How to kick iTunes' lock-in media formats squarely in the fruit

How to kick iTunes' lock-in media formats squarely in the fruit

Summary: ZDNet Editor-In-Chief Larry Dignan came to the frustrating realization today that his iTunes media collection was rendered unusable on his new media device, a SanDisk Sansa Clip. When he tried to copy his files over, he quickly found out many of them were useless and wouldn't play.

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ZDNet Editor-In-Chief Larry Dignan came to the frustrating realization today that his iTunes media collection was rendered unusable on his new media device, a SanDisk Sansa Clip. When he tried to copy his files over, he quickly found out many of them were useless and wouldn't play.

I feel for Larry, I really do. I happen to utterly despise iTunes, it's a bloated, buggy, and wretched application, particularly on Windows. The first bit of advice I would give to anyone maintaining a digital audio library is that if you're not tied to using an iPod as your primary portable media player, or if you are just playing songs on your PC, then avoid iTunes entirely.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry link below" for more.

There's any number of alternative media players and managers you can use, such as MediaMonkey, which will do a much saner job of organizing your media library and will allow you to store your files in any number of open formats. MediaMonkey will also rip tracks and perform the encode functions, and if you so wish, use iTunes to import your library and continue to use them in an open format such as MP3 or AAC.

Apple announced back in early January at MacWorld that it would be removing the long despised FairPlay DRM in downloaded iTunes songs from the iTunes Store. Recent updates to the iTunes software may have already removed these restrictions from your iTunes files, and all of the songs on iTunes should be DRM-free by the end of March 2009. However, If you've already downloaded an existing library of DRM-protected M4A/M4P files, there are a number of utilities on the market such as Daniusoft Media Converter Pro that will do the job of removing the DRM so you can then convert the files to a more open format.

While not directly related to media encoding, if you're a podcast junkie, you might also want to look into Juice Receiver, which is an Open Source podcast manager that replaces iTunes' podcast directory for Windows and Mac.

If you use an iPod, you also don't have to be stuck with iTunes as your management and synchronization program. I'm particularly fond of YamiPod, a freeware application which is cross-platform and runs on Windows, Linux, as well as the Mac. YamiPod has some unique features such as the ability to initialize and repair an iPod's filesystem, can find and remove duplicate tracks, recover lost files and has support for the Last.FM service. YamiPod does not actually perform the ripping and file encoding functions of iTunes, so you'll want to use Mediamonkey or two other Windows-based encoding/ripping applications I like, CDex or Mediacoder Audio Edition.

CDex is not under active development (the latest version is circa 2007) but it is still a very useful program, as it can encode directly to MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis or strip to raw WAV formats. CDex also has the ability to use the CDDB database to auto-title your stripped tracks. If you don't consider yourself a encoding nut and you want something very easy to use, CDex is a great utility. I set my wife up with it the second she got her new iPod 120GB a week ago and she's been merrily stripping her CD collection with it. The bonus is I can use her same iPod music files on any other device I care to play them on. While some devices support the iTunes M4A format natively (such as my BlackBerry Bold) I'd prefer to keep my files from iTunes' and Apple's intervention.

Mediacoder is a much more powerful program under active development for true audiophiles who really like to tweak their audio files -- it comes with a wide range of audio codecs that allow iTunes/iPod M4A and uncompressed WAV to be "transcoded" to other audio formats for other devices. Like any really powerful program with a lot of options, however, it's not exactly on the user-friendly side -- I'd describe it as the GIMP or Photoshop of audio encoding applications. MediaCoder also comes in video and iPod-specific editions for dealing with portable video formats as well, in the event that you have Windows Media or XVids you want to watch on an iPod Video or iPod Touch. MediaCoder also has a very large user community and support forums in case you need some help getting started.

