iTunes Review

Product Requirements:
Device:
Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Mac OS X

Every company is always looking for the “killer app.”  The software title that makes everyone just have to get a product.  Visicalc was the killer app for the Apple IIe, Lotus and WordPerfect were the killer apps for the original IBM computers and now Apple just may have another killer app on their hands with iTunes. And this time it’s a Windows app as well as an Apple one.

iTunes launched to universal acclaim on the Apple Macintosh systems several months ago, and Apple has just recently released their newest version for the much bigger Windows world.

It was worth the wait.

Many people have already started trying to steal the thunder of this elegantly designed product, but it is a waste of time.

iTunes rocks.

Well designed and thought out, iTunes makes the music jukebox experience seamless and effortless in importing your music collection to your computer.  It is *really* just a simple
matter of dragging and dropping to get your music into the library, or to by clicking the ‘import’ button.

The library is where your music lives, catalogued under the appropriate folders deep inside your My Documents folder.  Once music has been imported into your library you can build playlists of your choosing and then burn discs in audio or mp3 or Apples mp4/AAC format. How simple is it to burn a disc?  You build a playlist, put a blank disc in and then press the ‘burn’ button.

That simple.  

In fact, if you build a playlist longer than one disc (easy to do), iTunes will prompt you to make a multiple disc burn! Very nice!

And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. Their only problem is with the store bought music, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The killer part of this experience is the iTunes music store (click image
below to see full size image).


Wow!

This is the addicting part of the iTunes experience.

If you like music at all – you will find yourself going back here quite often.  $0.99 a song and if you want to buy the whole album you can get most of them for a very reasonable $9.99. In fact – the newest Elvis Presley album, “Second to None” retails for $9.99 on iTunes and for $14.99 at my local Wal-Mart.

And you *own* this music once you download it.  It’s yours.  This isn’t a subscription service, it’s a store.

They do however put a few restriction on the music that can be bypassed if you think about it (*cough* re-rip) You can only record 10 sessions at a time from a set playlist, but you can move one song, and now you have 10 more burns. You cannot record the AAC/MP4 (iTunes store bought music) as files to a disc like you can mp3s, you can only record them as audio discs. (*cough* re-rip) But this is all small potatoes DRM stuff.  Your original AAC/MP4’s can only be on three authorized computers at a time. (Do I hear someone coughing?) Again – *very* minor inconveniences, but not enough to take away from the simple pleasure of using this product.

AAC seems to be a nice format. Truthfully – I cannot hear any difference between AAC, MP3 or a regular CD. (of course – I’ve been to one too many concerts over my lifetime too!)

Here is an article from the Apple Knowledgebase comparing AAC with MP3:

TITLE
    iTunes 4: AAC and MP3 Codecs Compared

Article ID:
Created:
Modified:
93013
4/15/03
9/17/03

TOPIC

    This document explains differences in the AAC and MP3 codecs that can be used in iTunes 4.

DISCUSSION

    AAC-encoded files sound as good as or better than MP3 files encoded at the same or even a higher bit rate.

    For example, a 128-kilobit-per-second (kbit/s) AAC file should sound as good as or better than a 160 kbit/s MP3 file. Because the bit rate is lower, the AAC file will also be smaller than the MP3 file. AAC files allow you to store the most music on your hard disk or iPod. The High Quality AAC setting creates files that are usually less than 1 MB for each minute of music.

    Note : AAC files encoded from a source other than the iTunes Music Store (such as an audio CD) work the same as an MP3 file encoded from the same source. No authorization required to play or burn them. So, AAC files you encode yourself in iTunes 4 can be burned more than ten times per playlist and can be played on more than three computers.

Browsing the iTunes music store is a very nice experience, especially if you have a fat pipe connection. Dial up users, our word for the day is – “patience”

I find myself browsing and buying deep catalog music I haven’t seen in years – Joni Mitchell, Chet Atkins, John Denver as well as newer music like the Fountains of Wayne.

Each Album has 30 second streams of *every* song. You can see if you like the album before you buy. You can
purchase individual songs from an album, or all of them.

This is great.

As a music Jukebox, there are minor control issues with iTunes. To switch from burning mp3’s to audio discs, you have to go to the preferences menu. There could probably be a simpler and faster way to make that choice. But if you mainly do one or the other, you may not notice this inconvenience.

