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Software Picks: ANYTHING BUT iTunes

July 4th, 2009 · 53 Comments · Software Picks, Windows

So recently I got a $15 iTunes gift card and now a 22-free songs code for iTunes so I decided to check it out. I expected a slow lumbering beast that would try and take over my whole OS so I booted up my favorite XP Virtual Machine and created a snapshot so I could then install iTunes on it without fear of it breaking anything permanently.

It was worse than I had feared.

First of all the install process has a progress bar that doesn’t actually measure anything meaninful since it just resets once it gets to the end and you have no clue how many times it has to fill before it’s done.  I hate installers that do that.  But I can’t fault Apple for this since it’s a universal sort of flaw you see everywhere.

The installer was actually sort of pleasent, well except that it steals all your file associations by default but if you’re the sort of person who reads all the checkboxes instead of just clicking Next until the installer is done it’s not a big problem.  Again this is a universal thing that happens in many installers, even Firefox.

Of course it installs no less than 3 different services in order to work properly.  I didn’t even check application drivers!  At most only one service should be needed for User mode compatibility… and even then I hate when apps need to install services that run all the time even when the app isn’t running.

Let’s see what we have here:

  1. “Apple Mobile Device: Provides the interface to Apple mobile devices.” I don’t even HAVE an iPod!
  2. “Bonjour Service: Bonjour allows applications like iTunes and Safari to advertise and discover services on the local network.”  I’m not big on Mac stuff but I guess this is the Mac equivilent of an SMB client.  This really isn’t needed as a service, user mode apps SHOULD be able to use networking just fine without it, and it’s not like you can do much with these services without an Apple User mode app runnning, right?
  3. “iPod Service: iPod hardware management services” Wait, didn’t we already get this in #1?  I’m confused.
  4. Oh yeah, Apple’s Update thing goes into Scheduled Tasks if you don’t uncheck the box for it.  Not a service but still annoying.  I don’t really need to update your apps if I’m not running them, just check on app startup!

Ok now the install is finished.  I get an error message indicating some Windows system components I need are missing.  Not a big surprise since I’m running a stripped-down XP VM… oh wait these components are only needed for iPod/iPhone communications.  But if we can’t do it anyway, why are the two services still running?  Oh well.

EULA, agree…

Welcome to iTunes wizard, next, uncheck scan my music folder, next, keep my iTunes music organized, next, it tells me about album artwork for some reason, finish.

The interface is actually quite nice, but this is where everything gets SLOW so it’s not really worth it to me.  The integrated IE browser is missing vital things like text selection, context menu, and address bar (it can only navigate iTunes store, which is OK I guess).  In place of an address bar you get a nifty breadcrumb bar that shows you where in the Apple Store heiarchy you are.

So I go to redeem my free songs first… oh wait I need an account.  So I use my AIM account to log in.  Oh wait, I need to set up an Apple account first… this was NOT on the 1 2 3 4 easy steps on the gift card!

So I set it up and eventually reach the credit card page.  This doesn’t qualify as “free” for me, but fortunately there is a convenient “No credit card” option that I select.  It still wants my address though.  Yeah, no.

When I try to skip that, it complains and sends me back to the page.  I go to fill it out… but the “No credit card” option is gone.  So now I HAVE to give them a credit card number which they will keep indefinitely and automatically charge me if any music is bought on my account.  Yeah, that’s not free, and definitely also not risky.

I try to restart the sign up process, but the “No credit card” option does not appear.  I almost give up and wipe iTunes right there, but then I figure out what Apple is up to here… so I decide to try my redeem code again.  I am told again I need to sign up, and I go to the sign up page… and the “No credit card” option is back.  Sneaky of them.

I do not appreciate trying to be railroaded into giving up my credit card information just because I make one little mistake.  The “No credit card” option is also intentionally hidden from new users who haven’t specifically tried to redeem free content.  That’s shady if you ask me.

So I put my address down as 555 5th Street and continue on.  Hooray, it’s redeemed my songs for me now!

So the download starts.  It seems nice, everything is happening automatically.

Then it finishes the first three songs and begins “processing file” on all of them.  What’s there to process?  DRM?  Just give me my music, you finished downloading it!  I’ve never seen a file downloader take so long to do… well… nothing I care about.  This is where the UI becomes so slow that it’s completely unresponsive while it downloads your music.  There’s really no point to the pause buttons on the music since they don’t respond to clicks.

