Cloud Music: Google v. Amazon

I know some privacy nuts are very anti-cloud storage, but I’ve seen enough distraught users having just lost all of their data from a failed hard drive, accidental deletion, or stolen computer to know that even though “The Cloud” isn’t for everyone, it’s still good for most people. Most computer users do not make regular backups of their personal files, and most corporations have redundant backups. So is it theoretically conceivable that Amazon or Google might somehow lose your personal files if you store them on a remote server? Sure. But it’s far more likely you’ll lose your files if you store them only locally.

More importantly, cloud storage doesn’t have to be the only storage. I back up to two external hard drives, a second computer, and the cloud. While I do value my privacy to a certain extent, I don’t have a privacy-at-all-costs approach to life, and there are other things I value just as much, if not more (e.g., photos that cannot be retaken, a music collection it’s taken me decades to build), so I was excited when this spring Google and Amazon each decided to release a cloud-based music player. Here are my pros and cons on the two services.

Google Music Beta Pros

  • Storage of up to 20,000 songs. I have only about 6500 in my collection, and that’s my total collection that it’s taken me decades to amass, so I’m highly unlikely to ever go over that storage limit.
  • Relatively fast upload. Given just how many GB of songs I had to upload, it took only a few days to upload. Not bad.
  • Decent-looking interface. It’s no iTunes (and I know there are iTunes haters out there, but I think it’s a great program, except for having no Linux port).

Google Music Beta Cons

  • Right now it’s invite-only. Eventually I did get an invite, and so did my wife, but I don’t really think the invite system is really necessary, considering the program has the word beta in its name.
  • There’s one song that just refuses to upload. It isn’t the wrong format. I’ve tried the workarounds Google and others have suggested. It just won’t upload. And there’s no way to manually upload it.
  • The upload client is Windows or Mac only. Some clever Linux users have found a way to make the Windows client work in Linux using Wine, but Google really should release a Linux native client. Or, better yet, upload straight through the web browser using a cross-platform tool like Java or Flash.
  • This is the real deal-breaker for me: it isn’t really a cloud back-up solution, since you cannot re-download the songs once you’ve uploaded them. You upload them, and then the only thing you can do is stream the songs or delete them. For me, this totally defeats the purpose of cloud storage. And even when, on my Android phone, I marked certain albums as available for off-line use, the actual music file doesn’t show up anywhere on my MicroSD card, so for all practical purposes, it’s still just a streaming service, because I’m cut off from re-downloading my own music.

Amazon Cloud Player Pros

  • You can download songs after you’ve uploaded them.
  • You get free storage for any newly purchased Amazon songs or albums.
  • You get 5 GB of free storage, but you can bump that up to 20 GB if you purchase an Amazon MP3 album once a year.
  • The Amazon MP3 uploader actually shows you the progress of each individual upload. Google Music Beta will show you just the current number out of the total.
  • You can manually select a location (not just all of iTunes) to upload.

Amazon Cloud Player Cons

  • The upload verification process is buggy. I tried to upload only songs from a particular playlist in iTunes. One time it said it was done uploading but only half of the songs had actually uploaded. Another time it was supposed to simply resume uploading where it had left off, but it started again from the beginning and created a bunch of duplicates I had to manually delete.
  • The uploader itself is buggy. It works just fine on my Macbook Pro running Leopard, but it hangs on Loading… on my wife’s Macbook Pro running Snow Leopard. I’ve Googled but haven’t found a solution to this. Uninstalling and reinstalling the uploader doesn’t help, nor does installing the latest version of Adobe Air, quitting all the other programs, or rebooting the computer.
  • Like the Google Music Beta uploader, the Amazon one is for Windows and Mac only. I’m not sure if it’ll work in Linux using Wine or not. Again, why not just use Java or Flash? Why a separate application?

Oh, and for both Google Music Beta and Amazon Cloud Player, why isn’t there a way to display and then purge duplicate songs? The algorithms for detecting duplicates before upload is deficient for both services, so at least they should make an easy way to clean up after upload.

Overall, I’m pleased that Google and Amazon have started down this path. I’m mainly going with Amazon, though, just because it allows the ability to re-download songs, so the cloud storage is real storage (a back-up solution) instead of just a way to stream songs. Perhaps after Google Music comes out of Beta it’ll be a bit more polished. Then again, Amazon’s Cloud Player is not in beta, and it still lacks some of the polish Google Music Beta does.

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t know for certain, but the reason for not using something like flash or java may simply be the speed. Non of the fastest programming languages (*cough* C *cough*) are especially portable beyond the simple stuff of hello world and basic maths.

    Having said that, I would expect the bottle neck for this kind of application to be network speed in which case language wouldn’t make much difference…

  2. I use an online back-up service called SpiderOak, which is Multi-Platform including Linux.

    I don’t have either an Android or an iPhone yet, but according to the website, you can

    “View / Watch / Listen to any backed up file”

    using their mobile app. So your music collection is backed up, stored, can be downloaded, and apparently, listened to.

    Just don’t lose your password.

  3. @Angus
    Yeah, I’m sure they have good reasons for doing what they do, but it’s still annoying for the end user.

    @John
    I like Spider Oak in theory, but it offers only 2 GB of free storage, and I didn’t find the user interface to my liking (a bit complicated).

  4. @Angus Uploading data is not at all a compute-intensive task and you would get practically no speed benefit from using a language like C over some interpreted language. I built a third party uploading client for Music Beta in Javascript which worked for two weeks, and during that time, it worked just as if not faster than the native one.

    The only time speed would matter if you’re transcoding your files, which generally, you aren’t (unless they’re flacs).

  5. @antimatter15 I did say that I would expect language not to make a difference to it because upload speed was the bottle neck here.

    There are other reasons why a company (rather than an individual like yourself) might chose to offer a compiled/non-portable language of course.

    I do agree, it should have been possible to write a javascript uploader so that anyone could easily use it.

  6. Has anyone resolved the duplicates issue yet for either cloud?
    Very annoying. I still have plenty of space to store, but too much to sift through.
    Thanks,
    Jennifer

  7. I don’t think so. The way I dealt with it was copying to a new folder the songs I wanted to upload, and when the uploader would freeze up, I’d just delete the already-uploaded songs and then start the upload process again.

  8. Appologize for bumping an old Blog… but things seem to have changed since this was originally written – Google cloud has an uploader for linux while amazon still does not.

    But the key thing for me is support for flac and ogg. Although the google uploader does transcode them to mp3, i dont need to change anything in my local collection that is primarily flac and ogg

  9. The names you have mentioned does not provide any free service so I decided to skip them

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