Steven SchwankertBy Steven Schwankert
At long last, after all the two of them have been through together during their 'Great China Adventure', the Grouch is taking a swipe at his beloved Apple. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, The Village Grouch is a mere mortal. He makes the occasional mistake. About three weeks ago, after being machineless in Beijing for almost that many months, he finally took delivery on his latest brain export device, an Apple Powerbook G4, 15-inch, essentially a superior version of the laptop that saw its logicboard burn out.

One of the first things the Grouch did was connect his iPod to the new machine. With 30G packed into a device the size of a pack of cigarettes, he had been toting around the contents of his hard drive for a financial quarter, and wanted to offer them a new, permanent home.

In his excitement, perhaps, he informed the machine that yes, he wanted to make this new laptop (actually a slightly pre-owned version purchased from a friend) the primary base for this iPod. Seconds later, when he noticed his music library disappearing, he cancelled the transfer.

It was too late. Not more than 10 seconds passed from the original choice to the cancellation, but in that blink of an eye, a music collection that represented two years of work and editing and over 2000 tracks was gone.

The Grouch was apoplectic. He was on day two of a three-week trip, one that would take him offline and out of reach of most major media for at least nine days.

Gone. Checked music library files. Gone. Checked on the iPod itself. Gone. The soundtrack of the Grouchlife. Gone.

In desperation, the Grouch turned to Apple's office in Hong Kong, where he used to know the guy who runs the show. To paraphrase, he said Grouch, you're buggered. Even if the Grouch brought the Pod to their service center, there would be no way to retrieve the tracks.

Now, frankly, this doesn't make any sense. Any computer user who has ever held a Dummies book in his or her hands knows that when something is deleted, the space it occupies simply becomes available to be overwritten, like any building under 10 stories in Beijing. However, until overwritten, the file is still there. Certainly in theory, the Grouch's tracks should all still be on the Pod, as only a few were actually replaced by his friend's strange choices of Thai techno.

More disturbing, 500 of those tracks had been purchased via the Apple Music Store, Apple's revolutionary, legal online music outlet. When the Grouch asked Apple in Hong Kong what happens to those 500 tracks that he paid for and therefore owns, he received no response.

The Grouch, both in this column and in his other incarnations, has been a staunch advocate for copyright protection. With the exception of a few tracks given to the Grouch on burned CDs, every single one of the more than 2000 songs on his iPod were 100 percent legitimate, purchased either directly from Apple or on CD via Amazon.com or at traditional retail stores like HMV in Hong Kong.

But you know what? The Grouch has now officially reached his limit. If his older, burned out machine won't fire up one last time, he'll take the CDs he has and re-rip them. Then, every missing track he can remember will come from somewhere else–but there's no way he's paying to own them again. He owned many of them on cassette, then upgraded to CD. He even paid again for some in their electronic format. But there's absolutely no way he's going to pay a third or fourth time for tracks that he legitimately owns and would still be enjoying had it not been for an honest, errant mouse click.

Apple's zealousness in its support of copyright protection has gone too far. Frankly, it doesn't owe the music industry anything. That industry dragged its heels for years until finally a computer manufacturer produced the music player and the online music distribution channel for which the market had been waiting. Enough already. Let the music industry do a little innovating for a change, namely with its artists and channels.

The Grouch isn't renouncing Apple. Hell, he just bought his seventh or eighth Apple laptop, and is using his third iPod. What's he going to do, switch to a Wintel product? Yeah, that day will come–probably the day after the Grouch becomes a Man. U supporter.

It was bound to happen that one day the Grouch would bite into an Apple with a worm in it. He just wishes it hadn't eaten all his music first.

About the author:
Steven Schwankert is a former editor of Computerworld Hong Kong, based in Beijing. He can be reached at [email protected]

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