The latest in Apple's line of "Killer Apps", which includes iMovie2, iDVD and now iTunes.

Somewhat similar in functionality to the popular mp3 cataloging/encoding/playback application Music Match Jukebox, iTunes lets you pop an audio CD into your Mac, rip it, encode it, and catalog it in a easily sortable database. In addition to this, iTunes also includes cool visualization effects, is compatible with many portable mp3 players, and lets you burn audio CDs by simply creating a playlist and hitting the burn button!

Oh yes, and best of all, it's free! Go download your copy today!

Rumored to be called iMusic, Steve Jobs introduced iTunes in his keynote at MacWorld San Fransisco 2001. Steve actually called it iMusic once in his speech. It is an Apple-branded version of Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP with some improvements and an interface overhaul.

Some of the similarities between iTunes and SoundJam:
1) Choosing "Get Info..." for a music file yields the *identical* dialogue in both programs, from the three-tabbed layout (Info, Tags, and Options) right down to every single item, button, and label.

2) The control strip module bundled and auto-installed with each program is also identical except for a different icon and "iTunes" inserted in place of "SoundJam MP" in the pop-up menu.

3) The repeat and shuffle buttons at the bottom of the playlist window in iTunes bear the same icons as their SoundJam siblings. Their behavior is identical also - for example, option-clicking the shuffle button in both applications reshuffles the playlist. Keyboard commands for playing, pausing, moving between tracks, etc are identical.

Weirdest of all:

4) SoundJam has its own unique alert sound, a bubble-sounding ding. When SoundJam is the frontmost application, that alert sound preempts the system alert sound. For example, if you hit the power key while running SoundJam, the Shut Down dialogue appears accompanied by the SoundJam bubble-ding. I hit the power key in iTunes: up popped the Shut Down dialogue, accompanied by the *SoundJam* bubble-ding.

Source: Macintouch (www.macintouch.com) and Duncan Brook

iTunes, one of Apple's flagship iLife products, has now been ported to Windows by those wonderful people at the gloss-fruited ones. Albeit only available for Windows 2000 and XP, it's a brilliant step forward for the company. If you look at it cynically, it's just a way for Apple to increase the potential market for its iTunes Music Store, but it's a great media player nonetheless and one hell of a lot better than the Microsoft equivalent. What would take myriad options in Windows Media Player takes a few seconds in iTunes, and the interface is so simple it's ludicrous.

So what's the fuss all about, Joe?

Many Windows XP users have admired Mac OS X from afar for some time, everything from its lickable interface to the solidity of the whole package. Many Linux/BSD users shared the same mentality. One of the most lusted after applications for these systems was iTunes, which looked to be a great MP3 player with a kickass interface and with even better playlisting. Plus they could sync their iPods, lucky bastards! Several iTunes-alikes were created, notably JuK and XTunes (now Sumi), but none of these came close to the functionality or sheer style of iTunes. I myself was one of the crowd who wanted a taste of that sweet sweet brushed metal glory, and worked out a complicated system involving JuK and some insane command line arguments which altered the KDE theme to a POS brushed metal thing. It "resembled" iTunes, but not so much as to make me think it wasn't a horribly hacked together attempt to fuse a great MP3 jukebox and iTunes' looks.

While I was still a 'nux user, I read about the Windows version of iTunes on Slashdot, and how goddamn great it was. I still liked Linux, but the idea that I too could enjoy something I had strived to duplicate in a matter of minutes sort of made me want to use Windows . Indeed, the only barrier to me actually dropping Linux at that point was that a) I hated Windows from the very bottom of my soul with a scary seething anger which would give Bag of Crushed Child nightmares, and b) all of my files, and therefore my music, was on the virtually impenetrable Ext2. The final straw was when a home network change meant I had to use XP, or else. Ah well, I thought, at least I'll have iTunes.

And goddammit if I don't want to stay with the Billgatesebub operating system just for this one program! Never have I actually seen an MP3 player which did what I want it to, rather than what Bill wants it to ("No, I really don't wanna rip my music in WMA files, Bill. So long and thanks for all the torture.") and makes it easy to do simple tasks that could take ages on other players.

So, what are these cool features?

First off is Smart Playlists. These sound crap, but are actually damn cool. Say you have half an hour before you go out, and you want to listen to some tunes. PLUS you want all of the tunes you listen to to be ones that you like personally, not just some good ones with some mediocre ones you have kicking around, like you'd get on shuffle.

iTunes to the rescue! Click File>New Smart Playlist, give it the conditions for what you want to hear (30 minutes, 4 star rated and above) and BAM: random tracks are selected from your music library according to your criteria, ready for playing/burning as you see fit. As far as I know, this feature does not exist in Windows Media Player, and the only thing close to it within WMP is a preset playlist which cannot have its criteria changed and merely selects songs which you have rated above a certain level. iTunes does this all flexibly and with no fuss. It's a lifesaver if you're on a tight schedule, or just want to listen to the cream of your music collection. If I recall correctly, you win out here anyway-Microsoft wants you to pay for Plus! Digital Media Edition for this functionality-god knows why.

