Apple has knocked on the head iTunes 4's ability to stream music over the Internet.
The modification comes in iTunes 4.0.1, released yesterday and downloadable from Apple's Web site and via Mac OS X's Software Update system.
iTunes' music sharing facility was launched alongside Apple's online Music Store as a sign of the service's user-friendliness. Touted as a way of allowing downloaded music to be played back on up to three locally networked Macs. However, canny users quickly uncovered the protocol Apple's software engineers had used to implement sharing and began publishing on the Web details of how to extend iTunes sharing to other computers via the Internet.
Apple's motivation in blocking such activity undoubtedly lies in a desire to prevent piracy and keep its relationships with the major music companies sweet. We tried a number of iTunes-based sharing facilities but found no direct way to save streamed songs on our own hard disk - it isn't sharing in the Napster sense - but since there are undoubtedly hacks that allow you to do so - not to mention legitimate apps that can perform the function for you - Apple has a point.
That said, with KaZaA now topping the download charts, Apple's efforts will undoubtedly do little to stem the tide of free music downloads on the Net, and almost certainly limit iTunes as a force for music promotion. The 30-second clips Apple offers are no substitute for hearing the full track before buying.
Of course, if you can listen to the full track at will, why buy it at all? Such an attitude has clear implications for Apple's Music Service revenue stream, so Apple has another strong reason to turn off this particular tap.
Alas, the genie's out of the bottle, and presumably relatively few existing users will switch to 4.0.1, specifically to continue streaming music across the Net. Apple may well have adjusted the online service to only operate with 4.0.1, thereby forcing users to upgrade, but with so many users outside the US - and thus unable to use the service - that will only bother North American iTunes users. ®