Somebody Has To Say It: It's Time For iTunes Lite

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Facebook integration. Tweeting my music interests. AppleTV. Full-screen album extras. App management. An entire online store. Smart playlists. CD burning. Ringtone creation. Tips the scales at 88MB. All this in what is essentially the only music player on OS X. At some point enough is enough, and for me it was enough years ago. For god’s sake, Apple, all I want to do is play my music.

For years Apple has been adding to iTunes, and while some improvements have been welcome, many have simply added to the bloat. It’s time — way past time, really — for Apple to put out something lightweight and basic. I understand that iTunes is a wedge (and weapon) for Apple, and I don’t propose gutting it, but considering there are no credible alternatives to the program, it’s at the point where I feel Apple has stopped simply adding to the feature buffet, and has started force-feeding users.

winampOn my PC I use Winamp — have for years, love it. I understand I can’t have a carbon copy, if you will, on OS X, but at the very least give me a program that isn’t 80% features I will never use.

I just prefer apps that do one or two things, and do them well — surely I’m not the only one. I play movies in MPlayerOSX or VLC and organize them myself, as I know many people do. Even if I did use Twitter, I wouldn’t want to tweet what I’m listening to or buying; LastFM works fine for that and already has a client or is embeddable in many services. Same for liking things on Facebook. And App management? I don’t have an iPhone or an iPod, why would I want my media player to include support? You can hide some of it, but far from all of it, and it disturbs me that it’s always lurking there, just underneath the surface. Waiting.

Songbird is out there, I guess (I should switch), but it still emulates iTunes shamelessly and adds yet more features I don’t want in a music player, plus a browser. I already have a browser, guys. Use that one for your fun rich content. What else is there? Audion, abandoned these five years? Cog, abandoned a year and a half? Banshee and Vox, for six months? I’ve seen forums where people recommend running Winamp in a virtual machine to save RAM! We’re in a gilded cage, fellow Mac users, and unlike the iPhone’s gated and patrolled garden of mobile delights, it’s not one you should be satisfied with.

Many Mac users chime in angrily whenever I have the nerve to mention bloat in a precious, perfect Apple product. Is it really such a stretch of the imagination to believe that some people might just want to play their music, or perhaps organize and browse it differently from how iTunes lets you? I think for every person who is excited to let Genius pick their party’s music, there is someone who can’t stand how playlists work. And for every person who likes the way iTunes organizes albums and tracks, there’s someone for whom its method of displaying their collection is frustrating and backwards. For instance:

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What’s wrong with this picture? It’s janky as hell is what, and this kind of weirdo sorting issue is far from rare. To say nothing of the many other annoyances I find in this monstrosity of a media player.

So what are people for whom iTunes isn’t right supposed to do? For years now, the answer from Apple and OS X developers has been “just deal with it.”

Meanwhile, among the several options I have to me on XP (and 7) are very competent free and/or open-source alternatives to Microsoft’s iTunes-equivalent, Windows Media Player — which isn’t as bad as everyone says, but lord it ain’t good. Take a look at the features available in Winamp. Now observe the following screen:

winamp
(or I could just download the 6.4MB “Lite” version)

Why don’t I have one of those for iTunes? Does Apple not trust me when I say that I’ll never use Genius or Facebook integration? Do they not have the ability to decouple these decadent sidecar-apps from the fundamental functionality of their media player? It’s a fail one way or the other.

At the risk of getting too general in my criticism, the lack of a variety in certain kinds of software is one of the unanswerable complaints against OS X. There are dozens of programs on my PC that have no equivalent (or only a weak one) on a Mac, and rarely because, as is often said, the functionality is duplicated in the OS or what have you. If I weren’t away from my desktop, I’d list ‘em off for you. But this iTunes thing is symptomatic of that larger problem. With no alternatives, Apple’s option becomes more and more entrenched, and as it becomes entrenched, it spreads its tentacles hideously, and results in things like the present iTunes (and to a lesser extent, iMovie, iPhoto, and others). After today’s shenanigans, the program is fatter and more tentacular than ever.

In the end, it seems to me that it would be so easy for Apple to make a smaller media player that they must have made a choice not to do so. Considering there are no other options, that’s a decision that is, to users like me, very damaging. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to change, since it clearly hasn’t been damaging to their business. Looks like it’ll continue to be their way or the highway, except without the highway.

It’s not spoiled to want what I’ve had for years on the platform Apple disparages as unusable. I think what I’m asking is reasonable enough, though I have no expectation that the way of the world should be suspended for my convenience. Here’s what I’d like:

mockup

What do you think? Is that really such a crime?

Update: It’s not a fix for the bloat and so on, but for a clean UI like the one I chopped together above, it’s as easy as context-clicking on a playlist and opening it in a new menu. If you make a smart list that’s your entire library, that can be your only window. Better than nothing! Thanks, Tim F! Update update: Son of a… you can’t delete things or rearrange tracks. Why would you want to though, right?

Update 2: I was mistaken about Cog and Banshee. I checked out-of-date sources apparently, they’re still in development. I’m going to switch to one soon and you should too. The point of this post was not that I can’t resize iTunes or hide the store, it’s that it’s too much to begin with and I don’t want or like the idea of a highly-connected, multi-purpose player. And I think it’s something visible in other Apple applications too — a departure from simplicity and elegance.

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