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iTunes: What a crappy bit of software!

1 February, 2008

Fans of Apple tend to be pretty, well, fanatical, hailing everything Apple Inc. do (at least with Steve Jobs at the helm) as the greatest thing since sliced white bread.  The Mac is better than the PC; the iPod is better than the Zune; apples are better than oranges; and so on, and so on, ad nauseam.  In some respects they’re right: certainly Apple’s designers have flair and their hardware products sure look good, but I’m not entirely convinced of their supremacy on the software side of things.  Specifically, iTunes (the software that ships with iPods) is just horrible.

I was quite happily using Windows Media Player (and MusicMatch before that), but when I got my iPod I switched over to the light side, working on the theory that Apple would do a better job of interfacing with their own hardware than anyone else.  For the most part it has worked reasonably well, and some of the functionality is great (dynamic playlists, being able to ‘flip’ through your album covers) but there are a couple of bugs that just drive me nuts.

Firstly, iTunes has a nasty habit of ‘losing’ the artwork for some of my albums.  I’ve made a point of downloading (via iTunes) the artwork for all of my albums, and finding them from other sources (or as a last resort scanning them in) when iTunes can’t find the artwork (which is admittedly very rarely - but oddly, although I’d expect it to not have some free magazine-cover compilations, it couldn’t find a bunch of ‘mainstream’ stuff, such as Amnesiac by Radiohead, or Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, seminal works, both).  But every so often iTunes simply deletes the artwork for random albums.  Not all albums, and not always the same ones, but a good couple of dozen reasonably often.   I’ve never managed to figure out quite on what basis it chooses the albums to screw with, either.  It’s not ones I have scanned in myself, or even ones from ‘obscure’ albums, but it’s really irritating to have to scroll through all of my albums to spot the ones now missing their artwork, and then download it again.

Secondly, iTunes likes to mix up the songs on some albums.  (No, not because I have it on shuffle…)  It took me a while to figure this one out, but for some reason, when ripping a CD, iTunes will set the number of tracks on the album correctly for a couple of the tracks, but not for the rest of the tracks on the same album.  So I have (for example) “Track 3 of 10″ and “Track 4 of 10″) but then just “Track 1″, “Track 2″, and so on for the rest, where the number of tracks is just blank.  When I play the album, both iTunes and my iPod (so at least they’re consistent…) will first play the tracks that have the number of tracks specified (in the correct order) and then play the remaining tracks in whatever order it feels like (alphabetic order, track number order, highest to lowest rating, I don’t know…).  To fix this, I have to go through every album and make sure that the number of tracks is specified correctly.  But then it occasionally throws this information away, as well, so I’m back to square one.

Also, for some reason iTunes likes to split off tracks from albums, so they appear as separate albums in the indexes.  Normally it’s just one track from an album (and not necessarily the first or last track), and try as I might I can’t find any attribute other than the track number that differs between the tracks included on the actual album, and the one track that now appears on a separate ‘album’ (called the same thing, and with the same artwork…).  It’s really annoying, because if I want to play this album, I’ll be missing the one track that iTunes has split out.   I keep hoping that they’ll fix this in the next release of the software, but…

…the software update functionality is also crap.  Sure, it prompts you when there is a new version to download, but it doesn’t tell you what has changed in this new version (even on their website) so you have to install it and then see if it fixes any of the many problems (see above) or offers any interesting new functionality.  And more often than not the installation fails.  Last time I ‘upgraded’, it  insisted that I reboot my PC.  I did this but the PC refused to restart.  I had to do a hard power down, and then uninstall and reinstall iTunes to get it working again.  A couple of upgrades ago it screwed up something with the interface to iSproggler and now every time iSproggler starts it tells me that iTunes isn’t installed correctly and I need to repair it (I did but it made no difference).  iSproggler still seems to work, scrobbling everything to Last FM correctly, but it’s a bit disconcerting.