But what if you're a Linux or UNIX user? Well, as it turns out you've got a large number of options. From the low-level device management perspective you have GTKpod which can easily be installed in Ubuntu and any number of other Linux distributions, and allows you to directly manipulate an iPod's filesystem as well as re-initialize it if required. In addition to YamiPod mentioned earlier, there is also Banshee for GNOME (which now supports Android devices) as well as AmaroK for KDE, both of which have been under active development for several years and have extremely polished GUIs, which in a number of respects are more advanced than iTunes in terms of supported features, the list of which is too long to enumerate in this short post. In addition to supporting all the major Linux and free UNIX distributions, Banshee and Amarok also have Windows and Mac OS X versions in early development, in case you want to give them a try.

In addition to Banshee and AmaroK, another relatively new cross platform iTunes replacement which has been gaining popularity is Songbird. Songbird is brought to you by some of the same developers that gave you Firefox, WinAmp and Yahoo! Music Jukebox. It currently runs in Windows, Linux and Mac, but has not reached a level of maturity comparable to Banshee or AmaroK yet.

Got any other good iPod utilities for Windows, Linux and Mac? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Windows, Apple, Hardware, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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63 comments
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  • I LOVE the image!!

    Defective by design, I love it!!!

    I have to say that out of all the OSs, I find Linux to be a fantastic just because of Amarok. Best media player software ever.
    NonZealot
    • kind of dated

      Yeah, hilarious... except that the iTunes Store is largely DRM-free, and
      will be completely free of DRM by the end of the quarter.
      buddhistMonkey
      • Mostly DRM-free...

        The store is now largely DRM-free. They even sent me an email asking if I wanted to "upgrade" my existing purchases to the DRM-free versions, for a mere $0.79/song (for a couple hundred songs - I don't think so).

        Unfortunately, I didn't realize that when I first started using iTunes, the songs would be in AAC, with an M4A file extension. Took me forever to figure out why when I copied the files onto my laptop they wouldn't play. I mean, I went to iTunes to download MP3's, not M4A's. It wasn't like I was asked what format I wanted my songs in when I installed iTunes. Or if they did ask, I certainly didn't realize I was selecting M4A files. Now I know better.

        So the fact that they are now DRM-free doesn't help anyone who purchased prior to now.

        I still use Media Monkey to manage my music, rip CD's, etc. It's the best one i've tried so far for managing music as well as playing music.

        But, the software I use to DJ with is actually an add-on to iTunes, so I still end up going back to iTunes with my music.

        Oh well.
        trent1
        • So what you're saying is?

          ? that you are mad at Apple for offering you higher-quality audio.
          How dare they make your music sound better, and take less space. What
          jerks. How dare they assume that you would prefer music of higher audio
          quality. How presumptuous of them.
          As for DRM, that was forced on Apple by the major labels, NOT by Apple
          on their customers. Blaming Apple for this is ludicrous. Likewise the
          upgrade pricing is NOT dictated by Apple.
          Get your facts straight.
          SpiritusInMachina
      • re: kind of dated

        I think Perlow covers that with the statement "Recent updates to the iTunes software may have already removed these restrictions from your iTunes files, and all of the songs on iTunes should be DRM-free by the end of March 2009." The article seems to mainly be about what to do with your OLDER files.
        Snark Shark
    • Got to agree

      "I have to say that out of all the OSs, I find Linux to be a fantastic just because of Amarok. Best media player software ever. "

      I agree- Amarok is IMO the best media player software out there. Even though Amarok 2.0 was still a little buggy on Gnome when I tried it last.
      balaknair
  • RE: How to kick iTunes' lock-in media formats squarely in the fruit

    iTunes, like all things Apple, sucks ass. Apple should
    sell itself to Sony or Panasonic--at least then their
    crappy stuff will be priced like crappy electronics
    should be.
    jessie.kriste
    • I agree 100%

      Great post. :)
      NonZealot
    • what color is the sky in your world?

      ((( "Apple should sell itself to Sony or Panasonic..." )))

      Panasonic's market cap is 22.78 billion. Sony's market cap is 19.56
      billion. Apple's market cap is [b]84.98 billion,[/b] which is more than
      [i]double[/i] Sony and Panasonic put together.

