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Spotify 0.3.9 (36574)

Spotify Ltd
103 New Oxford Street 
London WC1A 1DD
United Kingdom
Spotify AB
Humlegårdsgatan 20, 4 tr
114 46 Stockholm

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ (ten out of five)

Collateral damage: None

This is the most encouraging piece of software to emerge on the OS X platform since August 2002. Since 10.2 Jaguar. And that includes Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard - and it certainly includes that sasquatch known as iTunes. Steve Jobs got it all wrong. So wrong, so wrong.

The Spotify organisation is one thing. They're brilliant. They've signed contracts with all of the big four in music and then some. They pay royalties on every song you listen to. They have so many songs you'll get dizzy. And they're yours to listen to within two minutes of your download.

And if you really really want to pay for them - then yes, you can download them and pay for them. Otherwise just keep searching, making playlists, enjoying.

The Spotify people are moving slowly so they don't overextend themselves. They want to make sure they have the bandwidth they need to support their users. Yet they're sending out invites to Internet providers at the rate of half a million at a time.

Things are moving fast.

So what is Spotify? It's a music player. It's like a radio. It is a radio - it's got Last.fm. And it's like iTunes except you listen to your mainstream music day in and day out for free.

And it's all legal. This isn't The Pirate Bay. This is licensed stuff.

You get adverts now and again just like on the radio. (You can pay money to skip them.)

The Spotify Idea

Henrik Ahlén of Alfa Bravo summed it up best in May of this year. 'Steve Jobs is wrong!' wrote Ahlén. 'I don't want to own my music!' And he's right. None of us do. We don't want to 'own' every song we listen to on the radio and elsewhere. We just want to listen to it. Without paying anything.

We don't want to hassle downloads and credit card charges; we don't want to hassle iPod funny stuff, trying to recover our songs from a hidden folder - we don't want to hassle any of that just to listen to a few hundred tracks.

We just want to listen to it.

'I am convinced that Steve Jobs now realises he was wrong and is probably working hard to catch up', wrote Ahlén. And all you need to do is try Spotify out for an hour and you'll know he's right.

'People have not yet tested the upcoming alternatives such as Spotify and other new services', continues Ahlén. 'They offer unlimited listening to music without downloading files and they are faster and just as easy to use as iTunes.'

Easier actually.

'Downloading media files will soon be a thing of the past.'

Yes but here's the clever part of it: if you still want to download (pay and download) you still can. But you don't have to. You can go on listening to songs in their full versions forever without paying anything at all.

'I am quite certain that in a few years time we will laugh at this period of time when we downloaded all these media files and struggled with copy protection and backups and not being able to play them on certain devices etc.'

No shit Sherlock. But Ahlén isn't through explaining.

  1. I don't want to own files or CDs. I want to listen to my favourite music and find new music easily.
  2. I don't want to fill up my hard drive with gigabytes of media files that can vanish in a hard drive crash.
  3. I want to listen to my music library on multiple computers and on my iPhone mobile.
  4. I want to be able to share my music easily with friends and family.

Spotify does all that for you. You can install the Spotify client (see below) on as many computers as you want and play music from the same account on each.

Two key factors will drive this change according to Ahlén.

  1. Ubiquitous wireless Internet. The music companies know this is how they get rid of 'piracy'.
  2. If you don't need to download any files to listen to music - then why bother with pirated files?

From the blurb at the Spotify site.

Spotify is a new way to enjoy music. Simply download and install, before you know it you'll be singing along to the genre, artist or song of your choice. With Spotify you are never far away from the song you want.

There are no restrictions in terms of what you can listen to or when. Forget about the hassle of waiting for files to download and fill up your hard drive before you get round to organising them. Spotify is instant, fun and simple.

Because music is social, Spotify allows you to share songs and playlists with friends, and even work together on collaborative playlists, Friday afternoon in the office might never be the same again! We're music lovers like everyone else.

We want to connect millions of people with their favorite songs by creating a product that people love to use. We respect creativity and believe in fairly compensating artists for their work. We've cleared the rights to use the music you'll listen to in Spotify.

That should about do it.

