Should I start using iTunes?
September 18, 2005 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I start using iTunes? Why?

I've been a diehard Winamp user for 8 years. Before that, MacAmp. It's simple and does (mostly, I guess) what I need it to do.

(I'm even partially to blame for "It really whips the llama's ass," actually)

I currently have my entire collection (roughly 120gb I ripped via EAC\LAME in an \\ folder structure) on a file server in my house that is mounted via SMB over 100Mbit Ethernet. My wife has an iPod Mini and therefore uses iTunes. I, on the other hand, have an iRiver iFP-799 that I have running on the Korean firmware to make it act as a UMS device (no additional software needed to transfer files over).

Would I benefit by moving to iTunes, if I already have everything pretty well organized? If so, what are the advantages over what I've already got? Would the software bog my machine down, or worse, make [destructive] changes to the media or organization I already have? I know it's a longshot, but would it be able to facilitate the transfer of music to my device?

So should I totally get with the 21st century or what?
posted by kuperman to Computers & Internet (31 answers total)
Don't switch. If you're having issues organizing, even with your structure, I'd recommend writing some simple search & retrieve scripts with perl or the like. If you know C#/Java you could even make a little interface for it that wouldn't be bad at all.

Personally, winamp + playlists works very well for me.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:26 PM on September 18, 2005

IMHO, the best part of itunes is the user experience and just the "feel" of it. It's so smooth and streamlined. Of course I love the way it integrates with my ipods, and I couldn't live without some of the features (playlists, podcasts, automatic volume leveling, flexibility in sorting and view preferences), but I LOVE it because of the "feel".
posted by kdern at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2005

Personally, I like MusikCube. It's an open source music library program, just like iTunes is. The thing that makes it stand out is that it's very resource friendly (iTunes takes from 50 up to 100 megs of ram at times and can be a CPU hog).
posted by lockle at 2:32 PM on September 18, 2005

Short answer: no. OK, iTunes has a pretty interface and syncs easily with the iPods, but it's a huge resource hog (esp. on Windows) and doesn't really do anything that Winamp won't. There's even a plugin to let your wife update the iPod from within Winamp, though I'm sure you already knew about this.

iTunes is great if you've got a disorganised collection or if you're a noob. As an experienced Winamp user, it'll feel like you're wading through treacle. Everything is so... slow...
posted by blag at 2:34 PM on September 18, 2005

iTunes lets you forget about organising files and folders and allows you to browse your music in a much more flexible way. You need to forget your music collection is just a bunch of files and think of them as songs and albums instead.

You can use a program like Thrupp (self link, Mac only) to get music from iTunes to any UMS music player.
posted by cillit bang at 2:34 PM on September 18, 2005

I agree with devilsbrigade. I don't like iTunes' way of trying to provide a totally new interface with your music. I like to just keep my MP3 files organized and browseable in the OS' file system, thank you very much. I've been collecting for more years than iTunes has been around and lots of my files come from different sources and I use them for different things. iTunes isn't my end-all, be-all application for audio, so I find its inability to play with my folder scheme really annoying. I have several folders, for example, like "Blues Brothers Soundtrack" and it presents those songs to me completely disassociated from each other, by artist. Sure, I can go through and mark every damn one of them as "part of a compilation" but in my mind I already did that when I saved them all to a folder called "Blues Brothers Soundtrack" and I don't want to do it all over for the sake of some proprietary app. Lame.

Sure, it's fancy to be able to search, categorize and sort all by album title, etc. If you're one of those unstoppable organizer type of people: go wild. But for me, in practice, the tag data that drives these features is often corrupt or inconsistent, rendering the iTunes interface more of a hindrance than anything. I've always hated iTunes' way of managing my iPod, too. So damn complicated. I still don't know how to REMOVE an album from my iPod when I want to. The iPod is a nice player but I'm at the point of trying out other 3rd party apps for putting music onto it. iTunes = annoying as hell.

By default, itunes imports all your music into its own folder structure. If you don't want it to do this, you can disable it in the preferences, and then it will leave your music alone.

What you can turn off is its unfathomable desire to COPY all the MP3 FILES into it's OWN FOLDER. But you cannot make iTunes show you your music the way it's organized in your own folders. I'd love to be wrong on this. Someone tell me if I am.
posted by scarabic at 2:37 PM on September 18, 2005

Would the software bog my machine down

In my experience, yes. It's dog slow and the Windows implementation is crappy. I still haven't installed it onto my brand new PC, because, like RealPlayer, it's on my list of things-to-never-install-unless-you-want-your-PC-to-slowly-and-inevitably-start-slowing-down.

