Tag Archives: itunes

Mad Face image

iTunes – A Big Pile of Stink

This isn’t an article complaining about changes iTunes 11 made. In fact, I held off writing this article in the futile hope that iTunes 11 would be more than lipstick on a pig (apologies to pigs). It wasn’t, so I waited for update 1. No better. This also isn’t an article about how iTunes stinks on Windows. I run it on a Mac. So here goes…

First, I really like iTunes as a music manager. It’s what helped bring me to Apple and the iPod back when it was just for music. I rarely use it to actually play music directly but I love the flexible smart playlist feature. I make heavy use of playlists based on the date last played in order to keep playlists fresh without any effort. I also made the effort long ago to rate all my songs. This was more to manage playlists than and actual rating against other songs. For example, “Best of” for an artist or genre are 5′s. Songs that really suck and need to be kept out of playlists are 2′s. One’s are reserved for spoken audio that I’ve listened to but don’t want to delete. Three’s and fours are a mishmash and more or less the same. But iTunes has slowly beaten me down and those features aren’t worth the frustration.

Rant 1 – Video Handling

I recently returned to trying video from the iTunes store. I bought and watched the video on my Apple TV or iPad. Yet when I sync the iPad to iTunes, iTunes wants to download the video yet again.

iTunes has the option to turn off automatic downloads or purchased music, apps or books and I’ve turned them off. But the LARGEST FILES can’t be turned off. Automatic download of videos can’t be turned off and those files are measured in gigabytes. If I cancel the download and mark the library entry as watched it will try to download again sometime in the future.

But that’s not all. I tell iTunes not to sync video on my iPad. So what’s it do if it finds a video on my iPad that it doesn’t have? Ignore it since I don’t want video synced? Of course not. It asks if I want to transfer purchases. If I say no it deletes it from the iPad and enables sync of future videos. If I say yes it copies the video to iTunes and enables sync for video. In the ultimate frustration iTunes 10 would then tell me the video wasn’t playable on the iPad it just copied it from and would delete it. I don’t know if that last “unplayable video” issue exists in iTunes 11 or on my fresh, new Mac since I’ve avoided the condition that syncs video.

My current solution to both these problems is to stayed logged out of the store in iTunes and cancel the login prompt along with limiting my syncing. My ultimate solution is to dump iTunes.

Bug 1 – App Updates in iTunes

This was introduces in iTunes 11.0 and remains in iTunes 11.0.1. I’m told I have 53 app updates (and growing). Neither the “Check for updates” button or the “Get More Apps” button do anything when clicked. Others have reported this happened to them but went away. It’s been with me since I installed iTunes 11. I update my devices directly so this is more a frustration than a real problem. But new software on a new Mac, come on Apple. I already re-installed iTunes once to fix Bug 2 (listed below). Another reason to give up on iTunes.

Rant 2 – iTunes Match

Where to start? This made a mess of my library. Songs that were unchecked got checked. Songs were duplicated. Songs were deleted (a failed match update maybe?). The last played date eliminated or set to some distant past date on many sons. The only plus side is I’ve gotten a bunch of older iTunes store songs updated to non-DRM and better quality. So I consider that my money’s worth. But Match itself  is off, never to be turned on again. And I’m going through a cleanup. Thankfully CrashPlan backups never delete the deleted files so as I find missing files I can at least restore the pre-match version.

Bug 2 – Constant Firewall Prompt

After I upgraded to iTunes 11 I’d be prompted to allow it through the firewall every time I started iTunes. I deleted the firewall preferences, rebooted and saw iTunes add the exclusion but I would still get prompted at each iTunes launch. I deleted iTunes (the app, not library) and re-installed. Then the problem went away. An Apple program installing on a new Mac should just work. Yes, problems happen but they should be rare. With iTunes it’s the fixes that are rare.

Solutions?

I’m convinced iTunes is two big for Apple to handle. Or they feel the solution will cause too much pain among users.  It’s arguable whether the new interface changed much. Each screen looks better. But it it really easier to use? I’m skeptical, but even if the answer is yes it’s just not worth it. So what are my alternatives?

I took a look at Media Monkey (for Windows). The free version seems to give me nearly all the features I would want and the paid version seems to give me everything. The price is reasonable but the real cost is re-rating all my songs. Plus I’d lose the play history. I’m not sure I really want to go through the effort of recreating everything and recreating playlists. So it’s time to rethink music.

Time to simplify. I’m thinking of Synology for my local music management and player. While it has smart playlists, they are no where near as smart as the iTunes playlists so I’d use them little if at all. There’s a music player for my iPhone which is my primary music device. It also works on the iPad. There’s also apps for Android and Windows Phone (including 8) so I’m covered for any change. The Synology NAS also has several other playback options and includes Internet radio. Since I have already have it, I’ve begun to copy music to it and I’m giving it a try.

