Geek Box

With Napster in legal turmoil, computer-bound music listeners are searching for increased access to favorite songs without having to pay. Alternative peer-to-peer delivery systems haven't really delivered, but the beta version of the Bitbop tuner ( from Audio Mill Inc. is an intriguing—not to mention addictive—substitute. Rather than relying on sharing with others, the tuner searches Internet radio stations for songs based on your preferences. I typed in a few band names—Sonic Youth, Calexico, Modest Mouse, and Stereolab—and the results were nearly instantaneous: Bitbop found songs by these artists playing on stations and offered exact matches as well as stylistically similar music. The tuner fills with about 20 songs, some of which get recorded onto your personalized tuner, creating a sort of accidental jukebox; the best part may be seeing which songs the scanner comes up with. You can't download these tracks to a portable player, so the Bitbop's usefulness is limited, though a button offers to ship your playlist to a friend's computer. Audio Mill makes a point of comparing the service to VCR taping—a contention Napster made unsuccessfully in court—but it's more similar to a radio's scan button, albeit one that knows your tastes. The Bitbop won't replace Napster, but the technology's clearly piquing the interest of media players looking to protect copyrights. Microsoft has a beta on the way that leans in a comparable direction. For the time being, the idea of free music on the Net persists, and Bitbop delivers.—Richard A. Martin

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