Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 29/04/2004Apple has upgraded iTunes. Like all upgrades, it has good parts -- better playlist handling, new lossless compression -- and not-so-good parts, such as more restrictive networked file-sharing and a deep desire to drag you off to iTunes Music Store at every opportunity.

Thursday 29/04/2004
Apple has upgraded iTunes. Like all upgrades, it has good parts -- better playlist handling, new lossless compression -- and not-so-good parts, such as more restrictive networked file-sharing and a deep desire to drag you off to iTunes Music Store at every opportunity. You can only make seven copies of a song onto CD, not ten as before (and check that licence agreement: Apple can change any of this whenever it likes, no matter what you thought you'd agreed when you bought your music. Isn't that sort of thing illegal?).

There are also reports that some iPods stop working after the upgrade, which makes me reluctant to download the new software just yet. I feel much the same about recent versions of Yahoo IM and the AOL client software, all of which exhibit the 'must-keep-changing' model of product development that has so often taken a good basic idea and drowned it in glitter.

There are plenty of times in my digital life where in retrospect I can see I should have stopped several generations before I actually did. Sony used to make really good minidisc recorders about the size of a packet of cigarettes: robust, reliable and with just the right mix of features, they felt and behaved like professional devices. I had one, it was lovely. But the darn things kept shrinking and getting sparklier: they also got more fragile and harder to use. I kept buying them: mistake.

The stakes are higher now, as iTunes demonstrates. Your next upgrade may introduce unwanted side-effects: it might also have some thundering great misbegotten digital rights management system in it that stops you doing whatever it was you wanted to do in the first place. Is there ever a roll-back option to switch back to the older version? Of course not. Has the company had your money already? Check your wallet. As for comeback; you must be joking. Far from encouraging backward compatibility, upgrades these days are a vital part of any company's long-term marketing strategy and seem designed to get you just where they want you by coming with burned bridges pre-installed.

It can go wrong, thank goodness, as it has with a lawyer friend who has finally lost patience with Microsoft Office's haphazard handling of older file formats each time a new version comes out. A fine example of the professional non-geek market on which business software companies utterly depend, he's being driven into the arms of open-source software for the sake of his own sanity.

Let's hope that open software can evolve fast enough to keep us going before the DRM cuffs get slapped on for good. But, by Jiminy, it's going to be a close-run thing