Then there’s cloud players in general Amazon and Google both have cloud experience I trust. I’m not adverse to having my music in the cloud, but I do have data caps. While the Comcast cap is suspended it will return. No sense using the data if I don’t have to. The Synology player, and most cloud players will cache songs locally and some provide the ability to pre-cache (download) songs so I won’t have to stream when I’m out and about. They do seem to stream by default so I may have to take action to play local files. I picked Amazon to give a try first, despite earlier problems with the player. It tends to be where I buy most music these days so it will add songs automatically.

I have to give up on my obsession about listening to songs I haven’t heard in a long time and keeping the play information in sync. I need to just enjoy the music.

iTunes Match Settings

Cloud Music: iTunes Match

iTunes Match SettingsIn the past I stored my music on Amazon cloud storage more as a backup than as a way to play it “from the cloud”. I purchased much of my music through Amazon and storing it was free (now all music stored there is free). Google also redid their cloud music offering and then there’s iTunes Match. I took a look at all three, this article gives my impression of iTunes Match.

I held off subscribing to iTunes Match until a couple months ago. Then my primary reason was to get the DRM off some old iTunes purchases, a secondary reason being to upgrade some lower quality songs. I never enabled Match on any iDevices until the past week.

iTunes Match PlaylistI started off with enabling it on my iPhone (it’s already enabled on my Mac Mini that has me entire music library). I was warned that it would replace my local music library. Since the local library was just a subset of my Mac Mini’s library I didn’t expect much change. I got a brief scare when my playlists disappeared, but they eventually came back. It looks like match did the right thing and kept the music that was already on the iPhone and marked the rest as being in the cloud. As the picture to the left shows, the first 3 songs are in the cloud while the last 4 are already on the iPhone.

There is no option to exclude unchecked songs, they are all available. I do have the option to only included checked items enabled in all my smart playlists created in iTunes, but this is ignored in Match on the iPhone.

Match will manage what songs are cached locally, using the songs already there as a starting point. I can also have it download all songs in a playlist, for an artist, or on an album (probably other criteria too, but those are the obvious ones) so they would be available when I’m offline or if I want to avoid using cell data. Cell data usage can also be turned off for iTunes Match to avoid eating up a data plan.

There was a noticeable delay in playing a cloud based song when it wasn’t in the queue. For example, when the first song in a playlist was cloud based. But once the songs were queued up it was seamless. Most of my usage was over my home wi-fi but I didn’t have any issues when I ventured off wireless. Admittedly, I didn’t use it much on 3G and most of that was in my house with wi-fi off for testing. The 3G performance will only be as good as the local network. I use Verizon which has been a solid performer for me locally.

I’m not a fan of the iTunes Music player interface on the iPad so I use Diner Jukebox instead. Diner Jukebox ad no problem playing songs using iTunes Match. I played songs that were local on the iPad and those in the cloud.

While I can’t create or edit smart playlists on my iDevice, the playlists are updated as songs move in and out of matching the criteria and these changes are synced across iTunes Match devices (as expected).

As someone who likes iTunes and the iPhone as a music player I find that iTunes Match enhances the experience. Anything that eliminates a reason to fire up iTunes simply to manage a device already starts out on the plus side. It does cost $25 a year which is a minus, but for this first year I got the added bonus of removing DRM from my older iTunes purchases. This was less than I would have paid under Apple’s old upgrade policy.

I would like the ability to create and edit smart playlists on my iPad. I suspect the iPhone screen size would make the UI for that too cumbersome but it should fit fine on the iPad. I don’t add or edit smart playlists much these days so this isn’t a big drawback for me. Since Amazon and Google don’t have a smart playlist concept for their players they probably won’t be much of a contender for iTunes Match. But I’ll be giving them a try.

The other interesting thing I encountered was that iTunes Match seemed to turn itself off in iTunes. My account says the computer is associated with iTunes match, but it’s not available in iTunes and I had to re-enable it. When it was added back it quickly saw it had all but 4 songs, which it uploaded. This was considerably less than when I first enabled iTunes Match. Now I could delete all those unchecked songs from iCloud to get them off my iDevices but I’m not sure I want to do that. While I could keep the physical files they’d be gone from iTunes and iCloud. Even though I don’t play them my packrate nature keeps me from clicking delete. I could create multiple libraries and I may eventually do that, but a first glance it seems like more effort than I’m willing to make.

Do you use iTunes Match as a cloud player? User another cloud player?

Leprechaun with a beer

The OS Quest Trail Log #69: Irish Cheer Edition

Leprechaun with a beerWinter was so mild it was hard to notice the recent arrival of spring. But the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration served as a spring early warning. February was a slow month on the quest so there wasn’t a Trail Log last month, but things picked up a bit in March. The biggest change (well, arguably) was the new iPad. But I figure you’re as tired of hearing about it as I am so I’ll save that update until the end.

A Little Less iTunes

I recently looked at Instacast and Downcast as podcast apps for my iPhone and iPad. Both were good enough to get me off iTunes for podcasts. A long overdue event. Both are still on my iPhone and iPad although I’m going with Downcast as my first choice.

