The new candy store

At this point I think the inherent advantage of acquiring recorded music solely through the means of traveling to a brick and mortar storefront, perusing the incredibly over complicated system to locate likely albums that I might like to purchase, physically bringing the stack of shiny plastic to the cashier with my own hands and whatever other means I can come up with in the moment, watching as each barcode or price sticker is laboriously tallied, and finally handing over a suitable bundle of paper or small plastic card which may or may not be returned with a large bag containing the shiny plastic I took such pains to collect is that is is not an easy process. I have to have the time and energy to get the store. I have to have enough patience to be able to defeat whatever myopic intelligence designed the system to hide the items that I want from me. Most importantly I have to think about the entire process as I go through it which makes me more likely to think about things like, “Can I afford this?”.

It is that last bit that worries me the most with Amazon.com‘s new MP3 Download service. So far I’ve only purchased three albums and I wonder if that isn’t just the taste that I need to go wildly into debt if I don’t keep my wits about.

I have experimented with various music download services at various points and had highly varied experiences with the multitude of them. There is something about the simplicity of Amazon’s execution of the concept that has finally gotten through to me that this is really finally possible.

It certainly has it’s downsides. It currently only runs on Windows, not that I run anything else right now and by the same token it should not actually be too difficult for them to port their client application to just about any OS given how simple it is. Relatively small selection of “only” 1 million tracks (or there abouts) which sounds like a lot but really means that only a small number of the many songs that you might want to buy may be available. Still has a couple of quirks being fairly early in beta though there has already been one client update since release which fixed the only problem that I’ve run into personally.

About that problem: As I mentioned I have purchased three albums from the service. The Cinematic Orchestra’s “Motion”, Skalpel’s self titled album, and Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinois” which turned out to be my first and only cause to contact Amazon’s tech support. I initially sent an email message through their web interface but did not get any reply after 30ish hours so I used the web interface to have them call me (neat trick) and talked to someone very nice who couldn’t quite help me because the tech support for the download service wasn’t quite open for business at 7:30AM CST on a Tuesday. When I finally called them a half hour later a very nice person fairly immediately re-authorized the download links for me and I was able to finally get the album and I’ve been listening to the audio CD I burned immediately all day since. Turns out the new client was likely the reason why I could download the album this time, though neither I nor the tech support guy had any good reason why that might be so. I suspect it has something to do with the rather whimsical and extensive names given to the tracks of this particular album since they’ve been giving some of my other applications some trouble too.

Some of the people who might read this might think that having trouble with one third of my purchases so far is a good example of how new and untried the service is, but I would actually say quite the opposite. The first attempt was utterly perfect and gave me good reason to try it two more times. The client setup is relatively painless, even in Vista with UAC enabled, and the neat little touch of automatically adding the downloads to my iTunes library meant that I could start listening immediately without having to go look for what the client had done with the files. I’m a savvy enough computer user that really that isn’t actually a problem for me, especially given how difficult it can be from other services, but not having to worry about little details like that makes me really think this is ready for everyone, not just those who sometimes wander over near the bleeding edge.

Supposedly they are marking the downloaded files so that if the files show up on a P2P network later they know where they came from, but I’m not honestly worried about that since I don’t participate in any of that. Otherwise they are pure MP3 files with appropriately pre-populated tags and even embedded cover art. I can, and have, used them any of the multitude of places that I use mp3 files.

I honestly think this is finally it. Give it a try.

Whittling away to nothing

I took some time at work today to give a pretty thorough run through to InstallShield 12 Professional. I have to say: I’m pretty annoyed. The last couple of releases under the new Macrovision brand have really been fairly telling about the focus of the parent company.

In particular with InstallShield 12 is the removal of the stand alone build engine from the Professional edition. Now it’s only available if I spend another $1199.00 to upgrade to the Premier edition. Unfortunately I actually make very good use of the stand alone build engine from InstallShield 11.5, 11, and 10 on several build boxes here at work. It has always been really nice to be able to test the automation scripts on my primary workstation and then port them over to a pure build environment with only a couple of tweaks and not have to worry about purchasing extra licenses for the application.

I suppose the upside is that there is really absolutely nothing except some IDE tweaks and long awaited bug fixes in 12 that really give me any reason to upgrade any of my existing projects. Without the stand along build engine I’m certainly going to be giving some thought to not migrating them at all.

However this is really starting to show a trend in recent InstallShield releases that we in the idustry should really be paying attention to. InstallShield X, while certainly having some flaws, was a really well done release that finally combined the entire sweep of InstallShield installation projects under one big suite of applications. You could build for any platform with pretty much a single app, and it worked. Just over a year later and Macrovision buys out InstallShield. The next release (10.5) is expectedly incremental, but still pretty good.

11 is the first full release under the Macrovision banner, and it’s pretty good. There are some interesting features added (The repository being my favorite. Too bad local repositories are still not entirely functional even in the current version!) and overall it’s a decent release.

Then came 11.5 which should have been just a point release, but somewhat unexpectedly they split up the Windows and Multiplatform camps into two seperate suites again. Those of us who were lucky enough to have a software maintenance plan got both versions but the letter that came along with it started to show that the Macrovision’s respect for it’s customers ended at the depth of their wallets.

Now comes 12, which really has very little in the way of substantial updates and they start to take away features? I think that might settle how badly they want the business of a shop like ours.

You know, WiX has been looking really stable lately and it won’t be a big deal to port some of my smaller InstallScript projects over to it. It will be nice to get some of those into MSI finally as well and there hasn’t been any really good reason to do it before now with InstallShield.

InstallShield 12

Macrovision released InstallShield 12 this morning, and my download of my maintenance fullfilment copy just finished. I’ve heard there were some big changes for the InstallScript language, hopefully for the better.

Update: I had heard slightly wrong, or at least read the commentary incorrectly. They changed the way that InstallScript custom actions interact with MSI packages. No big changes to InstallScript here…