Microsoft, IBM, Phone companies make digital leap

It won't be long before the Net-connected music lover will be able to sample and hold the tunes of his choice without having to visit Tower Records. High-speed transmission, high-density storage, and CD-quality music online---the three parts of the downloading puzzle---all fell into place the week of November 10.

On that day Microsoft announced a deal with Liquid Audio, a leading developer of encrypted digital music-delivery systems, to provide online music and music-marketing services. The announcement came in the wake of a similar announcement by Microsoft and ATT (see related story).

On the same day, IBM unveiled its new high-density disk drive, which achieves an unprecedented 2.7 billion bits per square inch of magnetic disk surface. The new drives will be shipped to equipment makers starting in December, and the technology will be licensed to other hardware makers. The largest of the drives, with a capacity of 16.8 gigabytes, will retail for under $900.

On November 13, Pacific Bell announced its FasTrak DSL (digital subscriber service), which promises transmission rates of up to 1.5Mbs (megabits per second), almost 50 times faster than is possible with normal phone lines. FasTrak is being rolled out first in Silicon Valley and other parts of the SF Bay Area at costs of up to $250/month per subscriber for unlimited usage. Other phone companies will follow shortly with the service.

The three developments mean that quality audio (and video) will soon be available for properly equipped users to download and enjoy. Digital has yet to achieve the instant realtime performance of analog broadcasting, but it gets closer all the time. See Stereophile's January issue for more.