Ruckus Music Service: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

15 Apr

Today, we’ll take a deep look at the Ruckus Music Service. Currently, it serves over 2.75 million songs to its target audience of college students. Based in Herndon, Virginia (a suburb of Washington D.C.), Ruckus offers a subscription based music service that caters to anyone with a .edu email address. Many Universities around the country are making the switch to Ruckus from popular (and similar) music services like Napster. Ruckus offers a variety of online music features which appeal primarily to students like new, fresh music, and student inspired playlists.

The Good-

First we’ll look at the good. Ruckus offers an extensive collection of music, movies & TV programs. They serve a growing collection of over 2.75 million music tracks to anyone with a higher education email account (ending in .edu). Ruckus joins the already crowded and convoluted subscription music business along with Napster, Yahoo Music, Rhapsody, and Amazon. All these services, including Ruckus, utilize one month licenses for each track downloaded. After every month, the user must re-subscribe to that particular song or it ceases to play. Because of this fact, you never own the song, you are technically renting it. With all of these services, you must pay a fee per month in order to continue listening to the tracks. The best part about Ruckus is that it’s different from other services if you are a college student. If you are signed in as a part of an .edu account, you can continue to renew the licenses every month. The fact that Ruckus downloads are free for college students without restrictions and are also free from viruses and other internet malware makes Ruckus a top-notch service.

Historically, since the inception of Napster in 1999, college students have been the archetype for illegal music downloads. Since the beginning of Peer to Peer (P2P) file sharing networks and the prolific file sharing among college students, Universities have been looking for a way to fight this phenomenon. The Universities’ answer came in the way of subscription based music services. A good deal of Universities-including Penn State- paid for the new, legal version of Napster. This practice cut down file-sharing drastically among college students. Recently, Penn State signed a contract with Ruckus in order to serve its 24 campuses a music service that appeals to the modern college student.

Ruckus gives users access to brand spanking new albums from popular artists across many genres. Every imaginable genre is represented in its library, which gives college students and other users a broad range of music to sample and enjoy. Ruckus also offers a weekly and monthly collection of playlists generated by its staff and students from Universities around the country. Under preliminary investigation, Ruckus offers a fairly extensive catalogue of music. Most artists, tracks and albums that I searched for were well accounted for in the search results and new tracks and oldies are equally well represented. Ruckus even features Indie bands who are trying to get their band off the ground. Services like these have helped new bands get their names out into the mainstream audience.

The Bad-

Even though Ruckus excels in numerous categories, the service has a number of problems. Many of these problems lay within the software. Essentially, you download the Ruckus Player which allows users to browse and interact with their downloaded, licensed musical content. When you have the player, you must log into the Ruckus website and browse for music. After you have found a desired album, you select the tracks you want, then hit download. Your internet browser automatically downloads the permissions for these files and relays the information to the Ruckus Player. At that point, the Player takes over and you can check the status of your download. The problem here is that in order to download and play the music, two applications must be used. We do not see the simplicity and sleekness many people have experienced when purchasing content from Apple’s iTunes Music Store. This gap in ease of use hurts the overall Ruckus experience. Even downloading illegal content on P2P networks is more seamless than Ruckus. If Ruckus offered an interactive store within the Ruckus Player, they could eliminate a big hurdle and better their users’ experience.

Next, we’ll take a look at the UI and overall look of the Ruckus Player. My first impression with the player was that it is very neutral. It’s white on black color isn’t at all impressive, but it get the job done without being completely offensive to the eyes. The next thing I noticed was the ads for their own service as well as several companies which they must be aligned with (like Monster Jobs). This struck me as weird considering the user has already downloaded the player and has a vested interest in continuing to use it. Why would they need to put annoying, flashy ads up? That being said, the browsing features and sorting fields are decent enough to begin playing music right away.

Perhaps the biggest gripe that I personally had when using Ruckus was concerning their website. Since browsing must be solely done on (and not within their Player), traffic is understandably heavy. When searching for content, or navigating between simple links on their page, I feel like I’m back in the days of dial-up internet- where I could get up, run to the bathroom and get back while waiting for a page to load. My suggestion is to purchase additional bandwidth to their service, especially now that Ruckus is becoming more and more popular among college students and entire University systems. Even though the pages on the website are slow to load, the actual downloading of the content goes by at a fairly quick pace. Because of this fact, the overall experience is tolerable and worth users’ time in the long run.

The Ugly-

The biggest grip people have with Ruckus is the lack of support for IPods and iTunes. The tracks you download are in a Windows Media Audio (.wma) format. IPods cannot play this specific format but play the popular .mp3 format and the proprietary format .aac. The tracks you download from Ruckus are not only in a .wma format, but they are protected by a technology called DRM. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, which is a technology that music publishers and copyright owners use to limit the spread and usage of computer content. This prevents students from converting their Ruckus tracks for compatibility with other players. However, with an additional fee (or support by certain Universities) users can purchase a special music player that is compatible with these DRM protected Ruckus tracks. Players from Archos, Creative Labs, iRiver, and Sandisk are all compatible. To find a compatible player, click here. Even though these tracks are protected by DRM, some enterprising students have found ways around this. So called DRM-strippers remove the DRM restrictions from the music tracks. Users can then import the “naked” (DRM-less) .WMA tracks into ITunes for the automatic conversion to the popular .mp3 format. Then a user is all set to add the track to their IPod for further enjoyment. Even though steps can be taken to remove this DRM, the creators of this technology are always coming out with updated version which renders the DRM-stripping program useless. All of this withstanding, the practice of removing DRM from a song is illegal.

The bottom line is that Ruckus is a great tool for listening to music on your computer. Even though the music can’t be legally played on popular music players, there are ways to leverage technology against DRM. For the normal college student, Ruckus offers a terrific selection of music- everyone can find something for them. Ruckus is also a great way to discover new artists and develop different musical tastes. With a few changes, the Ruckus Player could go from a functional player to an advanced medium for music playback. Further streamlining of the webpage and tighter integration with the Player will lead to a better user experience. If you are a college student looking for a new way to experience music on your computer, Ruckus is a great free service.

Over and out.


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Posted by on April 15, 2008 in Product/Service Review


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