The Spotify Client

The Spotify client - which you download - will take about 2.8 MB on your hard drive. That's it. And it's beautiful and it's dazzling and it just works. This may be version 0.3.9 but perfection has already been attained. This is the most solid piece of software seen on this platform in over six years. And that's not hyperbole. It's anything but. After spending a few hours with this program you'll be speechless to describe all the great things it is and can do.

The engineering is solid. Rock solid. There are no NIBs. None. It has perhaps two files that can be removed. Otherwise it's lean as is and ready to go. Unless everything is hard coded Cocoa it's still a mystery how this puppy is engineered but it's solid.

Here's the list of 'bugs'. But they're not bugs in the ordinary sense. Be impressed.

  • The application menu lacks a separator before the final 'quit' item. The menu isn't constructed from a NIB - it's constructed in code. All it lacks is a separator.
  • The application window maximises to fill the entire screen rather than to accommodate the content view contents. This could however be by design.
  • There can at times be a discrepancy of one second between times listed and times played.
  • Sorting by column won't necessarily keep the current selection visible. On the other hand the sorting algorithm is super smart: it cycles between ascending, descending, and no sort at all. This latest comes in handy when you want to get the actual order of tracks on an album. 'No sort' means 'track order'. Watch it to believe it.
  • Non-ASCII likes to sort by stripping diacriticals. This must be by design as the authors have them pervasively in their own language.

That's it. Other than that this app is perfect. It's slick, it works flawlessly, it's a pure joy to use. This is one of the first truly professional, truly useful applications ever seen on this platform. Use it a while and you'll see. Everything is where it's supposed to be, everything works exactly as you'd expect it to work, the perks are all over the place, discreetly helping you all the time.

But how about the bandwidth? After all Spotify 'streams' songs to you. You're not playing them from your hard drive. Not in theory at any rate. So how about bandwidth? Bandwidth seems just fine. The Spotify people are taking their time expanding so they know everyone gets what they want even with 'slow' ADSL.

As for disk footprint - forget it. 100 MB for a FOSS abortion? Twice or three times that for Apple's Loch Ness monster? Spotify takes about 2.8 MB on disk. And that's it.

And it's a benign application too. No waste, no 'bullshit'. It places files on your box but only what it needs. If you want to delete its caches - fine. There doesn't seem to be any way to remove the caches yet from within the program although the program does have an automatic cache cleaner of some sort. All you need to do is get rid of these files. This will leave the directory structure intact; it'd be recreated right away anyway.

rm -f ~/Library/Caches/com.spotify.client/Storage/index.dat
find ~/Library/Caches/com.spotify.client/Storage -name "*\.file"
    -type f -print0 | xargs -0 rm -f {}

This program isn't going to worry you a bit. Even on CPU usage it's admirably brilliant and leaves things 93.5% idle.

Getting Spotify

Anybody can get the Spotify client - just surf to their site and download it. But you can't do much without an account.

There are three types of accounts: monthly subscriptions, day passes, and free accounts. The free accounts are currently by invitation only and you'll hear adverts now and again - but so far extremely infrequently, a lot less than on a radio station (a lot less).

The day passes cost €0.99 and are good as the name implies for 24 hours. The monthly subscription costs €9.99 and can be canceled after one month, after which the account reverts to an ordinary 'free' account. As long as you're paying for a monthly subscription there'll be no adverts. And you get 'invites' for free subscriptions you can send your friends.

One could in theory organise a group of 5-15 people, have all chip in, purchase a monthly subscription, and then everyone gets their own free subscription.

You have to be running Mac OS X 10.4 or better (or Windows) to run the Spotify client natively. Spotify's also been tested running under WINE on Debian and FreeBSD 7 and it works fine. It should work with Ubuntu as well. Full instructions can be found online.

The Spotify people otherwise have a plethora of well organised documentation at the site. It's easy to find and easy to use. It's brilliant like everything else about this startup.

It's not often people see an application that is not only such a brilliant idea but engineered so brilliantly and supported by a class crew like Spotify. The major market players might pull dirty tricks to hold onto their shares but the 'big four' are already behind this one so it'll be quite the fight in such case.

See Also
Spotify: a world of music instant, simple, and free

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