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Napster updates software as court case looms

Despite a court case that threatens to deal the music-swapping service a fatal blow, the company releases an updated version of its software that makes it easier to find specific songs and bands.

Despite the uncertain outcome of a court case that threatens to deal Napster a potentially fatal blow, the music-swapping service has released an updated version of its software that makes it easier to find specific songs and bands.

Court: Let Napster music play on The release is proof that development is continuing at the San Mateo, Calif.-based start-up, even as it awaits the outcome of a federal court case that threatens to shut down the service almost in its entirety.

A federal appeals court is still reviewing the decision of a trial court judge to block trades of most copyrighted music using Napster's software. That decision, though put on hold just hours after it was issued, served as a turning point in the music industry's battle against encroaching online music companies.

Many court-watchers had expected a decision from the Ninth Circuit panel of appeals judges before now, but a ruling still could come any day.

The updated software gives a small indication of what Napster's developers are doing as they work toward creating a new subscription-based service with German media conglomerate Bertelsmann.

The two companies have yet to give details on the planned service, part of a landmark deal announced in October. Both parties have said that the original Napster software will remain in place in some form, but that a better version will be available for a fee. Bertelsmann and Napster are still trying to bring other major record labels into their alliance, however.

The software upgrade, dubbed 2.0 beta 8, offers a handful of new features, including a "Boolean minus sign," which people can use to exclude certain items from their searches. For example, entering the search term "Primitive" will return results for Primitive Reason and Primitive Radio Gods. Now a Napster user who does not want returns for Primitive Reason can type "Primitive -Reason."

The new software, which can be downloaded on Napster's Web site for free, also lets people rename MP3 and Windows Media Audio files from within Napster.

In addition, "many minor bugs have been fixed," the company said in its newsletter.

Music fans discussing the updated software on message boards had mixed reactions.

"Personally I like it," wrote one Napster user, identified only as "solidstate23." "They fixed the bug that froze up the search function, added a Boolean minus to the search, and made it so you can rename files from inside the client. Those were on my top five list of fixes that needed to be made. It also seems to run smoother."

Others complained that music files downloaded with the new software were being stored in their computer's C drive, rather than in specifically designated folders.

"All my downloaded songs go to the c drive, I cannot get them to go into the music or my files folder," wrote a message board poster, identified as "genie25." "Oh well, back to beta 7 for me."

Still others complained that the updated software left them unable to log on to independent, non-Napster servers using the program Napigator.

Napigator offers a way for people to swap songs from independent servers using Napster's software, but without using Napster's servers.

Chatting on Napigator's Web site, users of Napster's software seemed certain that it would not remain incompatible with independent servers for long.

"Resolution of that will occur shortly, one would assume, as the independent servers simply update their software," wrote "Steve G."