Damnit, iTunes 7.2!

Friday, 2007-06-01; 21:44:00

iTunes is perhaps the one most aggravating app from Apple excepting, of course, the Finder. Somewhere I noted that this is probably because iTunes is my second most frequently used application. It's open all the time, and like the Finder, it's frustrating that it has so many little bugs and omissions.

Case in point: the recent update to iTunes, iTunes 7.2. I installed it late Tuesday night, and upgraded my library on Wednesday when iTunes Plus downloads were actually ready. But while downloading the 47 available DRM-less 256-kbps-goodness songs, four songs were continually triggering an error message when I attempted to download them (504, if I remember correctly).

What was stupid was that iTunes would automatically pause those downloads and not resume them ever again. No! Gah! I want those songs to download, so please keep retrying until you don't encounter an error! I do not want to have to press the "Resume All" button every minute! Grr. After about 5 or so tries on each of the songs, iTunes decided to redownload the entire song instead of trying to resume where it left off, and that seemed to fix the error. I wanted to force iTunes to do this, but because I was upgrading my library and not simply downloading a new song, I couldn't figure out where iTunes was temporarily storing the partially-downloaded files.

Yes, this was likely due to the enormous traffic that iTunes was experiencing, but come on Apple. You weren't expecting this? You couldn't have planned ahead and made sure that there was enough bandwidth available for the store? MacFixIt is reporting that people are still having trouble with some of these 504 errors.

Of course, then there's the sticky issue about the nature of upgrading itself. I have to upgrade my entire library?! I can't pick and choose which to upgrade?! Bah! The first batch of upgrades didn't include a song I didn't want to upgrade, but what about when iTunes gets around to adding a high-quality, DRM-less version of "Don't Walk Away" by Shawn McDonald, which is a crappy song that was a free single of the week? (Trick question: once singles of the week are replaced by a new free single, they effectively no longer exist in the store, so an upgrade path for that purchase won't exist. Check it out -- that song by Shawn McDonald exists in iTunes Plus format, but my iTunes Plus upgrade page says my library is completely upgraded for now.)

Not being able to upgrade the singles of the week is a double-edged sword, because there were some that I really liked and want to upgrade, but can't. On the plus side, there are some that I downloaded and really hated, and I don't want to be forced to pay the 30¢ to upgrade them, and I won't. So that's good. But that means that if you want one of the singles of the week in Plus format, you'll need to pay the full $1.29 or buy the album entirely. (This doesn't apply to future singles of the week; this week's is offered in iTunes Plus format, and let's hope Apple continues to do this.)

But disregarding the singles of the week, there may be some songs that I like but which I don't listen to all the time, and I wouldn't want to upgrade them. iTunes 7.2 forces me to upgrade them if I want to upgrade any other songs. So much for the à-la-carte model.

Whatever. I upgraded my entire library. I noticed that iTunes transferred all the relevant song tags from the old songs to the new Plus songs, including last played, last skipped, play count, skip count, star rating, and BPM measurement. (Note: Tangerine! now supports automatic BPM analysis of DRM-laden songs from iTunes! Yay!) It reset the date added, though; not sure how I feel about that.
If I remember correctly, Phil Schiller compared two movies using the described method in a keynote demo. But as I recall, he used a trick to tell all open movies in QT Player to start at the exact same time. Anyone know how to do that, besides the obvious start-each-movie-in-sequence-as-fast-as-you-can-and-then-quickly-hit-space-twice-on-the-first-movie-to-get-them-back-into-sync workaround?

The iTunes Plus downloads also synced to my iPod flawlessly. Note: I told iTunes to move the replaced files to the Desktop, and I tested the sound quality by opening the 128 kbps versions and the 256 kbps versions of a couple songs in QuickTime Player side by side. You can switch back and forth between the two using Command-`, and only have the front-most window play sound. I couldn't tell any discernable difference between songs on my iMac G5's speakers or on my Etymotic Research ER4-P in-ear earphones.

But then! Oh, yes, then! I plugged my iPod into my MacBook, control-clicked on my iPod, and selected "Transfer Purchases". Did iTunes transfer my shiny, fresh iTunes Plus tracks? Noooooo, of course not. Yes, I upgraded iTunes on my MacBook to 7.2, and I even restarted to make sure there wasn't some helper app that needed to be reloaded. *sigh* (Filed: 5244888. This counts as Apple Bug Friday XCIX. Next week is the big C!)

These aren't your plain old vanilla unprotected AAC files, either; you can easily figure out which songs in your iTunes library are iTunes Plus songs: just make a smart playlist, and set the criterion to be "kind is Purchased AAC audio file" as opposed to "kind is Protected AAC audio file" for DRM-laden iTunes downloads or "kind is AAC audio file" for tracks ripped from a CD. So how come iTunes won't transfer them? Please, please tell me this is an oversight, Apple!

And then, of course, there's the *numerous* other bugs that I've filed about iTunes that have yet to be fixed. The main window still allows you to resize a tiny portion of it to be under the Dock, the source list still uses the black selection color no matter what, iTunes still doesn't respect hidden scroll bar settings, it still uses modal dialogs, it still hangs any AppleScript calls when the Info window is open, blah blah blah. And I'm not the only one to notice bugs.

On the plus side, it looks like persistent IDs for sources and playlists are now unique. The AppleScript I posted before used to return multiple items; now it returns only one. And the deauthorize button is now named "Deauthorize", not "OK".

Two steps forward, 1.75 steps back, I guess.

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