This is obviously a cue for Mac folks to blame Windows, but the questioner is using Windows, so I think it's fair to say.
posted by scarabic at 2:41 PM on September 18, 2005

What you can turn off is its unfathomable desire to COPY all the MP3 FILES into it's OWN FOLDER. But you cannot make iTunes show you your music the way it's organized in your own folders. I'd love to be wrong on this. Someone tell me if I am.

Not directly; you need to get your tags in order. To do this, create a new playlist, drag a folder onto it, choose Select All and then Get Info, and set the Album and Compilation tags for that folder in one go.
posted by cillit bang at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2005

For me, I am happy with integration of radio listings.
posted by quam at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2005

You can use an app like MusicBrainz tagger to make sure your ID3 tags are up to date.
posted by sid at 2:59 PM on September 18, 2005

In my experience, people with your backstory HATE iTunes. They immediately want to find the options to change things, options that don't even exist. Which is frustrating enough to make them give up.
posted by smackfu at 3:04 PM on September 18, 2005

Stick with winamp. The media library is great, just get a decent skin that is actually readable.
posted by corpse at 3:27 PM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: corpse, I still use the classic skin and no fancy options ... right now.
posted by kuperman at 3:28 PM on September 18, 2005

The media library is great, just get a decent skin that is actually readable

Have you got any recommendations?
posted by madman at 3:40 PM on September 18, 2005

As a counterpoint to scarabic:

I resisted the move to iTunes for a l-o-n-g time. I, too, had a wonderful homebrewed personal file structure, one that made sense to me, one that kept my compilations together, one that worked the way I worked. I tried iTunes once or twice (always making sure it wasn't going to ruin my precious file structure), and was never impressed.

Then one day I went to visit a close friend whom I had not seen in a while. He'd begun to use iTunes. As we sat and talked about music for a couple of hours, I watched as he was able to call up artists and songs almost instantly (it would have taken anywhere from a few seconds to a couple minutes for me to find files via the OS), I marvelled that iTunes knew that compilations were compilations (and that albums were albums). After watching my friend work with his files I decided that for me, at least, maybe iTunes made sense.

I moved all my music files to iTunes.

Sure there were some headaches. I spent hours upon end cleaning up tags, but now that I'm finished, my music library is a pleasure to work with.

iTunes is not without its headaches, but it's worth serious consideration. You can always tell it not to mess with your file structure and then run it side-by-side with WinAmp for a while to see how you like it.

On the other hand, scarabic's right: from my experience, the Windows implementation of iTunes isn't that great.
posted by jdroth at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2005

Itunes is good for organizing everything for us lazy bastards who don't want to do it ourselves. It interfaces perfectly with the ipod. Those are two reasons to use it.

Another is the music store.

If none of that floats your boat, there is no reason to switch.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:33 PM on September 18, 2005

I uninstalled iTunes and went with WinAmp Pro and it was the best decision I've made in a long time. I like the warm, fuzzy familiarity of Winamp. Winamp Pro, along with the iPod plug-in, rocks my world.
posted by iconomy at 4:34 PM on September 18, 2005

Oh - you don't have to have Winamp Pro to replace iTunes. I upgraded to get better ripping and burning capabilities. Free Winamp has the Media Library, which is what's equivalent with iTunes, I think.
posted by iconomy at 4:38 PM on September 18, 2005

so what i do is keep all of my files on a linux server, stored in the artist/album/song.mp3 format. my slimp3 server runs on the linux box.

then i mount the mp3 directory on my mac(s), and import it all into itunes with "keep organized" and "copy files" turned off. so then i can copy these mp3s to my iPod easily, and use iTunes to create/manage id3 tags.

so i guess i get the best of both worlds. i guess if you wanted to use windows as an iTunes client then you'd have to use samba or something on the linux box... no idea how well NFS is supported in windows.
posted by joeblough at 4:47 PM on September 18, 2005

amaroK is perhaps the most perfect music player I've found - however, it's only available for KDE/Linux. It is supposed to support iPods though (haven't tried - don't own one since I mainly rip to and use ogg files).
posted by Auz at 5:06 PM on September 18, 2005

Maybe a week ago I decided to give iTunes (for Windows) a shot again. But it was a total resource pig and not something I feel comfortable running 24/7 like Winamp.