As a music store, there are minor DRM issues with iTunes. (NOTHING like it’s competitors draconian DRM practices though.) If you don’t have an iPod, you won’t be able to export your store purchased music to your mp3 player unless you burn an audio disc and then re-rip it to mp3. AAC files purchased from the store are not exportable, but can be burned to as many audio discs as you want, only having to change their play order every 10 burns. The iPod does not have these limitations and can easily store and play any and all songs you can put into the library. AAC files you burn yourself can be exported and playlists burned as many times as you want.

Could it use a little more support for other mp3 players? Probably, but remember, this is also built as a showcase for the iPod from Apple. What would be nice is if other MP3 players would add support to AAC.

And did I mention the iTunes Visualizer option? Magic! The best visual mood graphic thingy I’ve ever seen with a jukebox player. It *really* works in time with the music and is VERY hypnotic. Apple is best at adding little touches like this to just make a user’s experience as enjoyable as they know how to. Does the visualizer do anything earth shattering? No, but it is what helps make an Apple product an Apple product. Sexy and unique.

And I haven’t even touched on the Audible book support both in the music store and in the jukebox software! Or the equalizer, or the video streams at the music store, or joining of music tracks together, or the id3 tag support, the adjustable cross fading playback option…whew! I think you get the idea. But I must mention the fact that if you have a broadband connection, (and even if you don’t!) iTunes has a really neat section of radio stations built in. They range in bandwidth from minimal 24kbps to 128kbps. It even works nicely on a dial-up (with minimal buffering) but really smokes on a broadband. It has a very nice selection of music from 50’s – 80’s, alt, classical, pop, jazz and more. (I like "Groove Salad") Very sharp.

I should also mention that if you have your computers networked at home, you can share your music over the networks through iTunes. This is a nice feature too.

Will all this beauty, simplicity and power make you want to dump your Windows machine for a Mac?  Maybe, maybe not; but it will definitely sell a *lot* of iPods.

iTunes truly captures the ease and beauty of using a Mac product. But if nothing else – it has diversified Apple’s appeal and enhanced their recognition with the public.

“Isn’t Apple that computer company that just sells hardware?” – Not anymore.

I highly recommend this product for both Mac and Win users that enjoy music and want to keep and catalog a large music collection on their ‘puters. And if you want to legally download and enjoy music – there is no better choice on the market today.

Price: FREE for the music jukebox, $.99 a song, most albums $9.99, but will vary according to age or number of discs.

Pros: 
Very elegant music jukebox, packed with features
Addictive buying experience, even for the novice
Easy browsing of titles on your computer and in music store
Seamless experience when using Apple iPod

Music store has deep catalog of albums
Nice radio station feature that works well with dial-up but awesome with a broadband connection

Cons: 
Some features are not intuitive and have to be chosen under preferences each time you want to use.
Not as easy to use mp3 players as it is to use Apple iPod.
Can only burn store purchased music (AAC/mp4 format) to audio discs and not mp3 format.

Special Note of a hopefully temporary Con:
iTunes music store is currently only available to United States customers. Hopefully licensing issues will be cleared up soon and the European iTMS will open soon!

22 thoughts on “iTunes Review”

  1. I’m an iTunes addict too. 😀

    One thing I didn’t see you mention was the “Browse” feature in the local library. I find that feature a very intuitive, useful way to navigate everything. When I first installed iTunes, I was thinking, “why on earth would I want this?” And then I hit it. And then I said “Oooo.” :p

    I have managed, though, to resist buying that much music online — it’s potentially dangerously addictive. I did buy one album (that’s only available as an import) and a single, and the quality is pretty good.

    My major nit is that you can’t copy the music from the iPod back to the desktop (or sync with more than one machine). I still have to keep ephPod around for that… although I’m not surprised — I’d expect that the RIAA would be very unhappy at a copy-music-back feature.

    –janak

  2. “And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. ”

    Could someone please explain how this is done? I have searched everywhere in the application and can’t figure out how to do this.

    Thanks.
    MMB

  3. My biggest complaint about iTunes is the lack of Ogg/Vorbis support. There’s a plugin for the Mac version but nothing for Windows that I know of. Other that that, it’s nice. It runs well in VMWare, though I’d love to see Apple release a Linux version too 🙂

  4. iTunes launched to universal acclaim on the Apple Macintosh systems several months ago

    well, the iTunes Music Store did, but iTunes as a jukebox has been around for several years. At least since 2001, if not 2000.

  5. outsideinoverdrive

    I never listened to on-line tunes until iTunes. It is my favorite and most used app since I downloaded it. Since reading the Stereophile article about the quality of sound and product itself, the Win iPod looks like my next purchase.

