Don't Be a Player Hater

Like the rest of us, our friends a few cubicles down at PC World get fed up to the point where the dam of their frustration eventually bursts. Such was the case when PC World posted its 11 Things We Hate About iTunes, along with an equally ire-filled companion piece Is Apple iTunes the new AOL? (Our short answer: No. No, it isn't. Our longer answer: The new AOL? Really?)

PC World, we feel your pain. We at Macworld have been dealing with Apple issues since the dinosaurs walked the earth and have learned to deal with things with a measure of patience and understanding. With that in mind, allow me to attempt to take some of the sting out of those 11 hateful things.

1. Wildly Inefficient Updates

What PC World Hates: "Forcing us to download and reinstall the entire program for every little update. And bundling QuickTime, too, whether it's new or not."

It's true, when Apple issues a new version of iTunes it forces you to download the entire application rather than a patch. We, on the Mac side, suffer a bit less because we aren't required to also download QuickTime as Windows users are. For example, on the Mac the iTunes 7.7 download weighs in at 48.4MB. Windows users must download 60.6MB of data and it would be nice if there was a patch.

On the bright side, it's only 60.6MB for a couple of full applications versus a patch like, oh, say, Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which runs just under 727MB.

And while I appreciate the concern for those using a dial-up connection, you'll be pleased to know that nearly every feature brought to recent versions of iTunes have to do with bandwidth-intensive tasks such as renting movies and purchasing applications from the App Store. If you're stuck with a dial-up connection, it's unlikely you'll be doing any of these things. Feel free to stick with older versions of iTunes.

2. DRM (Boo!)

What PC World Hates: "So why does the iTunes Store still employ digital rights management (DRM) for the majority of songs in its library? Blaming the record labels no longer holds water: AmazonMP3 and Rhapsody are among a growing number of services selling DRM-free MP3s from all the major labels, not just EMI."

Yep, digital rights management sucks but I'm afraid giving a pass to the record labels doesn't hold water. Do you suppose Apple likes slapping DRM on the tracks it sells, or could it possibly be that the record labels, hoping to lessen iTunes' dominance and power, refuse to offer these same DRM-free tracks to Apple? I'm betting on the latter. And after reading this article in which my colleague Dan Moren touches on how record labels are using DRM-free content to bolster iTunes' rivals, perhaps you'd be inclined to agree.

3. No Monitoring of Music Folders

What PC World Hates: "Apple seems unwilling to acknowledge that people get music from sources other than iTunes. How else to explain the software's inability to monitor folders and automatically add new music to the library?"

We have a little something over on the Mac side called "drag and drop." It's very cool. If you obtain music from a source other than via iTunes--download music from the iTunes Store or rip it from CD--you can simply select that music or the folder/directory/volume that contains it and drop it on top of the iTunes icon in OS X's Dock. Play around with drag-and-drop on your PC, and I bet you'll find it works there too.

We have this other cool thing called Automator. If you want to create a watch folder that automatically moves music place in it to iTunes, it's easily done.

4. 'Pushing' of Other Programs by iTunes Installer

What PC World Hates: "Earlier this year, Apple hopped aboard the crapware train by adding its new-for-Windows Safari browser to its Software Update tool--which tends to appear whenever there's a new version of iTunes."

Wait, I thought Windows users liked crapware! I mean, how can you explain all the crapware that came bundled with that Dell computer I got awhile ago? My bad, but given the amount of crapware you guys put up with, you might consider this an honest mistake. I'll send Apple a memo.

5. No Subscription Service--Still 

What PC World Hates: "If you're going to keep clinging to DRM, Apple, how about giving us a music-subscription service to go with it? You know, the kind offered by Napster, Rhapsody, and Zune Marketplace."

This is kind of a sore spot for me because I, unlike most of my Mac-using friends, appreciate subscription music services. I've been a Rhapsody subscriber for months and months and get a lot out of it.

That said, I also realize that these things aren't terribly popular even among Windows users. And that makes for a poor revenue source and one that could easily eat into where you make your real money--purchased music.

