Gadget speak

Although it is now legit, Napster still carries enough of its indie sensibilities to put the wind up Apple. Also, we look at the top ten questions to ask before buying a business laptop and report on the auction of James Brown memorabilia

Separated at birth: iTunes versus Napster

iTunes and Napster both offer good service. Napster has overcome its history of doling out free MP3 music and has created a quality website with quality service. I prefer Napster to iTunes.

As long as you can access the file you want, in the format you need, you can get it on your portable media player. iTunes and Napster resolve some of the headache by offering pre-formatted music.

Apple's iTunes is perhaps the most popular, but that may be because Apple cracked the portable MP3 market with the iPod. For some time it was the only device that could guarantee seamless transfer to Apple devices. The bells and whistles that put iTunes on top, however, are no longer exclusive to Apple. They were the pioneer, but sometimes it is the innovator that takes us to the next level. Now there are a multiple portable devices in a variety of formats. For me, the exclusivity of iTunes has lost its charm. There are four people in our home. One has a knock-off MP3 player. There's one Video iPod and a couple of iPod shuffles here. Recently a Zune was added to the collection. As you can see, we don't pledge allegiance to the Apple.

Napster has over three million songs. With a subscription to Napster, you can listen to an entire song without purchasing it. I hate having to determine if I want a new song when I can only hear a short clip. You can also download an unlimited number of songs. There are up charges to burn or sync some songs. Most of the music I have downloaded has not had additional charges. That is unlimited music for a small monthly fee. Access to songs in my playlists is quick and easy.

Another thing I like about Napster is that its catalogue includes numerous independent labels. This allows me to find music from some of my favourite, less widely recognised groups. It allows for diverse playlists. Using a subscription through Napster, charged monthly to my credit card, I have access to music of my choice without searching all over the Web. The difference is that iTunes is like going into a music store, where Napster is like going into a music library.

Napster is compatible with a better variety of players than iPods. This is a moot point, as your computer's media software will transfer, burn, and sync files to your MP3 player, but is a convenience if you use an MP3 other than iPod. Napster mobile service offers images, ring-tones, and song downloads to your phone. I'm not into all that clutter on my mobile phone, so these services don't impress me. My teenage kids, however, love the accessibility to the variety of ringtones and songs without having to jump through a bunch of hoops to get a song to their phones.

Apple iTunes includes the ability to purchase iTunes gift cards online, or at any number of local retailers. I like that, because the gift of music downloads can please anyone, regardless of their tastes. Napster has cards available for purchase, but they aren't available in stores in my local area. I have only seen them online.

iTunes has 1.5 million songs, and a number of movies, TV shows, games, podcasts, and audio books. Coverflow is a perk of iTunes for people who like to browse and sort music based on album cover art. This feature is meaningless to me. In my opinion, it is a waste of disk space. Album pictures show as songs are played on Napster. That's enough for me.

Napster and iTunes software are both easy to use. Graphics are clean and clear, icons clearly illustrate their purpose and most software operates with click and drag. I've chosen Napster, so I don't have to complete a transaction every time I want a new song. I love music and listen to a lot of it. If you love music, but haven't given Napster a try, I recommend you make use of the free trial. You'll love Napster.

Going, going, gone… Sex Machine

"I just do my own thing.... I like being loud and letting people know I'm there." So said the inimitable James Brown.

Other than his distinctive voice - which helped shape the future sound of soul, R'n'B and rock and roll; the sound of a Trek II stage organ was always a visible presence on stage with the Godfather of Soul.

On 17 July, Christies of New York presented the James Brown Collection, which consisted of more than 320 lots from the singer's South Carolina home. The auction featured everything from iconic stage worn jumpsuits and capes to various musical instruments.

The Trek II organ and speaker cabinet was the instrumental highlight of the sale. It was custom-made for Brown's backing band and was covered in black vinyl and trimmed with silver roping with the initials JB embossed in red vinyl on the speaker cabinet, and Godfather written on the back of the organ.

Though originally produced to replace organs in the church, the electric organ became popular in gospel and the emerging soul sound in the early 1960s. However, its popularity wained after the introduction of digital synthesisers in the late 1970s.

Despite this, the crude (now 'retro') sound, which was supposed to mimic the harmonies of a traditional church organ, has remained popular through the use of digital samplers and artists such as Fat Boy Slim borrowing the sound from old vinyl recordings.

The hammer fell at $22,500 (£11,250), beating its lowest estimate. It was purchased by an unnamed US institution. Overall, the auction raised $857,688 for the estate of James Brown.

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