You are absolutely right, it seems to be the way the industry is going. What you are looking for, or rather trying to avoid, is PlaysForSure. PlaysForSure, also sometimes known as Janus, is a Digital Rights Management or DRM scheme. It is used to limit use of rented and purchased digital content.
The players or the packaging will be marked, and it is usually mentioned in the description or reviews. It is only the more advanced 'PlaysForSure Subscription' capable players that behave in the way you describe. Check out Microsofts site at http://www.playsforsure.com/default.aspx, or my page, where I review different DRM schemes including PlaysForSure at http://www.audioedition.org/help/drm/drm.htm
If you do not use a subscription service that requires PlaysForSure for your music or audio book needs, such as Napster or Simply Audiobooks, a player that supports only PlaysForSure Download, or no PlaysForSure at all can be an option.
I don't know what to recommend for your Sansa. I had read that for iRiver players, there's some third party software that will let you see the player as a drive, and browse it with File Explorer, but I have not seen anything like that for SanDisk, or for multiple makes.
William Graham email@example.com
Virtually all the new players support only synchronization through MS Windows Media Player, instead of letting users set up their own folders and files as they do on their computers. This has been nothing but problems for me, however. I find that errors are numerous and even when I've started from scratch (deleting all the files on my Sansa E280) I still find that Media Player tries to copy files I no longer want or need, even when the playlists have edited them out.
So, starting from scratch with NOTHING in my folders, I later see files I no longer want and which are not in any of my listed playlists. How did they get there? How do I fix things so that only files that are in my playlists are transferred?
Any help would be greatly appreciated.