6. 'Neglected' Podcasts Stop Downloading  

What PC World Hates: "iTunes is like a strict schoolmarm: If you don't listen to your subscribed podcasts on a frequent and regular basis, the program stops downloading new episodes."

It's true that iTunes will stop downloading podcasts you haven't been paying attention to. And the suggestion that you should be the monitor of your hard drive space makes sense--provided that you pay attention to such things and you haven't gone on a video podcast subscription jag. If you subscribe to half-a-dozen HD video podcasts you're going to find that even with "gigs to spare" those spare gigs will be evaporated in next to no time. Safety first, say I.

On a more selfish point, as the publisher of multiple podcasts--say, did you know that Macworld offers both an audio podcast and a video version?--this feature provides a couple of benefits. First, publishers' stats are more accurate, since the people who subscribe via iTunes but never listen or watch a podcast disappear from the download count. Second, it saves publishers money, because people who don't watch videos or listen to audio aren't sucking your bandwidth if new episodes stop downloading.

7. The Mystery Check Box

What PC World Hates: "Next to every single item in your library--songs, TV shows, podcasts, and so on--there's a little check box. It's been there as long as we can remember, but if the iTunes help function explains its purpose, that entry is really hard to find."

True. iTunes' help is not helpful in this regard. Fortunately, as you go on to say:

"Actually, it's pretty simple: Unchecked items don't get played when you're listening to your library or a playlist. Likewise, unchecked items don't get synced to your iPod if you enable the 'Sync only checked songs and videos' option in the device's Summary menu."

8. NBC Shows--Bring Them Back!

What PC World Hates: "Come on, Apple, make nice with NBC already.... Swallow your pride and get NBC back on board in time for September."

Apple manages to get along hand-in-glove with A&E, ABC, AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BET Networks, Cartoon Network, CBS, CMT, CNN, Comedy Central, The CW, Discovery Channel, E!, ESPN, FOX, FX, HBO, History, IFC, Lifetime, MBL.com, MTV, NASCAR, National Geographic, Nick at Nite, PBS, Showtime, Spike, Starz, Sundance Channel, TBS, TLC, TNT, TV Land, VH1, and WE TV.

So, who should be making nice here?

The truth is that one of the reasons the iTunes Store is so popular is because customers have a pretty good notion of what to expect in regard to prices--99 cents a track for individual songs, around US$10 for an album, $1.99 per TV episode. NBC wanted the freedom to bundle shows, offer some for less, and some for more. In short: Making pricing as confusing as it is at the Zune Marketplace and other failed electronic media emporiums.

9. Weak Dockable Player Controls

What PC World Hates: "Here we are, seven versions into iTunes, and the player still doesn't have decent dockable controls."

This one confuses me. iTunes does have a floating window called the Mini Player. You want this:

"... dockable iTunes toolbar with volume, seek, play/pause, and other controls, and an optional song-info ticker."

And that's pretty much what you get. The Mini Player includes a volume slider, Back and Forward buttons that when clicked, move to the previous or next tracks and when held scrub through the playing track; a Play/Pause button; a time readout; and an information area that displays track title, artist, and album title.

Oh, you mean you want it to stick to a particular portion of your screen rather than have the freedom to move it from place to place? Um....

10. Rotten at Exporting Playlists

What PC World Hates: "Want to use your carefully crafted, years-in-the-making playlists with another program or a non-iPod player? Sorry: They're locked up like gold bars at Fort Knox. While most music managers employ the industry-standard M3U format for playlists, iTunes marches to the beat of its own proprietary-format drummer."

Wait, there are portable music players other than the iPod!?

Ha, we joke. Fair cop. My guess is the vast majority of people using iTunes also own iPods and don't require this capability, but for the few that do, as you point out, there are utilities that can do this.

11. No E-Books

What PC World Hates: "Admittedly, smallish iPod screens don't lend themselves well to reading on the go, but the iPhone and iPod Touch are perfect for the job."

Apparently the makers of eReader and BookShelf--two applications available from the App Store--agree with you. Check 'em out.

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