While this may not be quite as neat or exciting as last month’s release of the Ubuntu & Linux Mint compatible Amazon Prime Unlimited Instant Video Streaming service, it does bare mentioning as it provides a similar Ubuntu & Linux Mint compatible service for music (all from the same website) and provides significant benefits over similar offerings such as the iTunes Store!
This new service from Amazon.com is made up of three distinct parts. Each can be utilized independently of the others, but they have been setup to be utilized together rather seamlessly. First up, is the Amazon MP3 Store. This store has been around for a while now and features DRM free MP3 downloads and purchases.
As far as price, the albums run anywhere from free to about $10.00 and the tracks are encoded at variable bit rates with an average of 256kbps (which, is just shy of the absolutely highest MP3 bit rate of 320kbps). For comparison, iTunes Store songs have a bit rate which is reportedly comparable to a 160kbps MP3 (with an actual bit rate of 128kbps). For an additional comparison, Pandora Radio streams (by default) MP3 music files that are encoded at 128kbps. However, with a Pandora One subscription the bit rate is increased to 192kbps and there is often a clear distinction even from this small increase in quality.
However, even though the Amazon MP3 Store already offers a much better bit rate compared to the iTunes Store and Pandora Radio, it does not (at this point) offer any lossless options (such as FLAC). With that said, most listeners (with most audio equipment) probably wont be able to distinguish a lossless audio file from a 256kbps variable bit rate MP3.
Another upside of Amazon’s offering compared to the more popular iTune’s Store is that you can play this music on any media player that supports MP3s (which is just about all of them at this point!). In this regard, it is a much more vendor and platform independent system (no need for iTunes to be installed, or a specific operating system running, or a codec for compatibility with DRM restricted or watermarked AAC files). You just need a web browser and you’re all set.
And, this is where the second and third parts of this service (the new ones) come into play. The albums or tracks can be downloaded directly to any computer or played straight from the Cloud Player without the need to download anything!
However, with that said, I do need to mention one caveat here. The complete album downloads on 64-bit Linux are currently not supported. They can however be manually downloaded one at a time through the new Cloud Drive service or just played directly from the Cloud Player.
All albums and tracks can be saved (and will automatically be saved) directly to this Cloud Drive storage. From there they can be downloaded to any platform just as you would download any other file from the Internet.
The Cloud Drive comes with 5GB of free storage (and can be upgraded for about $1 dollar per gigabyte per year), and any music that is purchased from the MP3 store does not count against this total (it’s stored for free). The Cloud Drive can also be used to store any other file types (documents, pictures, etc). Though, anything personal should likely be encrypted to provide an additional level of privacy and security!
The MP3 Store along with the new Cloud Player and Cloud Drive look to provide a very solid alternative to other similar offerings such as the iTunes Store. Further, there is no DRM to worry about, and it provides a nice way for those getting their music through alternative means to support selected artists without the need of generating needless trash (a la CD’s, packaging, etc.).
Hopefully, in the near future, Amazon.com will bring on full album download support to 64-bit Linux systems and maybe roll out lossless offerings as well. With those two changes, and the previously mentioned DRM free downloads, Linux support and compatibility for both the music and video offerings, Amazon could be a very Linux friendly alternative to both iTunes and Netflix.