A question about a free digital music player download makes me miss the days when JetAudio would have sufficed for all of my digital music needs. Also, what's with iPods and Zunes trying to take over your entire music library? One family needs a way for its many computers and music players to all get along.
Q: Which free digital music player would you recommend? I know it can't have all the bell and whistles, but I would like one that has all the features that a person normally uses. -- Carmen, via e-mail
A: If you're looking for something for basic digital audio playback that's a pretty light application, I like JetAudio. It plays a huge variety of audio formats and offers some appealing extras, such as CD burning and conversion between audio formats. There are also several skins available for personalization, cross-fade capability, a feature that lets you create your own Internet radio station, and sound effects such as X-Bass and reverb. It's a fun little application that's pretty simple to learn.
Windows Media Player comes standard on all Windows machines and is just fine for MP3/WMA playback and CD ripping/burning, as well as some video playback. Personally, I use Rhapsody, but that's mostly because of the service aspect and for transferring to my MP3 player.
Q: Is there a reasonably simple solution for this challenge described below? Different members of our family have different MP3 players, and we have been trying to discover the best way for everyone to be able to share tunes, all from home. It seems that when we use either iPods, or Zunes, they lockdown the music files on the PC you manage the MP3 player from. Recently, I migrated from an older desktop, and trying to move the Zune stuff was a wrestling match--the winner has still to be identified.
I've considered MS Home server, or just having everyone not purchase (if this can be done) their music through each player's service provider, and keeping a separate but shared file folder. Haven't tried it yet, but something tells me that as soon as you identify the folder to share, the respective MP3 player will lock it down. We have several different iPods, a Zune, and another less-well-known brand MP3 player. -- Jay, via e-mail
A: Well, your issue is two-fold. The first part has to do with the players that you use, and the second applies to how you get your music. Any music that is ripped from CD or was purchased in the unprotected MP3 format--which more and more stores are starting to sell, even iTunes and the Zune Marketplace--should be able to live on a server, with the networked computers pinging it when necessary. This should work just fine for those that use the iPods (and iTunes) and the less-well-known brands. However, I have heard of the Zune Software having problems when it comes to music stored on a server. However, an update just came out that might have fixed it.
Now, if you have people purchasing protected AACs from iTunes or protected WMAs from Zune Marketplace, you'll probably have some issues with the server method. The songs from both stores can be authorized on up to five computers (and an amount of players deemed "reasonable for personal use"), but I believe they have to live on each computer that is authorized if you want to keep transfers to portable devices relatively hassle-free.
Of course, it'd be easiest if none of the players were iPods or Zunes, since closed software relationships tend to want to "lock things down" as you mentioned, but it might be tough to convince your family members on that logic.
MP3 Mailbox Monday is a recurring feature where I answer a selection of questions about MP3 players and accessories, such as headphones, speakers, and music services and software. Check back often to see if the advice presented here might be of some use to you, or send your questions directly to me. (Note: We never include last names, but if you prefer to remain completely anonymous, please state as much in your e-mail.)