Eventually I’m convinced iTunes has hung since the UI is unresponsive and nothing seems to happen for a period of time.  I kill it.  A reasonable thing to do and a regular Windows  practice.

Start it back up annnd… where did my music go?  I have 19 tracks queued for download, but the other three I downloaded are gone!  This doesn’t happen in Songbird, or any other program that downloads files, and is completely unintuitive and definitely undesired application behavior.

Next three downloaded, and it hangs again.  I have to restart it again and I’m down to 16 free songs from the original 22.

This time I decide to wait it out, maybe it wasn’t really hung.  Maybe it’s just slow from bring in a VM (but the rest of the VM’s apps are quite responsive). This time it finishes all the songs (eventually) and I look in the Library for the other 6.  They are gone.

I check the iTunes Library folder and find them in a temporary directory with temporary file names.  After some searching on Apple Support I direct iTunes to import music to the Library FROM the iTunes Library.  It imports the music!

… Except all the tracks are called “download” and are untagged.  Are you kidding me?!?!  All the other tracks were tagged, why does it wait until AFTER all the songs are downloaded to tag them?!?!

Of course there must be an easy way to get iTunes to redownload music you purchased (or redeemed) that failed to download, right?  Wrong.

My Purchased list in iTunes only shows the 16 songs, which is utterly rediculous, it should have a record of my proper purchases (redeems)!

I find an in-browser list of my purchases and it properly shows the 22 tracks.  Why then does iTunes only show 16?

I am then forced to write down every track in the list of 22, compare it to the 16 list by hand (I can’t have them both on the screen at once!), and then manually write down the names of the tracks that are untagged.  Then I have to listen to each track to figure out which is which (thankfully they were imported in alphabetical order) and tag them BY HAND, using Wikipedia and Google to fill in the blanks in the tags that iTunes didn’t list on the purchase order like Album, Track Number, etc.

Now I’m ready to give up iTunes and just enjoy my new music in Winamp, but I’m afraid I might have to battle with stripping off the DRM first.  Thankfully Apple did remove DRM from their music a while ago so when I exported my music to the host OS, it played just fine in Winamp to my delight.  Well except that my manually tagged music had on album art.  I was able to use Winamp to automatically get the album art for 4 of the 6 tracks easily enough.  But two were still missing, and I wanted proper tags for all 6.

So I decided to see if Apple Support would help.  Considering how much iTunes sucks they must be good at helping users by now.

When I indicated my problems in an e-mail, the tech that responded completely misunderstood my problem.  I thought I had made it quite clear but apparently he thought iTunes couldn’t read any music tags, when I had indicated that it could on all but 6 songs that lacked tags.  So I once again iterated that I had imported those 6 songs manually but they weren’t being tagged, so I wished to download them again.  I attached two screenshots of the 22-song purchase history and the 16-song iTunes purchases lists to indicate my problem more clearly.

Solution: Try it again!  Well to be fair he indicated I should clear my profile first and reinstall iTunes, and though he didn’t explain this point to me at the time he also reenabled the file downloads on my account.  Guess Apple doesn’t trust users to be able to download their files multiple time.  Bbut they can copy them as many times as they want, thanks to the lack of DRM!  Double standards are fun!

To ease the process of cleaning up iTunes I roll back the virtual machine and install it again.  Hangs after downloading 6 songs.  I wait a long time but it has definitely died.

I try to roll back and install again and here is where I discover that a tech support person has to manually authorize a redownload of songs.  I’m still trying to figure out how you authorize multiple computers to play your DRM’d songs when you can only download them once… it doesn’t make sense, it’s like users HAVE to figure out how to copy and distribute music to others in order to get their own music to play on their other computers…

So I e-mail the tech again and explain my problem.  All he can suggest is to try it yet again, which is where I am now.

Up to 6 songs again and I’m not very optimistic.  I guess I can settle for my 6 partially tagged songs.  But I’m not even going to TRY using that $15 gift card, as far as I’m concerned it’s worth far less than the plastic it’s printed on.

[Edit: It finished!  Only took 4 hours to download 1.4 hours of music, that’s progress for you!]

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