New Gearhead and some feedback

First, an announcement: As of next week, Gearhead will become a purely online column: Same great bits, same great bytes, no dead trees.

What you will see in the new Gearhead will be more code when needed, screenshots, product shots, longer columns (when I have more to say) and, of course, worse jokes.

Anyway, my recent peregrinations into the world of CD and DVD ripping and burning generated some interesting feedback. Reader Les Denham of Houston said of my review of Fireman's suite of CD and DVD creation and management tools, "it seems from your description to have pretty much the same capabilities as K3B -- except that K3B does not have the petty irritations you complain about, and is free." Then Les ruined it by commenting, "Oh, but you still use Windows, I suppose . . . ."

On the recent Gearhead topic of circumventing iTunes DRM, reader Alan Striegel of Russell Township, Ohio, said, "I can't believe you haven't come across myFairTunes. It makes it very straightforward . . . (as long as you haven't upgraded to the latest version of iTunes -- it supports only up to Version 7.0.2.16)."

I had heard about myFairTunes (a Windows-only tool), but I didn't get excited about it, because the program doesn't support music encrypted with the latest version of iTunes. I had upgraded (as, I suspect, have most iTunes users), so it was a case of move along; there's nothing to hear here.

Another concern is that myFairTunes dynamically patches iTunes, which probably violates the iTunes license, so I wouldn't recommend this software.

Alan pointed out that if you don't upgrade iTunes you can still download and listen to content from the iTunes shop. But there has got to be some kind of gotcha involved with not upgrading iTunes.

Reader Leon Parkhouse of Los Angeles said of my iTunes workaround: "I think burning iTunes media to CD and then ripping that back as MP3 seems to be the long route. I have been using WMA Convert for some time with great success. It uses the DRM DLL to convert from m4p to MP3 in the same way that iTunes converts from m4p to CD Audio files."

He continued: "When you are essentially removing the DRM from music, what does the method matter, except in terms of ease of use? According to WMA Convert: 'Is it illegal to convert DRM-protected files with WMAConvert? No, technically WMAConvert does not circumvent Microsoft's or Apple's iTunes DRM protection.'"

Interesting! When the publishers of WMAConvert get back to me, I'll let you know if it works as well as Leon claims.

In response to my conversion process, a reader who prefers anonymity suggested: "Now that iTunes offers DRM-free files, you may not need such a convoluted process." Apple does indeed offer DRM-free content, except only for material from the EMI catalog, which rather limits your choice. Even less appealing is these tracks cost $1.29 each instead of $0.99 each.

Enough CD/DVD stuff! Networking: I've been trying out some Homeplug gear -- the Actiontec MegaPlug 85Mbps four-port Hub (about $90), the Actiontec MegaPlug 85Mbps Ethernet Adapter (a single-port adapter, about $60) and the Netgear XE104 85Mbps Powerline 4-Port Ethernet Adapter (about $80). These things are amazing -- incredibly easy to set up, outstanding throughput, interoperable and they support encrypted links.

While fluorescent lights and heavy-duty electrical equipment can interfere with their performance, we have found these 85Mbps models to be far more robust than previous models. Here in the Gearhead Underground Bunker we have wiring that runs 600 feet or more and lots of fluorescent bulbs, and so far no dead spots.

So, if you're looking for a quick way to connect a PC to your network, and there's no wired connection nearby, 85Mbps Homeplug could be an inexpensive, effective and high-speed way to get it up and running in next to no time.

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