  6. Hey i bought a virgin pulse before my vacation, because i didn’t want to leave my iPod in a foreign country and was suprised to find out that it had an itunes plugin for the mac. I assume they will be doing the same thing for windows and bring there little player up to AAC standards. I have also seen there are a few other players out there that support AAC, but i can’t remember which ones they are. Hopefuly for those that can’t afford an iPod other manufactures will notice the sheer numbers of songs being downloaded at the itunes music store and rush to support AAC. Hey they might ever make a plug in for itunes itself.

    Later all

    “Anything can be arranged.”

    Senoir Frog

  7. I am looking into it. I’ve also posted to my friend who said it would work. Let me get him toclarify.

    Dwayne

    [i]Using iTunes with other MP3 players
    “And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. ”

    Could someone please explain how this is done? I have searched everywhere in the application and can’t figure out how to do this.

    Thanks.
    MMB

  8. I’m not 100% sure about iTunes for Windows, but the mac version comes with a number of drivers for standard USB MP3 players (like the old Rios), and all you have to do is plug your MP3 player in and it will recognize it. I used to have a Rio600 and it worked just fine that way, well before the iPod was introduced.
    I’m not 100% sure if this is still true, though.

    If it does still work, and on Windows, all you should need to do is plug in your usb-controlled MP3 player (i don’t know if it works with non-apple non-usb players) and it will show up in the left-hand side list above your playlists. you can then drag and drop playlists or individual songs to your MP3 player.

  9. I have sent an email to my friend who had told me this and am waiting for a reply. I’ll post it as soon as I hear something.

    However: a search of the knowledgebase on this problem reveals the following from Apple:

    ——————————————————————————–
    TITLE
    iTunes for Windows: MP3 Device Compatibility Article ID:
    Created:
    Modified: 93377
    9/30/03
    10/27/03

    ——————————————————————————–
    TOPIC
    Learn how to use iTunes with MP3 devices.

    ——————————————————————————–
    DISCUSSION

    iTunes for Windows can transfer a variety of audio and music files to iPod, including MP3 and AAC encoded files. For the complete list of music formats that work with iPod, see technical document 61476, “iPod: About Compatible Song Formats”. Other MP3 players do not work with iTunes for Windows.

    Using iTunes, you can also burn MP3 audio CDs, which can play on MP3 CD players. For assistance burning an MP3 CD see technical document 93124, “iTunes 4: How to Create Your Own MP3 CDs”.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Document Information
    Product Area: MC
    Category:
    Sub Category:
    Keywords: kituneswin, ktech

    ——————————————————————————-

    While I do not have an mp3 player, I have a CD player that plays mp3’s. I just burn the mp3’s or re-rip AAC to mp3 and burn to a disc.

    This is a cumbersome workaround, but you could re-rip the AAC files to mp3 under musicmatch or your preferred mp3 player software and use that to manage the files on your mp3 player…. not elegant but it should work.

    Dwayne Wilson

  10. I know my friend is a Mac user, so this may be very well where he was coming from when he told me this. If so, and it doesn’t work on the Win version the same way, I am sorry for the misinformation.

    Let us know how you are doing with this and I will keep you all informed as well.

    Dwayne

    Originally posted by wilsondm2
    [B]I am looking into it. I’ve also posted to my friend who said it would work. Let me get him toclarify.

    Dwayne [/B]

  11. There’s always one of you somewhere…lurking…waiting….face it. Ogg is nowhere near a standard.

    Originally posted by Ben S
    My biggest complaint about iTunes is the lack of Ogg/Vorbis support. There’s a plugin for the Mac version but nothing for Windows that I know of. Other that that, it’s nice. It runs well in VMWare, though I’d love to see Apple release a Linux version too 🙂

  12. iTunes was another product from Casady and Greene that was bought by Apple. I forgot the original name. Casady and Greene just went under this summer btw.

    Originally posted by kezza
    [B] iTunes launched to universal acclaim on the Apple Macintosh systems several months ago

    well, the iTunes Music Store did, but iTunes as a jukebox has been around for several years. At least since 2001, if not 2000. [/B]

  13. Are you running the iTunes on XP?

    Do you know if there is some magic incantation that will make it stop invoking the autorun.inf on enhanced CDs while trying to do:

    On CD Insert: “Import Songs and Eject”

    Without completely disabling autoplay in general, so when iTunes isn’t running…I can still play music CDs and DVDs.