Winamp's memory usage was something like 5mb when idle, 15mb when playing. If I remember correctly, iTunes was 40mb all the time, plus it had some iPod detecting service running that I couldn't disable (as I don't have an iPod.) It's been uninstalled and probably won't get tried again without hearing there's been a huge overhaul.
posted by frenetic at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2005

I would think with your iRiver, that keeping your organisation at the file level would be more productive. Perhaps consider what your next mp3 player purchase is likely to be (even if we're talking years in the future), and factor that into account. If the Apple products appeal to you and you can see yourself buying one in the future, that's a point for switching to itunes, if Apple's wares don't seem to offer like what you like in a player, it's a point against. If you just don't know, um, ignore this :-)

Personally, I've been burned by adopting bells-and-whistles systems before and so I will do my best to keep my collection free of any system that isn't interoperable with the norm, in order to prevent lock-in and other problems. To me, organising at the file level is the closest thing to a universal system that any future purchase will work with. The truth of this may arguably be in the process of changing, but I don't think it has changed yet. The future, however, will be interesting :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:26 PM on September 18, 2005

I have used winamp for about as long as you have and although I have iTunes installed on my PC I rarely fire it up. As mentioned earlier, iTunes for PC uses a lot of memory. If I am playing games or writing code I need those resources. If you want your songs organized better, get MusicBrainz. Also, Winamp has such a decent collection of user add-ons for skins, visualization, plug/ins/outs there isn't much you can't do if you really want to. The only thing I miss from iTunes is smart playlists.
posted by sophist at 6:13 PM on September 18, 2005

I've got to put in a vote for J River, I've been using it for about a year and have been quite pleased. It has a display similar to iTunes, but has a lot more functionality and works well with large collections.
posted by Jawn at 6:40 PM on September 18, 2005

Applause for kuperman!

There are more than enough inconsiderate zealots in this world, and I'm glad to see you're not one of them. Good for you.

Winamp's time in the music-library limelight has long passed. I used 2.9.x as my standalone (non-library) audio/video player until VLC got good.

Oddly, there are a ton of people who insist on organizing their digital music collections manually using nested folders, with no metadata at all. As you are realizing, this worked great five years ago, but not so much now.

A lot of these people resist iTunes like it was built upon a foundation of Darl McBride's dead children. They whine un-knowledgably about DRM restrictions that Apple doesn't impose, and generally act like douchebags all over the tech-savvy side of the internet.

The reason why software and hardware music player makers don't use vanilla folders is because it's impossible to implement in a way that is usable for everybody who hasn't been doin' the folder thing for a long time.

The way iTunes catalogs your music on your computer is by creating a flat database file of where everything is, and what metadata are associated with the files. If you so choose, it can keep the folders neat for you (it's way may not fit with your folder ontology, caveat emptor). If you rip music with it, the files will be stored in nested folders organized by ~\Artist\Album\01 - First Song.mp3.

iTunes stores music on the iPod in a different way. To speed up the iPod's filesystem, all music files are renamed on the fly to be short numbers, and shunted into folders in bunches of a hundred or so. All the metadata that the iPod actually displays is stored in a database, it doesn't look at the files except to play them. This is why the iPod is really responsive, and the original Nomads were awful slow and took several minutes to start up. It's also why each successive iPod is smaller and lighter (with a smaller or same capacity battery), yet the battery life improves with each version.

Apple uses systems like this not to 'lock you in' or anything, but so that playing music works.

It's AAC encoding is awesome. Johnny Cash's 'The Man Comes Around' sounds like shit encoded with LAME set to it's highest quality settings 320kbs CBR, and I'm no 'audiophile.' It sounds much better at 128kbs AAC, but still noticably different, and perfect encoded at 192kbs or higher AAC. If you were to re-encode your high quality LAME-encoded MP3s into lower bitrate AACs to save space on an iPod or something, you wouldn't lose much.
posted by blasdelf at 12:42 AM on September 19, 2005

