I so want to like the Ubuntu One Music store

>> Thursday, May 06, 2010


I upgraded my Ubuntu installation earlier this week, to the latest version, 10.04, a.k.a. Lucid Lynx. The upgrade went surprisingly smoothly, smoother than some of my previous upgrades; Grub 2 is sort of borked, I had to go dig up an ancient version of WallpaperTray (which is no longer supported, basically) because Drapes simply sucks balls (I'm sorry--I keep giving it unearned second chances and it keeps crashing) and it acts pretty frelled, and there are various other things I'm wanting to like such as the social media modules integrated into the system and interface, but mostly things are working mostly. So far. I guess I'm happy.

One of the things I most wanted to like was the Ubuntu One Music Store, which brings a sort of iTunes functionality to Rhythmbox and mixes it with Ubuntu One, Canonical's stab at cloud computing. It's a neat idea, having your digital music on a server somewhere so you can listen to it through any networked device capable of running a particular piece of software.

Unfortunately, the operative word turns out to be "idea" instead of "neat." You buy music at the store and it dumps it in your Ubuntu One account (on a Canonical server, in the cloud) and then downloads it locally to a hidden directory buried somewhere on your machine. This ends up making the files surprisingly hard to work with, something the U1 team appears to acknowledge (here's their description of how to shuffle files around if your U1 cloud account is about to be overstuffed). Transfers also seem a bit slow for whatever reason; granted that music files are large and take longer to download, downloading them through a web browser was faster than getting them to sync in Rhythmbox, and the overall feeling was disappointingly consistent with the difference between syncing small, ordinary files in U1 and doing the same thing with Dropbox. And, ultimately, the realization you've bought files that are "out there somewhere" and synced to "somewhere in here" (versus the experience of buying and downloading that you get from, say f'r'instance, the Amazon MP3 downloads store, where the music ends up on your computer in the directory you've set for downloads) just doesn't quite work. I bought one EP from the store--The Raveonettes Whip It On (2002), having heard "Beat City" on the radio on the way home tonight--and ultimately ended up downloading it to my Music directory, copying to an external hard drive, and deleting it from the cloud, effectively replicating the experience of buying MP3s somewhere else only with many more steps and a bit more frustration and angst.

(The EP, by the way, is fantastic. If you don't know.)

What I hate most is that I admire and want to love the effort that's gone into bringing a sort of "Mac-ey" integrated computing experience to a Linux box and yet I feel obligated to write a blog post knocking the actual product of all that phenomenal effort; it makes me feel like a heel. The Ubuntu team has put a lot of labor and thought into the Ubuntu One Music Store, and it's nice to have another alternative to Apple and Amazon out there, particularly one with a mission-statement devoted to providing a stable low-cost computing alternative. And there are probably people loving the U1MS experience and not just because Canonical is kind of lovable. But this whole thing just didn't work for me, left me feeling like I'd thrown eight bucks into the aether while lots of stuff happened beyond my ken; I also have to say on this score that while the wonderful thing about Ubuntu is that it provides a mostly "just works" version of the Linux experience, there's something sort of "un-Linux-ey" about that when it happens at the level U1MS takes it to: a big part of the appeal of Linux is the control you have over the system, the ability to tweak everything and get under the hood, and U1MS is very much a "and then this happened" experience instead. By way of contrast: Amazon's digital purchasing system for Linux may be butt-ugly, frankly (a box with a progress bar, there's some thoughtful and nice aesthetics for you), but you at least get some simulated experience of having something traceable delivered from them to you and put down where you'd like on delivery. (Oh, and quickly. Sorry. I hate to keep coming to that, too, but U1's connections just seem really slow to me, whether I'm using it at home or out somewhere.)

At the present time, then, I don't think this is something I'll be using. I'll keep one eye on it, and if it looks like it's getting anywhere near as awesome as it ought to be (it is a young project after all), maybe I'll buy another record and see if the experience works for me. But in the meantime, I just can't recommend it for anyone. I'm sorry. I really wanted to.


Shawn Powers Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 6:33:00 PM EDT  

If it helps, I'm friends with a few of the community managers at Canonical -- and at Penguicon I spoke with one of them in length about Ubuntu One, etc.

They wanted to get the thing into 10.04 so it would be here for the long haul. (LTS release) But as you found there are some limitations and shortcomings. Since it is IN the release, future improvements should be able to roll into the thing.

I was, and still am, skeptical about Ubuntu One. But the guys I know are decent individuals, and while they do work for the company, I think their excitement on the future was genuine.

If I learn anything interesting, I'll let you know.

Eric Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 9:36:00 PM EDT  

Please do, Shawn. And let me say again: I love the concept and I hope they get the bugs out. The whole thing is something I really, really, really want to work. I'm rooting for them--it's just that in the meantime Dropbox (for cloud stuff) and Amazon (for digital music) are more reliable tools.

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