On Monday, while Steve Jobs was onstage introducing iTunes in the cloud, I got an e-mail from Google that included an invitation to the Google Music Beta.
Coincidence? Maybe, but my money says this timing was deliberate.
I thought at the time that it looked like a panic response from Google to Apple’s iTunes announcements. After a day with the beta, I’m even more convinced that this software-and-service package was rushed to market.
Google Music Beta made a positive initial impression when I installed it yesterday. It consists of two lightweight programs, a browser-based music player and a music uploader that runs as a background task. I installed both Windows and Mac versions.
Music Player looks more “designed” than most Google projects (which typically strike me as being assembled, like something from Ikea). But the Music Player is useless until you upload your tracks, so I concentrated on Music Manager. And that's where Google Music went off the rails.
I was impressed with the list of formats that Google Music supports. In addition to MP3 and AAC, it also supports Windows Media Audio (WMA) and the lossless FLAC format. I have a lot of tracks in the latter formats, so that’s very good news. It also supports uploads from Windows Media Player, from iTunes, and from the My Music folder on a Windows PC.
I told Music Manager to upload my Windows Media Audio library around 2:30PM yesterday; when I checked on its progress this morning, here’s what I saw:
After 19 hours of chugging away, only 1,654 tracks had been uploaded. At that pace, it would take nearly two weeks of round-the-clock uploading to get my entire collection into Google’s cloud servers.
But that’s not going to happen, based on the staggering number of errors I saw for this collection. Why were 21,300 tracks skipped? Clicking that number fired up a troubleshooting tool.
The more I look at the list, the less sense it makes, and the more I see failures on top of failures.
For example, Google says it failed to upload 206 tracks because of “DRM in file.” But I have never purchased a single DRM-protected track, and inspection of the troublesome files shows they’re DRM-free.
Two tracks failed because Music Manager thinks there’s “No music in file.” They play just fine here.
The two “unsupported format” files are bonus-track downloads from Radiohead, both in WAV format. OK, I need to convert those.
But what on earth were those 13,862 “Error uploading file” messages? There’s a mix of MP3 and WMA files in that group, most of them either purchased from Amazon or eMusic or ripped from CD. That’s roughly half the collection not available.
And to add insult to injury, my collection is just too big, so some 5000 tracks are just going to be skipped. And yet the Tijuana Brass Christmas album (a holiday classic that is played, at most, once a year) was among the first to arrive at Google’s servers. Awesome.
I’m completely baffled by the message at the bottom of the troubleshooting window, which says “Only version 11 of Windows Media Player is supported.” That’s the version from Windows Vista, which was also available as an update in Windows XP.
Windows 7 includes Windows Media Player 12. But that troubleshooting message doesn’t say anything about versions higher than 11. So is it supported or not?
Then there’s the message that says “Norton may be blocking the application.” It even includes a link that promises “further instructions,” which would be extremely helpful if the link actually went somewhere instead of to a 404 error page.
And I won’t even mention the fact that, on Windows 7, I couldn’t get Google Music to play at all in Internet Explorer 9, although it worked perfectly in Chrome. Hmmm. [Update: I tried Google Music a few hours later, with a different album, and this time it played successfully.]
When I mentioned these Google Music experiences on Twitter earlier today, I heard from a few people who had had no problems, but several others said they had experienced similar woes trying to upload tracks to Google's cloud.
All in all, Google Music is, to put it charitably, a work in progress. Apple's announcement of a "scan and match" feature for iTunes in the cloud makes uploading even a medium-sized music collection seem as tedious and error-prone as the process inevitably will be.
I’m sure Google will improve this service over time; they don't have any choice if they want to compete.
But I've seen enough to convince me that it needs more work, so I'll set it aside for a closer look at the end of summer. By that time, Apple’s new iTunes should be online and Microsoft will be ready to show off what it’s doing with music in Windows 8. I expect Amazon will have some things to say in the fall as well.
So long for now, Google Music. See you again in September.