April 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Orb’s Do-It-Yourself Music Locker Cuts Through the Cloud

Amazon’s cloud music locker is already live, and Apple and Google are working on lockers of their own, but veteran Orb Networks has two big advantages, as the concept of storing music in the cloud and accessing it on multiple devices hits the mainstream.

It’s been doing this since 2004, and lets users build their own cloud music services, mostly for free, and with no recurring fees.

Unlike true cloud music lockers from Amazon and other companies, which store one’s music on a remote server, Orb is a “DIY” (Do It Yourself) cloud music service, in the sense that your own computer acts as “the cloud,” serving music to your other computers, smartphones (with a $10 app), tablets, and/or home stereos (the last uses optional hardware).

This approach gives Orb users the ability to control the entire experience. Depending on how things play out between Google, Apple, Amazon and the music industry, Orb and similar services could offer the cheapest music cloud solution, because nobody has to pay licensing fees in order to give you access to your own music on your own computer.

Advantages

 

No Licensing Required

Amazon claims it doesn’t need any licensing to store your music on its servers because it’s just an “external hard drive.” Music publishers beg to differ. The result: Amazon, Apple and Google could end up having either to pay copyright holders to give you access to your own music or curtail their features in various ways. However, we doubt that there’s a lawyer on the planet who could successfully argue that Orb has to pay them to give you access to your own computer.

“The beauty of Orb is its fundamental architecture,” Orb Network CEO Joe Costello told Evolver.fm via phone. “We don’t have to have a deal with anyone [including record labels, publishers, and third party services such as Pandora] in order to make it work… It makes [us] deal-proof, and we can do this no matter what those guys think.”

Works with Collections of Any Size

MSpot, Amazon and other cloud-based music services require you to upload every single MP3 in your music collection to the cloud, which can take days or even over a week. In addition, every time you acquire a new piece of content, you have to upload it to your locker. Not so with Orb’s DIY cloud music service, which can index even extremely large libraries in minutes and make them available for remote streaming. Rescanning your library to add new content only takes seconds.

No Recurring Costs

Although the mobile app that allows you to stream your music onto a cellphone costs $10, and the stereo-connecting hardware costs $79, there are no recurring costs associated with Orb, th way there are with Amazon and, we presume, Apple’s and Google’s impending cloud music services.

Home Stereo Integration without Apple’s Restrictions

If you choose to run Orb, you can opt for the $79 Orb Music Player MP-1, which lets you stream music from your computer to any stereo in the house, using your Wi-Fi connection and free remote control apps for iPhone or Android. Of course, Apple’s AirPlay does something similar — but that requires iTunes, or in the case of third-party applications, the app developer needs to integrate AirPlay. On the other hand, Orb works with as many services as Orb can integrate (Pandora, Sirius, iTunes, etc.), and claims it can easily add support for whatever other services people want, with none of the business conflicts that could prevent Apple from doing the same.

Plays On Any Computer for Free — Or iPhone/Android for $10

The typical music storage locker charges you annual storage fees, but not so with Orb, because you’re using your own storage. You use Orb to play you home-based music on any internet-connected computer without paying a cent — or, for access on Android or iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad), you need only pay a one-time fee of $10. Orb told us it plans to release a new version of this software in May.

Disadvantages

 

Dependent on your home computer’s upstream speed

In order for Orb to work properly, and at a good-sounding bit rate, your home computer needs to have a decent upstream connection. In our testing, using a Time Warner Cable RoadRunner account, we never encountered skipping — except when someone at home started using the computer that was doing the streaming. If you plan to use Orb to serve your tunes to other locations, it helps if nobody on the home front uses the computer that’s running OrbCaster — or even your home internet connection — for anything else.

Insecurity

Do you like to run a password-protected screensaver on the computer where your music lives? Not anymore, you don’t. The computer in question needs to keep running the OrbCaster application, meaning that you don’t want any password protection kicking in.

Requires Control Over Your Router

When we installed OrbCaster on an office computer that was connected to the internet through a shared router, we were unable to play music from it because it was blocking Port 80, which Orb needs to stream music. However, when we installed OrbCaster on a home computer, we were able to access it from work and from the Orb iPhone app. In some cases, you might have to reconfigured your router to unblock Port 80, which could be enough to stymie technically unsophisticated users or prevent this system from working at all, if you don’t have control over the router. (Luckily, it costs nothing to find out.)

Only One Computer Can Act As the Cloud

If you have multiple computers with music on them, only one of them can run OrbCaster at a time. The open-source DIY cloud service Tomahawk does a better job for those who store music on multiple machines; all you have to do is log in with the same password in both places, and you can access all you tunes.

Is Orb right for you? Hopefully this list helps you figure that out.

But even if it’s not, the mere existence of DIY cloud-based music services like this, which require no licensing, could encourage the music industry to be more permissive when it comes to whatever Apple and Google are planning. If copyright holders, and by extension cloud-based music lockers, set the price too high, early adopters (and eventually everyone else) could decide to build their own cloud lockers instead using Orb, Tomahawk, and similar services.