    The Dreamer

  14. Yes – I am running it on WinXP.

    There is a window that opens when I insert my CD under WinXP that asks me what I want to do.

    Also under iTunes – edit preferences general and you can choose the action that iTunes performs each time you insert a CD.

    That may help you out.

    Dwayne

    Originally posted by TheDreamer
    [B]Are you running the iTunes on XP?

    Do you know if there is some magic incantation that will make it stop invoking the autorun.inf on enhanced CDs while trying to do:

    On CD Insert: “Import Songs and Eject”

    Without completely disabling autoplay in general, so when iTunes isn’t running…I can still play music CDs and DVDs.

    The Dreamer [/B]

  15. Originally posted by wilsondm2
    [B]Yes – I am running it on WinXP.

    There is a window that opens when I insert my CD under WinXP that asks me what I want to do.

    Also under iTunes – edit preferences general and you can choose the action that iTunes performs each time you insert a CD.

    That may help you out.

    Dwayne [/B]

    Well, as I already said, my iTunes preference is:

    On CD Insert: “Import Songs and Eject”

    But, when I insert an enhanced CD it doesn’t ask what I want to do…it immediately loads the Macromedia stuff….(which causes problems because iTunes is busy trying to do what I told it to do…import songs from the music part of the CD….)

    Used to be under Windows 2000, there were just two options…one for audio cds and one for data cds. I left the audio cds one on, and turned off the data cds option (so the Enhanced portion would be ignored…as well as DVD/CDs that try to install automatically when you insert them…)

    But, I don’t see an option for ignore autorun.inf or data CDs in the autoplay…..and turning off autoplay disables everything.

    The Dreamer

  16. [B]“And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. ”

    UM, the review is just plain WRONG. I have all of the latest drivers for my Zen and it definitely does NOT work with iTunes. The AAC thing I don’t care about cuz I can get around it. I would rather it would sync with my damn player. Sorry Apple, you don’t make the only or even the BEST MP3 player….just the coolest looking one.

  17. I have sent an email to my friend who told me this statement. I quoted him exactly – however – he may have been referring to the Mac version which seems to work with other USB MP3 players but will not play AAC files at any rate – that is an iPod only feature – unless – you re-rip them to mp3.

    The Apple Knowledge base is stating that there are *no* Mp3 players that courrently work with the Win version of iTunes other than the iPod – which is an mp3 player as well.

    In that respect I may be wrong. But other than that – I stand by my review of iTunes as being one of the best jukeboxes out there and is definitely the best store front. I also did make note of the shortcoming of iTunes saying that id did need to support more mp3 players.

    As soon as I hear something I *will* pass it on to everyone. If nothing else, Apple needs to update this problem – unless it intends to only support its own product – the iPod – which is a possibility.

    In any case – thank you everyone for your opinion – differing or otherwise.

    Dwayne Wilson

    Originally posted by gorkon280
    [B][B]“And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. ”

    UM, the review is just plain WRONG. I have all of the latest drivers for my Zen and it definitely does NOT work with iTunes. The AAC thing I don’t care about cuz I can get around it. I would rather it would sync with my damn player. Sorry Apple, you don’t make the only or even the BEST MP3 player….just the coolest looking one. [/B]

  18. Apple’s main incentive for releasing this free software for a competing OS is to get people to buy music and iPods (not in that order…) So I’m not sure how much you can really criticize them for not supporting other company’s players on Windows.

    iTunes and the iPod are fantastic, though. People who still organize their music by folder and who don’t properly maintain their ID3 tags probably won’t understand the appeal right away, though.

  19. No list of good features will get over the fact that iTunes is rubbish to use. No way do I want it to sync: I want to choose: no way can I get it to stop asking. No way will it stop determining gapless whatever. Any time I start anything like an import, I get locked out of clicking anything: thats when it will bog my system down doing gapless something or other. No way will it start in less that 2 minutes: No way will it just let me drop things on the ipod. Got to go through a playlist???? Slow, cumbersome & non-intuitive. Jazzy little features on top do not make it good. I did not set out to hate iTunes. I was just forced to use it.

  20. Being forced to use iTunes as well I was (on the PC), I went in to using it with an open mind. But when it reorganises our meticulously sorted music folders, continually try’s to sync with your music player even though you continually tell it not to. it’s slow to open, and is horribly counter intuitive to use (which is just not usual of Apple software)… i HATE using iTunes. It is a terrible program, designed for another purpose and forced upon people who want to use Apple products.

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