Kicking the iTunes Habit

iTunes

It’s not exactly that I don’t like iTunes – when I first started using it I was blown away by how great it was. And it just kept getting better until it hit that point. The point where it’s trying to do so many things that it doesn’t do anything right for me.

I admit that I’m not a lover of converged devices – I have a pda, a phone and a music player; they are all separate devices to perform separate functions. I like it that way.

I loved iTunes when it just played mp3s. I liked the music store, and it managed to suck some cash out of me over time. I even gave up iPodder (now Juice) for iTunes to manage my podcasts when iTunes 6 came out. But finally I had enough of putting up with things that weren’t exactly the way I wanted them in order to have it all in one place.

iTunes 7 takes a long time to load on my G4 iBook, and I was becoming less and less enchanted with the way it was handling podcasts. I also was having a harder time reconciling my strong dislike of digital rights management (wik) with my purchases from the iTunes music store. Something had to be done.

PodcastReadyI’ve already written about switching my podcast management from iTunes to PodcastReady. It’s somewhat imperfect, but it’s better than iTunes alone was for me. The success of that change has spurred me on to try and make a break. It’s not a clean break – I still use iTunes to update my iPod – but on the whole I’ve found better solutions for the individual tasks for which I used to use iTunes.

MP3 playback

Most of the time, I listen to audio on my iPod. On the go, I’m obviously using the portable player, but even at home I hook the iPod up to a small set of speakers. Combined with a third party remote control, I find using the iPod/speaker system ideal. When I do listen to audio on my laptop, I tend to use Quicktime player for single files – it opens a lot faster and seems to run a lot better than iTunes.

Get SongbirdI have also been experimenting with Songbird, an open source music player that has some really great features. One of which is that it’s a web browser as well as a media player, which means that it plays mp3 streams and embedded audio files on websites when you use it to browse.

Thanks to Songbird, I’ve been poking around various audio blogs and discovering all kinds of cool new music. Songbird isn’t a stable release yet, so it still has some problems, but already it’s showing so much promise that I think I might be able to really ditch iTunes when it’s ready for prime time.

Podcasts

I’ve fully explained my solution for audio podcasts using PodcastReady and an automator workflow previously. I’ve been using this solution exclusively for almost three months now, and I have no interest in going back. Being able to micromanage my podcasts on an individual level from my desktop or online, plus being able to share episodes with friends are worth the extra step.

For video podcasts, I’ve been relying on the Democracy player and aggregator. I never use the player feature because it has the same problem for me as the iTunes video player – it’s choppy and slow and just doesn’t work right. So I either copy videos to my iPod or, more usually, I watch them using VLC.

Democracy’s great features include being able to set some feeds to automatically download new episodes while others don’t, and it’s a bittorrent client, so I can subscribe to bittorrent feeds. Altogether excellent. And it’s an open source project.

Democracy: Internet TV

Music store

The iTunes music store is handy. Distressingly handy. I remember that when it was going to be made available in Canada, it was a few days late, and I spent those days in a state of great distress. I couldn’t wait to browse and buy by track and get what I want instantly (or at least without getting dressed). I never was a huge music buyer, but I’d add things here and there to my cart, then every few months I’d remove half of it and buy the rest. I picked up a lot of great tunes that way.

eMusicBut the DRM restrictions on iTunes music really piss me off, and while there’s a ton of music, most of it is the same stuff everyone else listens to. I wanted free (as in speech) music, and I wanted something different. So I got a subscription to eMusic, which is a subscription-based music download site. You get 30 tracks a month for $9.99 USD, which you get to keep (unlike music rental subscriptions like Rhapsody), they are DRM-free MP3 files and the catalogue is great. It’s not necessarily full of the chart toppers, but there’s a bigger selection of well-known names than a site like (the also awesome) Magnatune.

And I discovered that there’s a fantastic extension for Songbird that incorporates eMusic downloads right into Songbird. If I browse eMusic using Songbird, I can preview tracks without opening another application, and if I like them I’m just one click away to adding them to my library. The extension makes it actually easier to buy music from eMusic than it is to buy from iTunes. And since it’s a “use it or lose it” subscription, I can try out new things without as much of a guilt trip. Plus, it works out to about 33 cents per track. What’s not to like?

Summary

iTunes is trying to do too many things for my liking. Preferring to have standalone solutions, I’ve found a bunch of great apps and services which take care of all my media needs. With the exception of eMusic, all of the items I’ve listed are free as in beer and most are free as in speech.

I’ve tried some other iTunes replacements over the years with varying degrees of success. Here are some of the also-rans (as in all things, your mileage may vary):

  • Yamipod – an alternative iPod manager
  • Transistr – the podcatcher formerly known as iPodder X, now on hiatus or something
  • djdownload.com – a pretty good selection of electronic-type tunes and dj stuff (note: IANADJ), but I could never get my account to work

4 thoughts on “Kicking the iTunes Habit

  1. ITunes DRM protection sucks! I have been using the program to strip iTunes files now for 4-6 months and I’m very happy. This SoundTaxi (http://www.soundtaxi.info/) is a major rip-off for them to try and sell me songs that get easily corrupted or lost in file format. I do not share the songs I convert, but this copy-protection junk is terrible and very frustrating :(

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