Another great feature is Music Sharing. Put simply, this is a way of streaming your music to another computer running iTunes, be it PC or Mac, over a LAN. It's of no practical use to me, but it's still a nice thing to show off occasionally and make light of your mad skillz. I showed this to my mother, and she was goddamn impressed as a "Joe's Music" icon appeared in the iTunes source list and the PC started to play Seven Nation Army. Like I said, it's not much use to me, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would think it's the shit.

A lot of things are just pure convenience. The first time I ripped music with iTunes, I nearly pissed myself at the sheer ease and convenience. Insert Coldplay disc, click import, and a minute later the dulcet tones of Chris Martin start filtering through my speakers. Even better, iTunes encodes in the crystal clear AAC format, which actually makes things sound better than on CD. Burning is just as easy: make a playlist, click Burn CD and a cute animation signals that your disc is being toasted at this very minute. iTunes also has a very handy minimode, which shrinks the window down to a simple 100x50 silver box with play/pause, forward and backward buttons. Resizing this window horizontally reveals a nifty little mock-LCD panel which can either display song information or a simple visualisation. It's just insanely convenient to be able to have your music a few hundred pixels away and at the same time not taking up much real estate. The only irritating thing about this is that even in the minimode iTunes still has a taskbar button (a problem expertly solved by later versions of ICQ). Even so, Windows Media Player's solution isn't any better: in place of a WMP taskbar button, it puts a toolbar on the taskbar, about the width of a taskbar button; thereby eradicating the point of having such a thing available.

Another nice touch is album art. Songs can have album art associated with them, which is displayed while the song plays. It's utterly useless, but it's nice to be able to go to Amazon, find a cover and drag 'n' drop it onto iTunes to link it to an MP3 you just downloaded. As I said, it serves no purpose, but damn is it cool. A very good feature is Sound Check, which processes your songs and keeps them all at the same volume-no more reaching for the volume knob frantically!

I'm hooked on this program. It just works-albeit without playing WMA files, but who has those anyway? Whereas the Microsoft equivalent (or the Real equivalent for that matter) has all the grace, style, finess and usefulness of a hippo on crack, iTunes is fast and simple, allowing you to actually do what the program is meant to do-play music-rather than fartarse around telling it what goes where. It is available from www.apple.com/itunes. Be warned, because if you don't have QuickTime already, it'll be a 20MB download. It's worth it though (and QuickTime is always handy for those pesky movie trailers that insist on it...)

Note: I specifically did not talk about the iTunes Music Store because a) that's a subject for another node and b) it hasn't been released in Britain yet. When it is released, I will post my observations in the correct node.

To my own shock and horror, I am going back to iTunes, even now that it has burned me twice.

The first time, it erased all of my ID3 tags when I imported my music into it. For non computer geeks, that means it erased all of the artist, title, and album information from the files so they could only be listed by filename. Then, once I replaced those manually over the course of weeks, then rated all of my songs in iTunes, its internal library corrupted, erasing all of my playlists and ratings. To someone mildly obsessive about database integrity, this was a severe blow.

Why, then, am I going back to a program that has given me some very serious headaches? Because it seems to be the only program capable of dealing with mp3's in an intelligent way, without having to go through a 2000 song library one song at a time to pick out ones you feel like hearing. As a type manager (a program that deals with a particular kind of information in a way that is sensible for that data type), iTunes really cannot be beat. Smart playlists are a blessing, so I will backup all of my music, cross my fingers, and give iTunes another go.

Apple's iTunes application is an excellent piece of software. As of November 2005, iTunes 6 provides a means to play audio (in formats as diverse as WAV, MP3, and AAC), video (any QuickTime-compatible format), download podcasts, and purchase songs and videos via the iTunes Music Store, or iTMS, currently the most successful online (legal) music store.

iTunes can be downloaded from Apple's website, http://www.apple.com, for both Mac OS X and for Microsoft Windows (2000 or above), as well as being bundled with every new Macintosh. It also forms a part of Apple's iLife suite of 'lifestyle' products, although it is the only member of the suite to have been ported to another platform. Older versions of iTunes which will run on Mac OS 9 are still available from Apple's support website, and with a little tinkering, iTunes 1.1 can be convinced to install and run on Mac OS 8.6.

When using iTunes, one imports songs and videos into a central library, which consists of a database within the current user's directory (on Mac OS X, in ~/Music). Users can play music directly from the library, or separate playlists can be made, or you can simply play randomly-selected tracks in the 'Party Shuffle' mode. This allows all users to have their own libraries of music, but if one wants to share iTunes libraries between users, there is no obvious way to do so. Thankfully, it is possible, at least under OS X.

