To get started with Yahoo Music Unlimited, click the sign-up link, and enter your Yahoo ID or create a new one. If there's a plan you like, enter your credit card and contact information, but remember to cancel after a week if you want to opt out after the free trial. Yahoo has two subscription plans; the cheaper costs $6.99 per month (or $59.88 per year) and allows unlimited streaming and tethered downloads and no CD burning; the full subscription plan costs $11.99 (or $119.88 per year) and allows unlimited untethered downloads--that is, they can be transferred to supported Janus-compatible portables but can't be burned to a disc. For a CD-burnable track, subscribers have to pay 79 cents, while nonsubscribers pay 99 cents; this is why buying a compatible portable player makes more sense than using burned CDs as your main untethered listening method.
Billing is automatic each month or year, if you're on the annual plan. If you end your membership, all of your downloaded subscription content expires at the end of the subscription term. Yahoo and most other subscription services offer a short grace period where your tracks will play a few days beyond the subscription term. If you resubscribe, you need not rebuild your entire library, preferences, and playlists; Rhapsody keeps this info for six months in case you resubscribe. However, if you have local files--as most users will-- you would need to download one new track to get an updated root license, and then all local YMU files should work again. If you wish to download only the Yahoo Music Engine without the YMU features, no credit card is required. You can then purchase CD-burnable tracks or albums as if from a regular nonsubscription online music store If you end your membership, all of your downloaded subscription content expires. If you resubscribe, you'll need to rebuild your library, preferences, and playlists; Rhapsody keeps this info for six months in case you resubscribe. If you wish to download only the Yahoo Music Engine without the YMU features, no credit card is required. You can then purchase CD-burnable tracks or albums as if from a regular nonsubscription online music store.
The Yahoo Music Engine is your portal to the YMU service. Its layout is similar to Rhapsody 3's, but Rhapsody's curvy panes and contrasting colors make that application look slicker than the Yahoo Music Engine's flat, mostly gray interface. The left-hand pane provides easy access to YME's main sections--including Yahoo Music Unlimited's main page, your personal music collection, and your list of portable devices--while a new right-hand pane always displays your current playlist, even when you're doing something else, such as browsing the online catalog. Though a welcome addition, the right-side playlist pane leaves less room for browsing the service's music content, which is now sandwiched in the middle and is a little too tightly compressed on our 17-inch monitor.
In YMU's middle pane, you can search the service's contents by artist, album, and song, as well as check out other users' playlists for music to stream or download. The home page displays new album releases and customized music recommendations based on your personal preferences. You can rate any track you come across; the engine uses your ratings to help determine which music to recommend. A pull-down box called Browse By Genre provides another useful means of navigating YMU's content.
Most tracks have streaming, downloading, and buying options; some are available only for subscribers, while still others must be purchased as à la carte downloads (79 cents apiece for subscribers and 99 cents for nonsubscribers).
Like most other digital music stores, Yahoo Music Engine houses an integrated music player with all the requisite playback controls and information, such as current track, artist name, album title, and album artwork thumbnail. Clicking an album opens the artist's home page in the Yahoo Music Unlimited service, but unlike Rhapsody, Yahoo Music Unlimited doesn't provide outside links to the artists' own Web sites. Editorial content is almost nonexistent, and the little that's there ("Rock 'n' roll is often used as a generic term, but its sound is rarely predictable.") tends toward blather. Clicking an artist's bio pops up an irritating Web browser window; that content should display within the Yahoo Music Engine itself but perhaps had to be outsourced due to the aforementioned space considerations.With this revision, Yahoo adds some much-needed features that make it easier to use and more competitive with its online music rivals. Chief among them is playlist sharing, which not only makes it easy to share your playlist creations with the YMU community but also lets you search on and view other people's playlists. This is only a start at integrating good community features, but at least it lets you see other people's choices while removing the unsettling feeling of shopping in an empty store. Unlike the iTunes Music Store's iMix feature, YMU lets you hear other users' playlists in their entirety without purchasing each song (assuming you're a paid-up YMU subscriber), but it appears that Napster is still the king of community features, with its forums and a feature that lets you see what any other user is listening to at the time.
Playlists are also easier to create than they were in the first version since you can now drag songs or albums from the YMU store straight into the playlist pane. Yahoo calls this a scratch playlist; populate it on the fly, then listen to, save, or transfer it right onto your (compatible) portable device.
YMU uses Yahoo Messenger as its main conduit between members, so if you don't already have it and want to get the most out of the YMU community, you'll need to install it. After adding another Yahoo Messenger subscriber to your Friends list, you can browse and stream tracks from their personal library but can't download them directly to your PC or vice versa. If you like what you see, designate that member as an Influencer (you'll be listed as their Follower). Influencers' musical preferences trickle down to their Followers' recommendation sections, which could save time when you're looking for new music to try out.
In response to gripes that the last version didn't play well in the living room unless you connected a compatible portable player to your stereo, Yahoo now lets users stream music over their Wi-Fi networks, from their computers to their network music players. This easy process supports several popular home players, including models from Roku and Netgear. It even works with YMU's streamed content so that you don't need to download songs to play them and can access Yahoo's myriad streaming radio stations from the couch. Considering network music players' mysteriously low adoption rate so far, we're guessing that few will use this new feature, but we give Yahoo props for making home streaming so easy. People like to listen to music in their living rooms, on their full-size speaker setups. For more than a year now, iTunes has had a similar feature, but it works with only Apple's own AirPort Express.