Who hates paying for music? I don’t know about you, but I sure do. For those of us that do pay for our music, there are not many viable choices. You could visit Napster or iTunes, but both of those, in addition to making you pay for the music, saddle the tracks with Digital Rights Management (DRM) to limit the way you use the songs. Furthermore, you are limited to what you can do with the tracks. Napster lets you put your music on a rather small list of compatible MP3 players and allows you to burn CDs, but will disable your ability to continue to play the tracks if you decide to cancel the service. Apple’s iTunes is not much better. You can only put the songs you buy on the iPod, it limits you to only being able to play and manage the music through iTunes and its songs come in a proprietary format. Fortunately, there is a service that allows you to avoid having to deal with these headaches.

That service is Ruckus. Ruckus is a website that offers all people with a university email address (.edu) to download music and movies for free. All you have to do is register for the service and download the player. You now have access to over 2.1 million songs and, admittedly, a rather sparse collection of movies. In exchange for being able to download the tracks and movies for free and keep them as long as you want, you have to put up with ads displayed on the website and buy the Ruckus player while listening to your songs. You are also allowed to transfer the tracks to any mp3 player except the iPod, but they do charge you a fee to do so. You are also not allowed to burn the tracks to a CD. However, anyone who can use Google will be able to find out how to work around these restrictions. I must stress that doing this, however, is illegal, and could, technically, put your ass in court.

The selection of movies that Ruckus offers is rather small, but you can download such hits as “Training Day,” “Natural Born Killers” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” You have to watch the films using the Ruckus player, but again, it allows you to download and watch the movie legally and for free.

From a technical standpoint, the software that is required for use of Ruckus is quite well-designed. It is spyware and virus-free, and uses few system resources. Tracks and films from Ruckus download very quickly and the file management system is better than iTunes. The tracks that are downloaded are stored locally on your hard drive in the .wma format. As mentioned above, they are bundled with DRM restrictions, so you are restricted as to how you can use the tracks.

Ultimately, for a free service, Ruckus is quite attractive. The selection of music on Ruckus is quite diverse and new releases are usually available quickly. I have been using Ruckus for the last two weeks and have not had any problems with the software, and it has not had any undesired effects on my PC. Unfortunately, Ruckus is not perfect, as you cannot burn the tracks to CD. You can transfer the tracks to a portable music player, but you will have to pay a small fee. However, if you are like me and do not have a CD player in your car and really only listen to music when you are using your computer, Ruckus is a very attractive service because downloading music for free is far superior to paying a monthly subscription to Napster or getting songs in the proprietary, low-quality format that iTunes gives you. If you are interested, go to www.ruckus.com and see for yourself.