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So this is iTunes for Windows... First reactions: it's nice, but… - W.A.S.T.E

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October 17th, 2003


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11:05 pm
So this is iTunes for Windows...

First reactions: it's nice, but I'm not an addict just yet. Based on my experience so far, I'd rank it above Microsoft's player, but below WinAmp (my current player).

As an actual playback engine, it seems fine: I've only gotten it to stutter once while writing this, browsing the net and ripping a CD in the background. It handles song-to-song continuity reasonably well once the default fading behaviour is switched off (though not as well as WinAmp: the transition from "Sweet Thing (Reprise)" to "Rebel Rebel" still has a gap). The search functions seem nice, though I expect I'll appreciate them more once I have some actual tagged MP3 or AAC files in the playlist (right now, it's just playing Bowie tracks in WAV format, which format doesn't support any ID3 tags).

As with QuickTime—which I still think deserves its place in the Interface Hall of Shame—many of my complaints have to do with Apple's unwillingness to abide by the interface conventions of the window manager. There's a system menu, but you can't get directly at it with a mouse (you have to right-click the taskbar entry, or else use Alt-Space). The button at the upper right that should maximise the window instead reduces it to "compact" size. The window can only be resized from one "magic" corner (should be able to do this from any edge), and in any event the window isn't resizeable below a certain minimum. Does the MacOS version break the rules of the Mac's window-manager this badly?

(In fairness, Microsoft's dreadfully irritating Windows Media Player 9 also won't resize below a certain minimum. And at least iTunes actually honours my preferences as to which sound card I want to use for output, unlike WMP 9, which completely ignores this Control Panel setting.)

iTunes does have some things in common with WMP 9, though: both want to take up way more space on my desktop than they really need to (compare to WinAmp, which is a model of economy) and both seem to want to take over as my primary audio-playback engine (I unchecked the "Use iTunes as the default player for audio files" option in the installer, but it was still checked when I got in to iTunes' preferences). Apple still hasn't gotten over its "let's put the app into the Quick Launch bar without asking the user!" problem: after very nicely asking whether I wanted desktop shortcuts, the installer dropped QuickTime and iTunes into the QL bar without so much as a by-your-leave. (It also sets up two autorun programs: how about letting me decide whether I want to run iTunes or QuickTime at system startup?)

Any more gripes? Lessee...

• I wish the "Preferences" had point-and-click help: it's annoying to have to cancel out of setting preferences to see what each setting does.

• I'd like to be able to see at least some of my playlist in the super-compact view.

• It's slightly frustrating that I can't figure out how to sort tracks in an arbitrary order (like, say, the order in which I added them to the playlist).

• There doesn't appear to be any user input into the Visualizer other than "on" or "off": if there's a way to, say, pick a specific display pattern, I haven't found it.

That said, I'll keep playing with it, and try to figure out which of these are just new-user gripes, which are justified, and which, if any, are fatal (i.e., I-won't-use-this-app-because...). Feel free to post comments about iTunes' good points: I'm sure I haven't found them all yet.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:rhysara
Date:October 18th, 2003 04:08 am (UTC)
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iTunes is the best! I don't know what you're talking about...

Let's see if I can address any of your problems... track list order... if the track listing in question is the "library" then iTunes alphabatizes etc... but if you make a new play list (as opposed to a smart play list which it organizes), you can put your songs in whatever order you like...

ok that likely made no sense, so I will stop trying to explain, i'll just have to come visit so I can show you how wonderful it is, but a word of warning, stay out of the music store.
[User Picture]
From:trystero
Date:October 18th, 2003 04:20 am (UTC)
(Link)
No, actually, that did make sense. I didn't realise that the library behaved differently from a user-created playlist. Good to know.

I've disabled the link to the music store for now. (This is called "knowing my weaknesses.") :-)
[User Picture]
From:solipsistnation
Date:October 18th, 2003 01:34 pm (UTC)
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Can you tag the tracks in itunes itself?

On the Mac, at least, it stores all that info in its own database, as part of a giant XML (text) file called "iTunes Music Library" or something. I've verified that it doesn't actually touch the ID tags in the files themselves when you change things there.

