While Napster is crucified in the US courts, gadget makers are building the next generation of MP3 players.

CD players will eventually be dumped by users for MP3 or other compression technology players, according to research from analyst firm IDC. However, these new devices are unlikely to rely on Flash memory due to cost and capacity constraints of Flash. In fact, they're going to look just like… CD players.

MP3 decoding capabilities are increasingly being added to traditional portable CD players, and IDC predicts hybrid players will outsell devices designed to play only MP3-type files in the US by 2003.

Another alternative to CD and MP3 players may be the use of emerging wireless technologies to access music files over the internet, though this would entail wireless connection costs.

It is likely that the majority of these new devices will be portable, but most people in the near future will continue to use their home computers to store and play MP3s. So far, the trick for consumers has been to find a way to take those music files on the road, according to the IDC.

Music fans have faced two stumbling blocks on the path to portable MP3s. The first is expense: the cost ratio of hours of music storage to price of Flash memory is high.

A second barrier to the growth of portable MP3 players is the issue of the competing interests of record companies, retailers, artists and manufacturers in developing an effective way of protecting music copyrights.

The music and electronics industry will overcome these barriers, said Brian Ma, a senior analyst at IDC. However, it is not yet clear to Ma how this will be done.

IDC is part of the IDG group, as is PC Advisor