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The long-awaited P2P music service Qtrax is finally ready for an official launch, for really real this time. The site rolled out its 1.0 (actually, 1.0.1) software Tuesday morning, enabling users to partake in its free, legal music downloads from all four major music labels. Qtrax says that it anticipates becoming a major competitor to the iTunes Store, Amazon, and Wal-Mart's online stores, though there are severe limitations in Qtrax's format that will hinder it from reaching that goal. Qtrax was originally slated to launch in January 2008, when it overconfidently boasted of having deals with the Big Four labels. It turns out that none of those deals had been signed yet, and the boasting reportedly annoyed the record labels and pushed the launch date back indefinitely. In February, Qtrax CEO Allan Klepfisz insisted that the music was still coming, but the first music deal didn't land until June. Qtrax spent the remainder of the year trying to hammer things out with the remaining labels, and finally announced that it was ready to launch with all the major music labels (plus a handful of independent labels) in February of this year. Except, you know, the software wasn't ready just yet. Qtrax works by offering free, legal music downloads via the Gnutella P2P network. The music is supported by advertising on the site, though the "free" model comes with a number of caveats. For one, Qtrax music employs Windows Media DRM that will not only prevent you from copying files to your friends' computers, but it will also track how many times a song is played and by which artists. Additionally, you can't just use any Gnutella software in order to download the tracks—you must use Qtrax's special, Windows-only software in order to get them in the first place. And this software is dependent upon a whole menagerie of other software that you must keep up-to-date in order to download Qtrax tracks. Before installing Qtrax's software, you must first make sure that your install of Windows Media Player is up-to-date to version 11, your Microsoft .Net frameworks are at version 2.0+, and that not one, but two DRM security updates are run. After that, you must make sure to install Apple's QuickTime 7.5 or above (why? We're not sure). Once you have jumped through all of these hoops, you may finally install Qtrax's main software. From within Qtrax, you can browse the website for downloads that you'd like to queue up, and otherwise use the site like you would in a browser. When you select an album, the software will list the available tracks with links to download, buy on Amazon, add to your online playlist, or report a broken link. Clicking on external links—such as Qtrax's links to buy songs on Amazon—will open in a new tab within Qtrax without interrupting any downloads you have going. We ran into trouble trying to download tracks and play them. Every track we tried to download stalled in our Queue for hours without any progress, and we're unsure of whether this is due to Qtrax's newness (and therefore no one is acting as a Gnuetlla seed) or for some other reason, but we were never able to successfully download an entire song. Similarly, when trying to play tracks, we were greeted with an error saying, "The stream is encrypted and decryption is not supported." For now, we'll assume that this error is a result of the songs not being fully downloaded, but either way, we weren't able to fully test the end result of a Qtrax download. Even if these problems are isolated and not the norm for the typical Qtrax user, they highlight the ultimate reason why Qtrax will have a hard time competing in the digital music market. Trying to get to the service's music is inconvenient. In an age where anyone can fire up a Web browser and buy completely DRM-free MP3s from the likes of Amazon, Amie Street, 7Digital, eMusic, or anyone else for around a dollar, jumping through all these hoops gives us flashbacks to days when we had to expend effort trying to pirate these tracks in the first place (in a hypothetical past, of course). The reason the paid music model has succeeded is because it's selling us convenience—and now, flexibility—in addition to the music we want. After spending hours of my day just trying to get Qtrax going and to download even one song, I would happily pay iTunes or Amazon a dollar (or so) to just get the darn song, with the added benefit of being able to use it on any device I want without dealing with DRM hassles that Qtrax will give me. And really, if they want to go the free-and-inconvenient route, P2P users are unlikely to go for DRM-laden music files when they could just as easily get DRM-free music from the very same network.