iTunes is also missing some key functionality.  The main thing I’d like to see is to be able to link a track to multiple albums.  Example: I bought The SmithsGreatest Hits 1 and Greatest Hits 2 albums quite some time ago.  Since then I have bought all of their other albums, which between them contain all of the tracks on the Greatest Hits packages.  So now I have 2 copies of a lot of the tracks, which is a waste of iPod space.  The obvious answer is to just delete the Greatest Hits albums.  But sometimes I just want to listen to Greatest Hits (accepted, this is The Smiths and they’re all great, but…).  I could delete the Greatest Hits albums and then set up playlists with all of the tracks from those albums in them (as I did with Bob Dylan‘s last compilation, Dylan [not to be confused with the sub-par 1973 album of the same name which has since been deleted], because I have all of those tracks already as well), but playlists are listed under a separate menu, and not the album menu (or Artist > Albums), which is annoying, as you have to remember that that’s what you’ve done.

I’d also like to be able to configure the iPod playback screen.  I’m pretty obsessive about rating tracks – mainly because I have several dynamic playlists that use the rating.  So it would be really useful if I could see the rating right there on the main iPod screen, to see if I had rated the song or not (I’m not so anal that I’ve pre-rated every one of the 9,382 tracks I have on there…).  There’s enough space – right between the elapsed time and the remaining time.  Sure, I can click through a couple of screens to get to the rating, but why should I have to?  I accept that not everyone cares about their ratings, which is why I think the screen should be customizable – maybe you want to see the genre, or year of release, or just the album art and nothing else.  Actually, I have the big iPod speaker docking station (whatever that’s called – isomething) at work, and that comes with the ability to show the ‘large album art’ (1.5″ vs the standard 1″ – whoop-dee-doo!) by default.  Which would be a nice option if iTunes didn’t keep deleting the artwork, leaving me staring at an all-black screen…

I’m not quite ready to revert to Windows Media Player just yet, but I certainly don’t agree with the fanatics who insist that Apple can do no wrong.

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  1. I feel your pain – I detest iTunes.

    Until recently I had an iRiver and I managed my music via the little known music manager Windows Explorer and this worked just fine for me. Other members of the family who had iPod used Anapod Explorer with much success.

    Then I went over to an iPod Touch and expected to be able to use Anapod but oh no, it seems Apple have blocked the direct access to the device so no third party tools and no using as a mobile drive.

    I like Apple’s design but I think that their closed attitude towards software is worse than Microsoft.

    BTW if you want to download album cover artwork without iTunes try the following:

  2. Jessie says:

    I totally agree with this article, apple are up themselves and arrogant. I hate you Apple. I have had ALL of these problems at one stage or another. Pricks.. Fix your software! Apple costs enough, so make it good.

  3. bikeman says:

    ….iTunes likes to split off tracks from albums, so they appear as separate albums in the indexes……

    From my observation iTunes splits off tracks according to the tracks artist. A12 track complilation album gets split into 12 seperate albums!!!!!!

    Don’t Apple engineers have any compilation albums?

  4. [...] I also see that the ‘now playing’ screen also shows your rating, which is actually something I’ve been asking for for a couple years (as I tend to use my ratings to filter stuff off my iPod (I don’t synch anything with a one-star rating to my iPod, and I only synch my 5-star ratings to my Blackberry) and like to see what I’ve rated and what I haven’t. So on the off chance that someone at Apple is actually paying attention, here’s a couple of other things I want fixed. [...]

  5. lizard says:

    Everytime i steer away from itunes I always end up giving it another shot, and for years now every time i switch back I run into the same problem: Albums having a song or two separated from the album.

    The album is by the only artist on the track, it is not a compilation, and all the information is the same [except for the number of the track and the name]. But for some reason iTunes deems it necessary to separate and leave me absolutely no way to get them into the same album no matter how much information i change.

    This has happened every time i try iTunes again to 3 or 4 cd’s from my whole collection. Fix it already, its not like it hasn’t been fixed for a few days. Its been years!

  6. [...] It is no secret that I am not a fan of iTunes. It is simply too big and slow in day to day use for those of us with large music collections. I am not alone is this dislike, a quick search on Google will reveal many people looking for replacements, and my friend Dirk has written once or twice on the very same subject. [...]

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