      Smarter trolls, please.
      buddhistMonkey
      • And your point is?

        Seriously. MS has about 85% market share; does that mean Apple is meaningless?
        Oh, that is right, only statistics that show Apple in a good light mean anything. The rest are irrelevant...

        And why would Apple's market cap be a reason for treating its customers so poorly?

        Smarter trolls? You can't handle the ones you have.
        mdemuth
        • Let me break this down

          Someone with 5 dollars cannot buy something that is worth $20.00,
          unless they get a loan.

          Market cap (number of shares outstanding times the price per share)
          is a way of ranking the value of companies, and it is not prudent for a
          company to acquire one so much larger than itself. That was the
          practical point, Sony cannot buy Apple.

          Of course the original comment wasn't meant to be prudent financial
          advice or a prospectus, so, not much point in responding with facts,
          assuming the market caps were reported accurately.

          When iTunes started using aac as its default, I switched preferences to
          192 kbps mp3. I haven't tried this, but if any one woke up to find a lot
          of aac music files on their system, couldn't they switch the preference
          to mp3, select the entire library, convert to mp3 (under the 'Advanced'
          menu) and consolidate the mp3s with a smart folder (*.mp3)?
          DannyO_0x98
          • Yes.

            But that would require technical competence in using computer
            software, something, apparently, that is not a job requirement for
            editor-in-chief of ZDNet.
            frgough
          • Funny the double standard

            When someone can't get something working with Apple, it is because they don't have the required technical competence to use computer software.

            When someone can't get something working with Windows, it is because the product is unintuitive.

            You guys are hilarious. :)
            NonZealot
          • Ouch...nt

            nt
            TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
          • What double standard?

            Not that you'll respond, seeing what a forum coward you are, with
            your post-and-run antics, but WTF are you talking about?!?

            The issue brought up by the OP is not what an average user can or
            can't do (although anyone who can't figure out how to set basic
            preferences in a software package has issues). The issue is whether
            some one who works at a tech publication, and specifically as editor-
            in-chief, should be able to, or if this admitted inability it cause for
            calls of incompetence.

            You do a fine job of misunderstanding an issue, and then misquoting
            people. As for cogent commentary, you have yet to post a single
            salient point.
            SpiritusInMachina
        • if you have to ask, you'll never know

          ((( "Smarter trolls? You can't handle the ones you have." )))

          Wow. Pretty embarrassing lack of reading comprehension on your
          part. Do you understand how a thread works? Try reading the
          post above mine first, then reread mine again.

          If you're counting yourself amongst the smarter trolls, don't. You
          make NonZealot and Scrat look like the physicists who designed
          the Large Hadron Collider.
          buddhistMonkey
    • It's Apple with the cash

      Apple has the free cash to buy either Sony or Panasonic, it's not
      the other way around. If the market keeps on the trend it's been
      on for the last 18 months Apple might even have the free cash to
      buy both.
      Ken_z
  • RE: How to kick iTunes' lock-in media formats squarely in the fruit

    Don't forget about Winamp. The ml_ipod plugin v3.08 works with my Ipod Touch with firmware 2.2.1. It has cd ripping built in. The ml_ipod is at SourceForge.
    http://mlipod.sourceforge.net/
    akanealw
  • It [b]is[/b] AAC . . .

    "MediaMonkey will also rip tracks and perform the encode functions, and if you so wish, use iTunes to import your library and continue to use them in an open format such as MP3 or AAC."

    Good grief . . .

    iTunes' music [b]is[/b] AAC, just wrapped in a different container format. Assuming you're using files without DRM, you shouldn't need any conversion: Just dump the existing audio stream into a different container.
    CobraA1
    • Maybe the blog author

      is bucking for editor-in-chief job. Apparently ignorance and inability to
      use logic are prime requisites.
      frgough