2006-10-27

Why I hate iTunes, but use it anyway

Let me preface this post by saying I'm not an Apple-hater. In fact, I was once an Apple-lover, a die-hard Mac-user. I had an Apple //c when I was 5, a Mac SE when I was 9, a Quadra 605 when I was 13, and a PowerMac G3 (blue & white) when I was 16. The first time I had used a Windows PC was when I got a job doing tech support for an ISP, so I had to learn Windows both for use as my workstation and for troubleshooting calls. My first Windows PC I built myself when I was 19.

Then MacOS X came out, and I sold my Macs and went straight-PC. I hate MacOS X. I know a lot of people love it, but, well, I disagree. It's worse than Windows, by a significant margin. But, enough ragging on OSX. I'm here to rag on iTunes.

You see, when I got this nice new job here in ATL and started making decent money, I went out, and I bought me an iPod. Loved the thing. They're just awesome. Small, lightweight, brilliant interface, good audio quality, good physical quality. Overpriced, but hey. I had a new job.

Some time later, a friend bought me a new iPod Video as a gift, and I gave the old iPod mini away to a friend. I love the new iPod even more than the old one. I even put an iPod adapter in my car so I can hook the iPod directly to the stereo - works great, I can control the iPod from the head unit, and it displays track info on the head unit's display. Awesome. Love it.

Basically, iPods are the shit.

The problem, however, is in the software. You see, iTunes is godawful. Dreadful. Ghastly. Really, really bad.

It doesn't work with multiple users. AT ALL. It gives each person a seperate library; purchases from ITMS don't show up for both users, and neither do playlists; if one person has iTunes open, the other can't open it or control the other instance, and if you switch to another user from the user that's running iTunes while it's playing, the audio goes all choppy until you force-quit the app. The application is a resource-hog. The interface is awful.

I like the iTunes Store - it's usually cheaper than buying CD's, and I can make purchases from the comfort of my livingroom and immediately put them on my iPod without having to rip CD's. I do feel a little gipped on quality settings, and I feel thoroughly gipped by the DRM. You see, I'd happily buy tracks off of ITS all day long, if I could play the damned things in, oh, say, WinAmp. I would buy Apple's hardware, I would buy Apple's content - the only part I don't want is the part they don't make a penny off of, their free software. But can you remove that piece of the equation? Well, sort of.

You see, you can burn and re-rip your ITMS tracks to get plain MP3s, it's just a pain to do so. After that, you can play them in any player you want - but you still need iTunes to update your iPod's library. Of course, you could re-flash the iPod BIOS in order to use a different app to manage it, but then you lose all accessory functionality - e.g., my car-stereo hookup. So, it's a no-win situation.

Why not switch to another MP3 player, and another online store? Well, all the online stores have DRM issues, and most of them use WMA, which I hate even more than AAC. On top of that, because Apple dominates the player market, they own the accessory market too - a good 90% of accessories are only available for the iPod, or if they work with other players, feature very limited support (i.e., audio only, no support for controlling the iPod via the device or gathering track info from the iPod for display on the device.)

So, I suppose at this point I'm suck with iTunes. But, Apple, you've got a choice: either get iTunes into shape, open up access to ITS and iPod to other software, or expect to lose a good hunk of market share as soon as decent alternatives become available. Because I'm already more than ready to jump ship as soon as a decent alternative appears.
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