iTunes DRM – it’s still a thing

I’ve always been a fan of paying a reasonable amount of money for a good service or product. Platforms like Steam for games, iTunes for music and the AppStore for software have made it incredibly easy to purchase products from wherever you are. Ideally both sides profit as the consumer gets what he wanted knowing he supported the creator, who on the other hand can keep improving the product with updates or fund his next great project.

Why am I telling you this? Just recently a friend of mine recommended watching a specific movie which I hadn’t seen yet. A few days later I decided I’d like to watch it in the evening and checked if it’s available for rental on iTunes. As I’ve never rented a movie on iTunes before I carefully read the FAQ. Being able to watch the movie as often as I wanted in the rental period of 48h, in High Definition and most importantly with original english audio for 3,99€ sounded like a good deal.

So I went for it. Nearly a little bit excited by modern-day technical advancements, I pressed the buy button in the iTunes Store, typed in my password and watched the download bar fill up – convenient and easy, as I had hoped. But the moment it had buffered enough to start playing the troubles began:

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Displaying only a black video iTunes showed me this error message, roughly translated telling me that the movie can’t be shown on my current screen as it doesn’t support HDCP (High-bandwith Digital Content Protection). Lucky enough I understood why this happened: my screens were connected to my Macbook Pro via Thunderbolt -> VGA adapters – VGA, being analogue, does not support HDCP.

Now, the need for HDCP support wasn’t mentioned in the FAQ, also who in their right mind would pay 3,99€ to steal a 1.5-year-old movie from iTunes?

I didn’t want to watch the movie on the 13-inch internal screen – retina or not. But no worries, I thought, my desktop pc is connected to the same screens via HDMI and shouldn’t have any problems with HDCP. The movie should be available there as well as I use the same Apple-ID on both devices – we live in the days of the cloud, right?

Indeed we do – the movie immediately showed up in iTunes for Windows and I started streaming it without any troubles. But then:

drmI couldn’t believe it – another error message. This time telling me that the movie was authorized for a different computer or device and couldn’t be played back. Just because I had seen a few black frames of it on the laptop? Even deleting the movie from the other device didn’t change anything.

So in the end I was back where I had started out and had to watch the movie on my 13-inch laptop display – it streamed well, the quality of both audio and video was great, sadly the film itself wasn’t very good. But what really matters is that I was really disapointed in the whole experience. Of course I shouldn’t be using VGA anymore (sadly projectors in most places still do so I have the adapter for it) and I bet I could have found a solution to the whole “device authorization” problem. But as I said in the introduction: the whole process should be easy and plain-sailing. The consumer should be rewarded for his loyality and not restricted by DRM mechanics. It would have been far easier to google “movie xyz  hd rip torrent” and only minutes later double-click the downloaded file, free of charge, as often as you want and most importantly hassle-free. As I said – I wouldn’t go the last route, as I usually enjoy paying for good things – but it’s no wonder people go the alternative route. I won’t be renting from iTunes anytime soon – that’s for sure.

 

Bookmark management on your own server: Insipid

For ages the process of keeping bookmarks synchronized between my computer and laptop was quite an annoying task. Using Firefox on my PC and Safari on my Mac the recently introduced sync feature in Firefox wasn’t an option for me. Not being particularly keen on sharing my bookmarks with an external service sites like Xmarks were out of question as well.

Just recently I was lucky to find my personal solution: Insipid a “web-based bookmark repository” which can easily be installed on your web space to offer access to your bookmarks wherever you go while being fully controlled by yourself. Unlike the software’s meaning “insipid – 1. Lacking flavor or zest; not tasty. 2. Lacking qualities that excite, stimulate, or interest; dull.” Insipid is very well done and offers a lot of interesting features. One could argue that Insipid’s appearance being simple and functional does match the description dull, but this can be changed through customization with html and css.

Bookmarks can be added to the list via the webinterface or through a custom bookmarklet. Especially notable is the ability to assign multiple tags to an entry for easy organization. This means I can add a lot more bookmarks without causing too much clutter and loosing track of specific topics.

Here is a picture of my current Insipid installation with the detail page for the tag “Android” selected:

If that isn’t enough for you Insipid also includes a search function for which I didn’t feel the need to use yet.
In addition to offering the ability to publish an RSS-Feed of your bookmarks the Snapshot feature is especially intriguing. When adding a bookmark it allows to add a snapshot of the current state of the site which can be very useful if it’s information is very important to you or if you expect to the website to change in the near future.

My only negative point so far is a small one – the default setting for adding a bookmark is for it being public which I don’t want it to be. For now I set it to private manually every time but maybe I should have a look at the source to change this behavior. Apart from that Insipid is a great help and therefore worth a recommendation!

Open source website statistics Piwik are pretty impressive

 

Until now I’ve mostly used awstats to monitor website statistics, mainly daily/monthly visitors, their origin and search terms. Today a friend and fellow student told me about the open source software for web analytics Piwik which offers a beautiful, well designed and feature-packed php/mysql-based backend. Installation is as easy as unpacking the downloaded zip and opening up the installation dialog in the browser. After setting up the mysql database and adding a superuser you’re good to go. To monitor a site you just set the URL in the Piwik backend and add some short JavaScript code to the html body of your webpage. Yes, this also means that you can monitor all your sites in the same backend, regardless if they’re on the same server or not.

Regarding features Piwik doesn’t leave much to desire: visitor graphs (beautiful!), detailed information on the user’s origin (search engine incl. search terms, website url), browser setups, the visit’s duration and provider. Even entry and exit pages, as well as automated reports via email and the option to add more functionality through widgets are included. It’s also possible to anonymize your visitor’s IP addresses to satisfy country specific privacy protection laws.

For WordPress users the plugin wp piwik (which is not developed by the same group of people) is also worth mentioning as it integrates smoothly into the WordPress backend by adding graphs and statistics to the dashboard.

What impresses me most, is that this multitude of features doesn’t make the interface clunky or difficult to use – which seems to be a common problem, especially with big open source projects. Again it’s just nice to find an open source project which is easy to install and meets or exceeds the requirements!