Resizing works the same as on the Mac, where there's only one corner with a resize handle...

Dunno about the maximize button... That also works the same as on the Mac, mysteriously. I just kinda got used to it...

It didn't set up startup items for me, but I don't know why. Hm.

To sort tracks in an arbitrary order, you drag them into place...

The included visualizer is pretty rudimentary. I have five or six others installed on the Mac. Ideally, they'll show up for the Windows version soon. (They're all ports of WinAmp plugins-- whitecap and gforce and things like that...)

iTunes kind of expects that you'll be using it to rip CDs-- it'll name and tag files according to what's set when you first insert a CD, and then use that for all details later on. It REALLY wants to be the be-all-end-all of music software, and if you learn how to use it, it is.

Also note that the EQ defaults to turned on, thus eating CPU for no useful purpose (since the default settings are flat...). That might help keep it from stuttering...

I've only had the Mac version stutter in one particular situation-- changing batteries or unplugging the power adaptor on my laptop. But, since that makes a lot of things pause for a second, it's not terribly surprising that iTunes notices too.

Gaps between songs is my single greatest annoyance...
[User Picture]
From:trystero
Date:October 19th, 2003 07:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
You can change tags from within iTunes, though it doesn't support all the ID3v2 tags (Original Artist et al.). And I still prefer the tagging interface on Tag & Replace, a third-party Windows program I found by Googling.

iTunes does make changes to the tags in my original files. This appears to be by design: from the help file: "By default, changing information in iTunes also changes the name of the song on your hard disk. To make changes in iTunes without changing the files on your hard disk, choose Edit > Preferences, and in the Advanced pane, click to remove the checkmark next to Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized."

It does have the giant XML file, though. :-)

The startup items I mentioned are hidden: they don't appear in the Startup folder. IIRC, they were both in the "Run" section of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE in the registry. They're "iTunes Helper" and "QuickTime Task": I don't know if either one stays running in the background, since I deleted them before before they had a chance to be launched. I intensely dislike installers that set up autorun programs without asking me.

Drag-sorting works in user playlists, as rhysara mentioned above. So that's all set.

Thanks for the tip about the EQ default: I hadn't thought to check it. I've switched it off. (Again, iTunes wasn't particularly stuttery to begin with, but it can't hurt to save CPU cycles.)

The resize/maximise thing irritates me because it's like the bad old DOS days, when I had to learn different set of rules for every program I ran. If they're going to release it as a Windows program, it should follow the Windows conventions: if I wanted to learn the MacOS conventions, I'd have bought a Mac.

Oh, and another comment: whatever CD database Apple're using, it doesn't seem to be as comprehensive as CDDB. iTunes completely fails to recognise Disc One of the UK Best of Bowie, but Exact Audio Copy (which uses FreeDB's CDDB) finds it just fine.

Anyway, thanks for all the advice and commentary. I'm off to play with CD importing and burning...
[User Picture]
From:solipsistnation
Date:October 19th, 2003 07:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
iTunes does make changes to the tags in my original files. This appears to be by design: from the help file: "By default, changing information in iTunes also changes the name of the song on your hard disk. To make changes in iTunes without changing the files on your hard disk, choose Edit > Preferences, and in the Advanced pane, click to remove the checkmark next to Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized."


Actually, that's not the tags-- that's just the filename. It may also be the tags, but in that case, it's a side effect of using iTunes to keep the music folder organized. If you set it to do that, it will copy any files you import into a single location and work from there. Knowing what I know about your system, you probably don't want to do this. 8)

And, uh, I though iTunes DID use CDDB. Strange. I think that's settable in the preferences, too, but it might not be since iTunes 2 or 3...
[User Picture]
From:mindways
Date:October 19th, 2003 03:46 am (UTC)
(Link)
That said, I'll keep playing with it, and try to figure out which of these are just new-user gripes, which are justified, and which, if any, are fatal (i.e., I-won't-use-this-app-because...).

Once you've done that, I heartily encourage you to submit feedback to apple at

http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunes.html

and help make it a better app, both for yourself and everyone else...

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