Music in the cloud seems to be the Next Big Thing on the internet. First Amazon gave it a shot, then Google announced a beta of their service, and Apple announced theirs two years after acquiring music service Lala. As usual, Google slowly rolled out their beta invites, but this time I seem to have gotten an invite sooner than their other services. Is Google nervous?
Google requires that you download a Music Manager application so that you can upload music to your Google Music account. While setting up, Google asks you what music you want since it will add some files to your folder for you. Very nice, I’ll take some AC/DC, please.
After you install and run the app, it asks you to log in and which folder you want to upload music from: iTunes, Music, or Other. At first I told it to upload my iTunes folder (17,000+ songs) just to see how well it worked. It scanned the files fine, and then….disappeared. I thought the app crashed. It turns out that on the Mac, the app changes to a System Preference pane without telling the user. Also, it uploads in the background even when you select “Upload Manually”. Some people have bandwidth caps and I don’t think it’s a good idea for Google to put together any kind of app that could strain a user’s connection without easily giving them a status icon in the system toolbar on the top of the screen.
After finally finding the preference pane, I found there was no way to stop the upload without logging out of the system or changing the folder to upload from. I was hoping that there’d be a pause button in case I wanted to clear up some upload bandwidth. Granted, on a 35/35 connection I shouldn’t need to do that, and I think I’m an odd case where uploading media would be a problem just for me, but it would still be nice for power users like myself. The app itself seems clunky. From my experience, it feels like a wxWindows app, an API wrapper that allows you to write once for Mac and Windows systems. I wouldn’t be surprised if this app was in fact written in wxWindows.
I felt that uploading my entire library would be a complete waste of time and effort so I decided to log out of the system to stop the upload, and tell Google Music to only upload from two folders: Nine Inch Nails and Steve Roach. I wanted to hear how the music sounds on hard rock and ambient music.
During the upload, Music Manager told me that 57 songs were skipped. It turns out that some of them had DRM due to buying them on iTunes, and all of NIN’s “Ghosts” wouldn’t work because Google Music doesn’t support either .wave files, or the format of the .wav files (24/96).
Now that I have good amount of music in my Google Music library, I decided to take some of the tracks for a spin. One thing I noticed while uploading was that the playback was very choppy. It’s definitely not my connection, so I have to attribute it to either Google’s servers or my CPU doing enough to stutter the playback. I shut down all my apps and windows in Safari and the choppiness persisted, but only for a while. As I write this, I haven’t heard any chop for about ten minutes. I’m not going to make an effort to determine where the choppiness came from, but it was worth noting. Another problem with the system is that live albums like NIN “And All That Could Have Been” aren’t played back without gaps. There’s a gap of at least three seconds between songs which means that it’s not caching any of the music as it plays.
UPDATE: The problem seems to be with the way Safari distributes cycles to its own windows. If I fire up a web site with a lot of objects in it, leave it up for about thirty seconds, and close it, the music stutters a lot while the window is closing.
Songs have an icon which, when clicked, brings up a drop down menu that allows you to add the song to a playlist, delete the song, edit the song info, or shop the song. This icon isn’t available for albums or artists for some reason. If you select “shop”, you’re brought to a Google page where you can buy music from the artist. There doesn’t seem to be an actual Google store.
Control over the music doesn’t seem to work with standard keyboard controls such as the left and right arrows for skipping and the spacebar for pausing. This is mostly a problem for Mac and Windows users that have keyboards with specific controls for their music apps, Google Music won’t work with them.
The Settings for Google Music don’t offer much except the ability to deauthorize one of your devices. According to the page, you can authorize up to eight devices and have a maximum of 20,000 songs.
One serious problem I found is that when I want to pause music, I have to figure out what window or tab has the music player. There are ways to handle that such as putting everything in its own window in an easily accessible area of your screen, but if that’s behind two or three windows, it can get hard to find and become quite an annoyance.
Google hasn’t yet announced pricing on their service, but for someone like myself with a massive library, buying a hard drive-based iPod and keeping it up to date may be a more practical alternative.
I have to say that I like the idea of streaming all my music from anywhere I have a connection, but in time it can eat bandwidth. Apple’s service as we currently know it will require you to download the songs you want in the cloud to your device which is a nice alternative since you don’t have to keep streaming the same song over and over, and your device does have storage. Storage is cheap, and keeping all my music on at least one hard drive that isn’t dependent on an internet connection is quite appealing. Access is fast, and iTunes is as good of a music manager as I can find.