Hidden iTunes Tweaks From Hassle-Free PC

A couple months back I came up with a few tips for getting more out of Apple's iTunes--including how to add missing album art and convert iTunes tracks to MP3s. This week I've come up with a few ways to tweak iTunes so that it runs faster and is easier to use.

Enable Browser View for Easier Library Browsing

iTunes' Cover Flow gets all the attention, but let's be realistic: It's a pretty inconvenient way of selecting music. Suppose, for example, you want to play all the Brendan Benson in your library. Cover Flow is useless: It's designed expressly to play an album at a time. You can switch to Grid view, choose the Artists filter, and then hunt for Brendan, but I find that a somewhat cumbersome approach.

I prefer using iTunes' browser view, which isn't a new feature by any means, but it's one I think flies below most users' radar. You can access it by pressing Ctrl-B (Cmd-B on the Mac) or clicking View, Show Browser. The result is a multi-window grid you can use to drill down into your library by genre, artist, and/or album. Click a genre in the left window, for instance, and iTunes immediately filters the artists and albums accordingly. Or, to follow the previous example, I can just scroll down the Artist window until I find Brendan Benson, then double-click the entry to queue and play all his tracks.

Prefer to stick with album art? A tap of Ctrl-G (or Cmd-G) adds artwork to the lower column, the one that lists all your tracks.

Make Text Bigger

Now that you've learned how to tap iTunes' Browser View for easier navigation of your music library, let's look at another way to make iTunes easier: by making text larger. See, I find iTunes' default font size uncomfortably small. That's in part due to my wide-screen monitor, which runs at a fairly high resolution.

Fortunately, I'm no longer squinting at my music library thanks to this simple fix:

  1. Click Edit, Preferences.
  2. In the General tab, set Source Text to Large.
  3. In the same tab, set List Text to Large.
  4. Click OK to close the Prefs window and implement your changes.

Now the text in the left-hand menu bar should be easier on the eyes. The same goes for the text displaying your song list. Sometimes the best hacks are the simplest.

Hidden iTunes: Use Folders to Organize Playlists

Most iTunes users know how to create a new playlist: You click the little plus sign at the bottom of the screen or select File, New Playlist. You can also use features like Genius to crank out playlists at will. Of course, this kind of unfettered playlist freedom can lead to what I call Playlist Madness [cue disturbing organ music], which is what happens when your playlist list grows so large as to become unmanageable.

Fortunately, iTunes offers an easy way to tame an unruly batch of lists: folders. Here's how to tap that old standby:

  1. Select File, New Playlist Folder.
  2. Type a name for your newly created folder ("Alt-Rock Playlists," for example), then hit Enter.
  3. Drag any playlist onto the folder and drop it there.
  4. Wash, rinse, repeat as needed.

Presto! Folder-managed playlists. You can expand or collapse any folder by clicking the little arrow to the left of its name. You can also create subfolders by dragging one folder into another. This is definitely a handy way to keep your playlists bouncy and manageable.

Three Ways to Make iTunes Run Faster

I think I'm safe in saying that iTunes is the single slowest application on my PC. It not only takes a week or two just to start up, but also seems to pause indefinitely on simple tasks like switching between different sections of the iTunes Store.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to goose iTunes, to make it a little less pokey than usual. I'm not promising a dramatic speed increase, just somewhat more efficient operation.

  1. Turn off Genius by selecting Store, Turn Off Genius. (Note that doing so will delete all collected Genius data.) It's a neat feature, but I've noticed that it seems awfully "busy" at times. Anything that's demanding iTunes' attention is also hurting its performance. I never thought it was that smart, anyway.
  2. Select Edit, Preferences, Sharing, and then disable Look for shared libraries and Share my library on the local network. Whenever there's ongoing network activity, you can count on a performance hit. Of course, if you are sharing your iTunes library, skip this step.
  3. Switch over to the Apple TV tab and disable Look for Apple TVs (unless you have one, of course). It's another case of superfluous network activity that can only hurt performance.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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