winamp (at least after installing a ton of plugins) just does so many more things right than any other music player. VLC gets honerable mention though, if i didnt have winamp id run vlc for my audio. but heres the deal with winamp. its got over 10,000 radio stations, 200 tv stations including over 5 tin foil hat documentary stations, the best visualization program ever (AVS which lets you program the raw maths of advanced music visuals and even has a plugin to set output to avi), a plugin to watch your tv tuner card, a plugin to control it remotely from a web browser (imagine wifi on pda or cell phone), the media library finds your stuff quickly, runs a low footprint (installed with only the classic mode), the newest one supports 5.1 3d aac, and once you install support for flac, mpc, ape, etc. you can burn them straight to CD (good for your loser friends who still use cd's) , and it rips and burns very fast. On top of that you can get a zillion dsp effects to make shitty techno remixes on the fly, theres a plugin to read text documents via microsoft sam, there's more visualization options than any other program, basically if you really want to get your hack on winamp is about as hacked as you can get. and have you ever tried setting the AVS to desktop mode, and then set the color to black? it runs the visuals in any black area on the monitor, so you can run mame (and adjust the gammas of course) with the visual plugin playing in any black pixel on the screen.
posted by psychobum at 2:08 AM on September 19, 2005

Response by poster: Honestly, I run Winamp pretty stripped down and always have, which probably should have been my first indicator that I do not need to go to iTunes.

All of my mp3s are properly tagged, which is not an issue. I think the biggest benefit to having my file structure set up the way I do is the ability to burn entire folder structures with the greatest of ease to disposable CD-R and throw in the car (I have the nice 2003 model Alpine HU with mp3 playback - it reads and displays ID3v2 tags).

I appreciate everyone's input. For the time being, or until the wife accidentally buys me a nano for Hanukkah, I'm going to steer clear of iTunes, as it just seems like it would be too much of a hassle.
posted by kuperman at 3:35 AM on September 19, 2005

blasdelf, could you be a little more insulting to those of us who don't like what you like, and a little more self-congratulatory, please? Jesus.

kuperman, I know this is off-topic but could you share how you're partially to blame responsible for whipping the llama's ass? I love that.
posted by iconomy at 5:25 AM on September 19, 2005

If you love your file names, don't switch. Winamp takes what you give it, iTunes will rename from something like "Donauschingen (Peter Kruders Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänskajütenremix).mp3" to "1-09 Donauschingen (Peter Kruders Do.mp3" if you let it rename things. Stupid Mac OS9 file name length limitations imposed on Windows that can handle something much, much longer. And the interface? feh. Try running iTunes in "mini player mode" and compare that to the slim windowshade you get with Winamp. Don't bother switching unless there's a technophobe in your house who can't figure out how to get stuff on an iPod without iTunes. Me, I let my wife use iTunes for her iPod, and I still fire up Winamp to play files.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:09 AM on September 19, 2005

Response by poster: iconomy, the story goes...

Many years ago, there was MacAmp. And some other terrible other mp3 players for Mac that were incredibly buggy and practically useless (and also Vamp). But there was MacAmp.

Back in early spring of 1997, Tom Pepper (who along with Justin Frankel would later partially rule the world as Nullsoft) was a regular on one of the IRC channels I frequented. Around that same time, I was listening to (RIP) Wesley Willis's masterpiece, "Fabian Road Warrior", on which many of the songs discussed llamas and whupping the asses of similar farm animals and world figures.

I was amazed by how well the MacAmp ran on my PowerMac 8500! It even ran on my parents' POS Performa 6400 with little to no RAM! I could even do other stuff in the background! Hell, I could even run two at a time!

So I sent an e-mail to the MacAmp guys along the lines of:

"Dude! This software is awesome! It really whips the llama's ass!"

Obviously someone found this funny. It was posted on the comments page for a good while after that.

I thought that was it. I didn't know it had been retained until some guy e-mailed me in 1998 (I think that's when it was, I don't still have e-mail logged to prove it) when Nullsoft was running some sort of skinning contest (I think that's what it was). He found some picture resource that, in the title bar, said "It really whips the llama's ass!" (You could get to it from within the program using some really obscure key combination, holding two keys and clicking on the pi... oh wait) Using his old-school search-engine-fu, he found the original MacAmp comments page. He wanted to know what it meant.

A few months later, I downloaded and installed the new version of Winamp, only to hear JJ McKay in some amazing radio voice stating:

"WINAMP: It really whips the llama's ass!"

And that's the short version.
posted by kuperman at 8:01 AM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Awesome. How cool - this kind of trivia really whips the llama's ass too! Thanks for sharing that.
posted by iconomy at 9:24 AM on September 19, 2005

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