Digital Life: The new era of the infinite music collection has arrived
In the beginning (well, 1999 anyway), there was Napster. A utopian world where every song you could ever imagine was available at one click. Obscure bootlegs, Beatles remasters, the newest releases – there was even some Foster and Allen among the estimated 80 million tracks downloadable for free.
But Napster was also totally illegal and the lawyers had a field day.
Thirteen years later, we're still trying to recreate that intoxicating sense of having every tune a click away. The legal successors to Napster are the new streaming music services that offer millions of tracks for a low monthly fee – or even for free if you don't mind listening to advertisements occasionally.
In Ireland, the options were confined until recently to the big players of Deezer and Sony's Music Unlimited, but now we also have Xbox Music and, the original big daddy, Spotify.
Most operate on a vaguely similar basis – a fiver a month grants instant access to tens of millions of tunes on your computer while a tenner adds premium services such as mobile listening.
Neither Deezer nor Music Unlimited have set the world on fire with their subscriber numbers even though both offer wide compatibility and decent iTunes-like interfaces.
Xbox Music faces an uphill battle because it's available only on Windows 8 devices and phones plus the Xbox 360 itself. It claims the largest catalogue at 30 million songs, but there's no iPhone or Android app yet. Bizarrely, listening is free (with ads) on Windows 8 devices but not on phones or Xbox, where it costs the standard €10 a month.
So that leaves Spotify, which launched in Ireland last week four years after its debut in its home market of Sweden. Like Deezer, it majors on social sharing of music between subscribers, using Facebook as a conduit for you to pass on playlists or just individual tunes.
That aside, it works more or less as if you had unlimited access to the iTunes Store – though if you stop paying you keep nothing.
With 18 million tracks on board, only a few holdouts (The Beatles and Pink Floyd, for example) are missing, so you can pretty much guarantee that your entire music wishlist – and then some – is here.
Listening requires an internet connection unless you pay the premium fee, in which case tunes can be stored for offline enjoyment.
In the end, the choice comes down to a straight fight between Spotify and Deezer. Both offer taster options to enable you to make up your mind.
Spotify just has the edge in my book for its interface and more extensive free services.