and half the time you’d spend an hour downloading some rare hard-to-find track by your favorite band off some kid in Germany, only to learn it was actually a mislabeled demo track from some neo-punk skinhead band from Stuttgart. That problem is gone now, but only because you’ll never find those rare hard-to-find tracks on the new Napster at all. Yeah, there are drawbacks, but unlike iTunes, new Napster actually works properly on my computer, which I consider a big plus. I installed it yesterday, and I’ve already downloaded two songs I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to download from iTunes for the last week: “Hey Ya” by Outkast, which is the greatest song ever, and “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, which was the greatest song ever a couple of months ago.

The problem is that Napster’s interface, while it totally rips off iTunes’, is much clumsier and harder to use, whether you’re searching or browsing. And the window is too large, blocking out the task bar at the bottom of the screen so you have to minimize in order to switch to another application. That’s not good for a music application, which is exactly the kind of thing most people like to run in the background behind other applications. And wait a second: the free service only covers singles, and I have to sign up for the $9.95 a month premium service just to download an entire album???? Uh, no. Maybe they’ll fix these problems in the weeks ahead, but aren’t focus groups supposed to take care of obvious flaws like these before you introduce your product to the public? Couldn’t they have bribed ten college kids to give the beta software a whirl in exchange for some hot dogs and nachos and thus ensured themselves a smoother launch product? Then again, what do I know?

As for the jukebox itself, iTunes wins again. It’s much simpler and easier to use than Napster’s, which forces you to create your playlists in a tiny, cluttered sidebar. Plus, iTunes has that great 25 Most Played feature. (My current #1: “Mr. Bojangles” by Robbie Williams. Feel free to mock.) So the solution is simple. Download on Napster; play on iTunes. Great idea, only iTunes won’t let me import the songs I’ve downloaded from Napster, even though it seems to recognize them on my hard drive. Is there some competitive thing going on here? Is this a “Park your Honda in Tokyo” middle-finger-flip from iTunes? Is Apple saying, “Play your Napster tunes on their crummy jukebox! Ha, ha!”? Well, you stink, Apple. And I’ll continue to enjoy watching your lousy company teeter on the verge of bankruptcy. So there!

I guess it’s back to MusicMatch…

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