After what has appeared on the surface to be a fairly quiet year for Napster, the company has announced a fairly significant redesign to their music service and software. The new Napster, version 4, is lighter and a bit simpler, and definitely appears to take some cues from Rhapsody, especially with the launch of a Web-based version of the service--which will allow Mac and Linux users to join in the fun. Another hot addition is the Automix feature, a new music discovery tool.
The biggest news coming from the new Napster announcement is the new Web-based version of the service, which allows anyone with an Internet connection--regardless of operating system--access music from any computer. The Web version has a pop-up playback window, shown in the overlay above.
The Web-based version of Napster is similar to its PC-based counterpart (which has undergone some changes itself). Here, we focus on three main sections. The first--at the top--contains drop-down menus for account management as well as a search field. The left pane (2), lets you access your library and explore the service's offerings. The center area (3) is the main Napster section (called Napster Home), and it displays featured content, from Staff Picks to Radio Stations.
The pop-up window for playback offers information on the current track--artist, song, album art--as well as a list of what's about to play. There are also playback controls, shuffle and repeat buttons, and tools for sharing or deleting tracks.
Curious about all those icons in the Napster 4 interface? Here's a handy chart that shows what means what. Hovering over those icons within the interface should also pop up descriptions for the forgetful.
The left-hand pane is where you'll do most of your navigating. The top section is all your stuff: chose by artist, album, playlist and so on. Or go one down to explore Napster content. Dedicated buttons take you to editor-created playlists, radio stations, and device management.
The Playlist module highlights two Napster playlists, as programmed by the editors, while the Top 10s module gives you direct access to the most popular content on Napster via
easy-to-use top 10 charts. These charts are determined by member usage.
Napster Playlists provide a hassle-free way to discover music and fill up your portable device with music you like in a particular genre, theme or mood--from "One Hit Wonders" to "You're a Winner" (workout songs). The Napster editors add new playlists each week, and there are currently more than 500 playlists on Napster.
Napster offers a selection of 50 fully-interactive radio stations, meanning you can skip, pause, and add tracks to your library. Stations are programmed by hand and include 200-400 tracks played in a random order.
Another new feature is Automix, Napster's music recommendation tool that finds and plays tracks similar to the one you're listening to, based on community recommendations. You can create Automixes based on tracks from various places in the interfaces of both the Web- and PC-based players.
The Artist page includes a tabbed section for navigating between track listings, albums, videos, and the bio section. It also displays top tracks by the artist and those of other members who like the artist.
The PC-based version of Napster 4 is nearly identical to the Web-based version, but for one notable difference: the playback pane is attached to the right edge of the window, rather than being a pop-up of its own.
Probably the No. 1 most-requested new feature is the Napster mini player, which appears when you minimize the main window into the system tray. It displays only during the first and last 30 seconds of the song, unless you set it to be always on or always off.
When you connect your MP3 player or other compatible device to your computer, it shows up in the upper-left pane. This is similar to Rhapsody. Note that you can transfer content only via the PC-based software.
You can drag and drop songs and playlists to the player area in the bottom-right corner of the interface, or to the name of the player in the upper left. A transfer status page allows you to monitor progress.
Like previous versions of Napster, this one lets you burn CDs from tracks that you own outright. These can be WMAs that you purchased individually, or audio files that you previously ripped or recorded into your computer.