What exactly are Cloud-Based Music Services?

by Corinne Webb | May 31, 2011

I spent an afternoon asking people this very question and eventually I gave up and googled it. Even then the answer didn’t become clear immediately, and it wasn’t until my teenage neighbour explained it to me that I finally got it. I think I might be starting to show my age. Or feel it. A cloud is basically a way of storing and accessing all of your files and software on the internet, rather than keeping them physically on your computer. First came the iPod in the digital music revolution. In the olden days – in other words a few years ago – you needed to keep all of your files and software either in your computer, or very near it on some kind of storage disk. Along came local area networks, which made it possible to access and download files from other computers in your vicinity, either through a wire or a wave. It was using this system that I downloaded a ridiculous amount of music from my colleague’s laptop at the other end of my office. Cloud services are simply an extension of this idea, making files – and even software– available to users anywhere in the world over the internet. It’s as if you store all of your files on the internet, and then use internet-based software to run them all. In reality, it’s now possible to do practically everything you want to do on your computer without having any of the files or any of the necessary software installed. It’s like having a shower, or washing your clothes – the water company takes care of all the underlying engineering and maintenance work, so all you have to worry about is the specific task at hand. The applications of cloud services are myriad. One of the hottest tickets right now is using the service to sell music. Amazon recently became the first company to launch its cloud service, scoring a major victory over competitors Google and Apple. Users open an account and are provided with 5GB of storage, they buy the music they want and store it on their cloud, and then wherever they go they can use a computer to access their music. With the advent of smartphones, this means that you can access 5GB of music (or more if you’re greedy) on your mobile without actually clogging up the handset with the physical data. The real reason the idea is causing so many ripples is that it finally offers an alternative to Apple’s all-conquering iTunes Store. Music downloaded from this store can generally only be played on Apple devices due to their encryption scheme, and many consumers have been unwittingly committing themselves to the Apple brand over time. Amazon’s cloud service has been successful so far, particularly because it doesn’t suffer from any encryption limitations, and it even allows users to download music and listen to it even if they go offline. Google’s fledgling cloud service has been criticised for lacking this key feature, and rumour has it that Google’s talks with major record companies have fallen through. This may well be because Apple are doing such a good job of courting the very same record companies. Indeed, if Apple strike a deal over their own cloud music service, it’s likely that users will be able to access all of the music they’ve previously paid for through iTunes – crucially without having to upload all of it to their cloud. Apple would be allowed simply to give each user access to the songs they’ve previously downloaded. The best part of all of this is that no matter who wins between Amazon, Google and Apple – the real winner is the consumer, with a far more functional and easily accessible music collection.

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