First, make sure you're logged in as an administrator, and close iTunes, making sure it is not running. (Look under its icon in the Dock: if it has a triangle (or glowing dot) beneath, it's still running in the background. A quick Command+Q from within iTunes will ensure it's closed.) Now, move the 'iTunes' folder from the user whose library you want to share, into a directory everyone can access. (Their library will be in /Users/username/Music/iTunes, so it's this folder we want to move - put it somewhere like /Users/Shared)

We need to change the permissions of this folder, so that everybody can read and write to it. Either use the terminal, or Get Info on the folder, and under 'Ownership', set everything to Read & Write. Click "Apply to enclosed items", which will set these permissions to the folder's contents, then close the Info window.

Back in the Music folder in the user's Home, create an alias to the shared iTunes folder, renaming it back to simply 'iTunes'. When iTunes runs, it will then follow this alias to the real location of the library. All you need to do now, is to log onto every account you want to share the library with, delete their iTunes folder, and create the alias to the shared folder.

NO! NO! It's not an excellent piece of software! It's a bloated, resource-hogging, user-railroading shitheap like most of things that Steve Jobs belches out! Kill! Kill!

I should know, I've had to suffer it for five years because I was gifted a 30gb iPod in 2006 and I've recently come to the conclusion that iTunes is a hateful, hateful, application. In fact, had I known that one can "sync" (gnagh, a word I hate) one's iPod with other things I would have exorcised it summarily at an earlier date.

Firstly, it's ridiculously large. Installed on my (soon to be old) laptop, it took up about 67 megabytes. Plus another 35 megabytes for QuickTime without which it will not run, and which in turn is slow and has a habit of crashing for shiggles. And besides, you can play .movs and .3gps on VLC VideoLan if you really must. Why you need QuickTime to run iTunes (it complains and refuses to start without it) is something I have never understood. I suspect that Monsieur Jobs has taken a spot of inspiration from Realplayer on this.

And it's clunky and slow and uses too much memory - 30 megabytes on this laptop. Furthermore, opening and closing it became positively glacial and it decided to have to think about whether or not to scroll up or down to what I wanted to listen to or not when I tried to do it. That's when it wasn't outright crashing. Then, when I'd ripped myself a new CD that I'd bought, it would think about it for AGES while it decided to import the new MP3 files I'd generated into the library. If I selected an entire folder and selected "Add to iTunes library" it would only ever add three or four at random, and the last track in the album. So I'd have to go and manually double click each file at random. Fun. Try doing that with Cassetteboy's "The Parker Tapes," all 98 tracks of it. You'd be up all night double clicking, waiting while it thinks about it, imports, starts trying to play that track, thinking about it some more, and so on. Probably it's deciding if you're cool enough to play with Monsieur Jobs's executive toys and taking it's time over it. Or surreptitiously e-mailing its hipster mates and sneering at your music collection.

But then again, it's not really a music player, not at heart. It's an elaborately designed advert for the iTunes music store, where you can pay for crippled (read: DRM'd) music files in a proprietary format that nobody uses other than other iTunes users and that you can't put on any player than an iPod. iTunes also seems designed to try and trap you into opening the iTunes store in as many ways as possible. It's in the base directory of the left-hand side bar and you can't remove that link. Furthermore, the main "table" showing al your music is a minefield of little arrows next to track names that are links to the appropriate page of the store. Sorry, but no. I want a music player, not some demented version of Minesweeper where the penalty for losing is to be advertised to. And if I wanted to buy music in download format off the internets, I'd open up Firefox and, yano, shop around for what I was looking for in terms of cheapness and DRM free-ness. Or maybe I'd, yano, LEAVE THE HOUSE and go and buy the CD.

Now you may be thinking, "A-ha! But Steve Jobs has already your soul, young Hazelnut, for you own an iPod and you need iTunes to copy everything onto it, n'est-ce pas?" To which my response is, "Yaahh boo sucks to you, fanboy! I can transfer my music onto my iPod with Winamp, which is smaller (12 megabytes to download), uses less RAM (11,976 KB according to Task Manager), faster to actually put things into, and doesn't foist you with QuickTime and other assorted bollox that you don't want, nor does it try to sell you things." And not only that - with Winamp you can transfer FROM your iPod or other music player to your computer, so if your hard disk explodes or you get a new computer, you don't lose everything as your iPod is a suitable backup. It's absolutely astounding, I must say, that the official Apple software for your iPod does not do this. I suspect they were terrified of being sued because then people could just use their iPods to pirate everything willy nilly by plugging and unplugging into everyone's computers willy nilly, sort of like a human-powered Bittorrent stream.

And that's why I fundamentally dislike iTunes. There's free, faster, smoother, and more functional programs that do exactly the same thing, they just don't have the slick design to them.

Kind of a metaphor for Apple as a whole, really.

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