I downloaded my first MP3 file in February 1998. The process was convoluted to the point of absurdity. I used one program to rip a song from a CD I owned, another program to convert that into a compressed MP3 file, and a third program to upload it to an FTP site that required visitors to donate their own MP3s first before any downloading would be permitted. To complicate matters further, just finding that FTP site required lurking in seedy chat rooms where file traders exchanged passwords to sites that might be open only for a few hours in the dead of night.
Like millions of other Windows users, I was excited when iTunes was finally made available to the non-Macintosh world two weeks ago. At the original debut of iTunes' online music store, it seemed clear that this was best legally sanctified option so far -- and not just because I lusted after an iPod. Steve Jobs and Apple ("Rip. Mix. Burn.") understood that instead of resisting music consumers, it was time to aid and abet them. I downloaded the software within hours of its being made available and bought my first songs within minutes of installation.
I am confident that the marketplace is going to steadily deliver a progression of options that benefit me in some way: a wider selection of songs, lower prices, easier-to-use software. But I'm not confident that I won't be endlessly posed with a series of ever more onerous switching costs. Perhaps, once hard drives and bandwidth get big enough, we'll be able to do away with compression formats altogether, but companies like Microsoft and Apple are still going to strive to lock users in to their software/hardware platforms as long as they can. And that is decidedly not an example of the marketplace serving my consumer desires. d2c66b5586