Jewish World Review May 9 2003 / 7 Iyar 5763

iTunes store, Mailblocks are cool online services

By Mark Kellner | Apple Computer's announcement April 28 of the "iTunes Music Store" (stet), captured plenty of headlines and lots of interest.

So far, it's captured just under a buck from this writer, but that's a function of my budget and not this rather nice, new service. It's described by Apple as an "online music store" where the songs (generally) cost 99 cents each. Customers can burn songs onto "an unlimited number of CDs for personal use," Apple says, along with "listening to songs on an unlimited number of iPods," the portable music players created by Apple, as well as play them on "up to three Macintosh computers," and use them in any Mac application, including iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD - programs which let users arrange photo displays, edit home videos and burn DVDs, respectively.

So far, the iTunes Music Store is only available for Mac users; Apple chairman Steve Jobs was quoted in press accounts as saying the firm will develop a version for Windows PC users. Right now, 200,000 songs from five major record companies are available, and it can be hoped that more songs will come on line.

Searching for music, finding it and downloading it - as my 99-cent experiment demonstrated - is very easy. One can find songs fairly easily, by title, artist or genre; and one can buy a whole album's worth of music, usually for $9.99 or so. However, some selections are a bit limited - I couldn't find the Broadway cast recording of the musical "Chicago," for example, even though I believe it is released by a unit of EMI, one of the big five record firms who've signed on with Apple. A search for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony found only one version, and then the only way to buy the work was to buy it whole, for far more than the $4 one might expect to pay at the advertised 99-cents-a-song price.

The pricing for Beethoven is, I suppose, Apple's privilege, but for those who might want to use just the fourth movement of that symphony for a presentation, it's a bit much to ask them to pay a full-copy price.

All told, however, the iTunes Music Store is a good start for people to legally download music and use it. I'd like to see some tweaks to the pricing - maybe the digital equivalent of a close-out bin for less-popular items - and some other enhancements, as well as a larger catalog of music. More information can be found at

Mailblocks ( runs on PCs as well as Macs, and is an idea whose time is long past due. People who send e-mail to your account ( or AOL, Yahoo Mail Hotmail or some other public networks get a "challenge message" that, if they answer, tells the Mailblocks computer to send their original message to you. Only one "challenge" needs to be accepted for e-mail to get through; you can also add regular mailing lists and other e-publishers to an "OK" list for automatic delivery.

Spammers won't respond to challenge messages, since they involve typing a specific, unique code. Friends and family, if you alert them, will. You can also bring over online address books to give grandma the "all clear" without a hassle.

I've seen an incredible drop in spam to one of my accounts; I plan to expand this to some others. It's a great, valuable service that you should consider if, like me, you're interested in getting e-mail you want and need, and nothing more.

Pricing is rather nice: $9.95 a year for an account with 12 MB of online storage; 50 MB of storage can be had for $24.95 a year, and charter subscribers get three years for the price of one. As I said, not a bad deal.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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