A Closer Look at iTunes 1.1

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iTunes version 1.1 is now available, and it is shaping up to be one of Apple's most popular titles ever. Version 1.0 was downloaded over three quarters of a million times in just over a month, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. iTunes' user-friendly interface and powerful features promise to make it at least as popular as iMovie, another spoke in Apple's "digital hub" concept. Although the application's bright future is partly due to its independence from additional equipment -- unlike iMovie, which requires a video camera -- users who have a CD burner will get more out of iTunes than users who don't have one. Even if you don't have a CD-ROM drive in your computer, iTunes is still a viable product that can help you organize and listen to MP3s.

But as good as it is, iTunes is not the greatest thing since sliced bread, to use the most trite of all clichés. It's the greatest thing since spreadable margarine, maybe, but not sliced bread. Yet it does have a bevy of features that its main competitor, SoundJam, does not. (As has been widely reported, iTunes is essentially a modified version of SoundJam.) Now that I've had a little time to look at iTunes 1.1, here are some things it does and does not do as compared with SoundJam. Stay tuned to Macworld reviews for a complete critique of iTunes in the coming weeks.

iTunes has a more manageable library than SoundJam does -- and it's searchable to boot. Users who want to keep text records of their music library will find iTunes' Export Song List feature a handy addition, as it allows users to make a list with just a couple of mouse clicks.

All playlists appear in a single window, making it much easier to drag and drop files between playlists. If you have an MP3 player, you'll be pleased to know that you can now add and remove files in the same source window shared by your Library and Radio Tuner. Your MP3 player will show up as an item in the Source list.

Speaking of CDs, iTunes can burn it up. If you want to make your own CDs, you no longer need Toast or an Apple CD-RW drive, as version 1.0 required. iTunes 1.1 not only burns CDs but also supports numerous third-party CD-RW drives.

However, iTunes still lacks some features that we would like to see in the next version.

For starters, and this is purely a cosmetic criticism, you can't use third-party skins with iTunes. That is, users can't modify its look and feel as they can in SoundJam and many other applications. Just as Apple helped us escape the uniformity of beige boxes, they should understand that we want our computer's software to look differently, too.

iTunes also doesn't have a stream broadcaster. Although the Radio Tuner feature is easy to use and comes with a fairly comprehensive list of stations, some users will want to reverse the transmission and broadcast their own streaming MP3 radio stations. For now, those people will have to stick with SoundJam or MacAmp.

Furthermore, and perhaps most troubling, iTunes may disable your other CD-burning software if you're using an external CD burner. The iTunes 1.1 Read Me file states, "With FireWire and USB CD-RW drives, you may not be able to use third-party CD burning software after you install iTunes. Contact the manufacturer of the CD burning software for updates that resolve this problem. To avoid this problem, when you install iTunes, choose the option that does not install the CD authoring support. You will not be able to create audio CDs with iTunes, but your third-party CD burning software will continue to function."

In other words, if you frequently use an application such as Toast to burn CDs, have a FireWire CD-RW drive, and want to burn anything other than audio CDs, you'll have to install a partial version of iTunes. Apple's proposed fix (contacting the manufacturer or disabling some of iTunes' burning abilities) is a kludgey solution at best. Essentially, it means that users still need to use two different applications to burn audio CDs.

Both iTunes and SoundJam are fine MP3 players and encoders. However, each has features that the other does not. In fact, the two players/encoders complement each other so well that some users might want to keep both, rather than use one exclusively.

Do you have an opinion about iTunes 1.1? Talk about it in the iTunes 1.1 thread of Macworld 's Digital Music forum.

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