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    Weekend tech blog: Amazon's Cloud-y dreams

    Amazon makes a "cloud" move that portends bigger battles ahead. Plus, BMW apps for the road, and a way to share the best of the web.

    Seattle-based Amazon.com brought the "cloud" or cloud-based computing a step closer to the average consumer last week with the debut of the Cloud Drive and the Cloud Player.

    In simple terms, Amazon lets you upload your digital music library to Amazon’s media servers, or the Cloud Drive. The Cloud Player lets you play your music on any Internet-connected device wherever you happen to be: a computer, smartphone, or tablet using WiFi or a cell data plan.

    Well, on almost any device, but more on that in a moment.

    The basic plan allows for 5 gigabytes (GB) of free storage,or about 1,250 MP3 recordings. For larger libraries, Amazon will sell you additional storage on an annual plan: 20gb for $20, 50gb for $50, and $100 for 100gb. For truly humongous collections up to 1 terabyte, the fee will set you back $1,000 annually.

    Amazon is also offering a hard-to-refuse offer at launch: 15 additional gigabytes of storage for a year for the price of one digital MP3 album. If you buy music from the Amazon mp3 store, it automatically loads into your account — and does not count against your storage limit. Sweet!

    (Personal note: I am now the owner of “1+1 Ok 2” by Marco Matematiko, an 85-cent MP3 album from Amazon’s bargain album bin, which sounds at its most musical like a drum machine mating violently with a balloon. I’m not exactly fond of my purchase, but 15gb free is 15gb free.)

    These days, when major companies make this kind of debut splash, the introductory nod usually goes to Apple devices. But not this time. In the smartphone/tablet marketplace dogfight, the Cloud Player is available only to Android users. It’s part of an upgrade to Amazon’s previous free MP3 player app, which now gives users the option of either playing music you've stored on your phone or tapping into your music stored in the cloud.

    Some critics speculate the Apple freezeout is because of the competition between the two megacorporations. Whatever the reason, I am not losing sleep waiting for Amazon’s PR department to call back with the answer.

    (If you’re an Apple iOS user and really hungry to get into Amazon’s Cloud drive, here’s a method for doing it from gottabemobile.com. It’s not perfect—you’ll be downloading your music to your device instead of streaming it — but it is a way in.)

    The Cloud Drive account is accessed on computers by signing into your Amazon account. The user experience is smooth, and the playback on computers and on a smartphone using a cell data plan is quite good. You can create your own folders for your music, One precaution: Streaming music for long periods of time on a smartphone via a data plan can eat heavily into your monthly data allowance. Check your data plan early and often.

    While this is being billed as a music player operation, it’s evident that Amazon has more ambitious plans. The Cloud Drive upload page shows designated folders for documents, pictures, and video in addition to music.

    As an experiment, I uploaded a video file (mpeg.4 format) to the drive’s video folder and tried playing it. A player app suddenly appeared on my desktop; it wouldn't play my video, but it’s obviously a placeholder for an all-purpose media player to come. Imagine that.

    Along with its recently announced free instant video service, its new Android app store, the new Cloud drive/player initiative, and rumors galore about its possible development of a tablet, the tea leaves strongly suggest that Amazon is gearing up to play for the Internet version of Risk on a level playing field with Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

    CNN Money has an interesting piece on how Amazon beat Apple and Google to the cloud with its music plan: an intriguing footnote to this story.

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