The twins' birthday is just around the corner, so Carina and I went out to do a spot of gift shopping.
Last Christmas I bought for the girls some cheapo MP3 players I purchased from Woot. These were a good introduction to the world of digital music for the kids: the girls had to ask Carina to load new songs onto them, and it usually worked out to be a somewhat entertaining family moment for the girls to look at the available selection and make requests, and for Carina to make suggestions. It also helped us ensure that the kids were listening to music we felt was appropriate for their age.
Now that the kids have their own laptops, they both requested new MP3 players, so that they can start to manage their playlists on their own. I think both girls have demonstrated to us that they are, indeed, ready for this level of independence, and I think that by and large they will continue to listen to music that we find appropriate (even if we don't necessarily like the music ourselves).
Two challenges exist for me when making a media player selection. First and foremost, I do not want my kids to be locked into the iTunes Music Store (or any other content delivery black box). I recognize that the iPod is perceived as the gold standard of MP3 players, but I want my kids to understand the limitations one agrees to live with when locking oneself into that platform. I don't think I'm ready to explain digital restrictions management to them, but I would like to inculcate in them a healthy respect for the value of choice.
Second, since my kids use Ubuntu GNU/Linux on their laptops, I want a media player that will work without the requirement of installing some fatuous "media management" application. My ideal player provides a simple filesystem into which one can simply drop music files to be played. Identifying a media player than can do this, on a spur-of-the-moment shopping trip is non-trivial. The investigation process was not generally helped by the Best Buy sales rep to whom I turned for assistance.
"Which of these MP3 players can one use without being required to install their silly media management application?" I asked politely. The first clerk looked about lazily before informing me that they all required the vendor's application. A second clerk approached, and I repeated my question. He glanced at the selection and said "Oh, you can use Windows Media Player with these here!" Not exactly what I asked, but closer to the mark.
I really wanted to buy the Samsung U3 player, because it supports Ogg Vorbis audio playback, something that very few retail players do. Unfortunately, the USB interface is on a retractable lever, which looks sure to break. We looked next at the Insignia brand MP3 players, particularly the small 1GB sport models. These probably would have worked for the twins, but the clerks' lack of familiarity about how to load music turned me off.
I decided to purchase the Sansa Clip player, because I had vague memories of other people saying that the Sansa line was an acceptable product. FM tuner and voice recorder capabilities are nice features, and the screens were extremely easy to read. I opened one of them up as soon as I got home in order to charge it via USB cable connected to my laptop. As soon as I plugged it in, Ubuntu's Nautilus file manager opened up a window showing me the contents of the device's filesystem, one folder of which was named "MUSIC". I quickly skimmed the instruction booklet, and to my delight the instructions for loading new music onto it were simply "Use Windows Explorer to drag files into the "MUSIC" folder on the device". This was exactly what i wanted in a player! The kids will have no trouble loading their songs onto these players, and I'm confident that they'll be very pleased with the upgrade from their old MP3 devices.
Now I get to look forward to explaining to my kids how to rip their CDs, and to instill into them an understanding of the current state of copyright law.