I also switched over to iCloud for my iDevice backups instead of my Mac. I’d stuck to Mac for backups for two reasons: security and time machine. I’d been saved once by being able to go back to an older iPad backup saved by Time Machine. But when I got my new iPad I rebuilt it from scratch, no restore. That rebuild took longer than the restore, but not by much and not for the important stuff. As for security, I recently realized I could exclude some app data which alleviated my security concerns. And not backing up that data isn’t a problem since that particular data exists elsewhere and syncs to the iPhone.

All that’s left for iTunes is my music management. These days that means I won’t use it very much. Synology has an iTunes services for music and video management. I haven’t used it yet and third party apps that emulate iTunes don’t appeal to me since I figure it’s only a matter of time before an Apple change breaks something, Plus, music management is the only thing I still do with iTunes.

Software Upgrades

Synology Disk Station Manager 4 left beta and saw a production release. I was already running the beta so the upgrade was a non-event. I didn’t notice a difference in the relatively small subset of features I use.

CrashPlan saw a minor upgrade. It’s been set it and forget it on my Windows Home Server 2011 so again,  no noticeable change for ne,

Picasa (on Windows) had another upgrade or two the last couple months, They usually go quickly without a hitch. But the latest one caused me problems. Picasa wouldn’t start after the upgrade so I had to uninstall and reinstall. It saved the setting (database) so everything was fine after the installation.

There was the typical stream of software upgrades but other than Picasa they were all uneventful.

Home Cloud

I had an email asking me if I had found a way to route my internal network based on target URL rather than just the port. (Layer 7 routing or deep packet inspection). I haven’t found anything suitable for a home (meaning free or low cost). This has made me go down a different path. I’ve been finishing up testing IPSec VPN into my home. This gives me the connectivity I need for myself as if I was local. And it’s secure.

That doesn’t work for public or family access that I want to keep simple. But that access is pretty simple and really only one web device (port 80/443) so there’s really no concern. Synology has some ability to target different Synology NAS’s from outside my home network so I’ve started looking at that.

iPad

OK, now for the iPad mention. The more I’ve used my iPad the more I’ve liked the screen. Since the text is sharper it’s been easier to read. I still prefer an e-ink Kindle for longer reader sessions when it’s just text. But the iPad is clearly the best LCD screen I’ve used for reading.

I guess this year’s internet kerfuffle for the iPad was the heat issue. As I mentioned in my initial review:

The iPad 2 never got warm for me. The new iPad has gotten warm enough to notice. It’s not hot, but there was a temperature increase while watching video and after extended use. Never happened on the iPad 2.

Compared the the iPad  2 which never seemed to get above room temperature the new iPad got warm, but never too warm to touch or anywhere near hat I would call hot. Maybe some sort of event trifecta would cause more problems or maybe there’s some bad iPads out there. But from my experience it’s a non-issue. I can’t remember the last time I had a laptop that wasn’t hotter.

iTunesIcon_BW122.png

iTunes Frustration (Yet Again)

Back in the day when I got my first first iPod I didn’t use it much. I was on Windows and that was when the iPods were sold as OS specific and iTunes wasn’t an option. Then I was able to use iTunes and it was like having a new music player. Since then it’s been my favorite music player. The smart playlists and organization abilities sold me. But as iTunes got more features there wasn’t much I liked (pretty much just podcasts and audiobooks) and it just became bloatware.

And that bloat caused occasional but severe frustrations over the years. The last two days were no exception.

I’d recently changed my settings back to start iTunes automatically and sync when my devices were connected. I turned this back on recently because it’s now a rare event for me to connect via the USB cable and my primary reason to connect is usually to do a sync. The most recent update broke that feature. Not a huge deal since I had only recently started using it again.

Then, two days ago I rebooted my Mac Mini (which runs iTunes on it). The auto start & sync magically started working again. But then things got worse. iTunes would freeze shortly after starting. Even without a connected device iTunes would freeze. I went as far as to put my devices in airplane mode to make sure iTunes didn’t find them when it started. No joy. I get a few seconds between starting a freezing and during that time (during several force quits and restarts) I was able to get all the devices out of iTunes memory so they wouldn’t show when iTunes started. I guess you could say there was progress, as the time between starting and freezing could be counted in minutes with no devices in the device list. But the freeze was inevitable.

I left iTunes “running” for about two hours but did a force quit before going to bed for the night. I didn’t want to leave it running to avoid open files that wouldn’t be backed up. I figured my next step would be to revert to a backup but wanted a current copy to go back to when that didn’t work.

The next morning I started iTunes, watched the pinwheel appear, and headed off to work. I connected in from work about 6 hours later and iTunes was happy and responsive. Not sure how long it took, somewhere between 5 minutes and 6 hours. Tonight all is fine. Stops, starts, syncs, plays.

What changed to cause the problem? No idea. What changed to fix the problem? Nothing except my patience to let the pinwheel spin. I rebooted my Mini because I was moving cables and it would lose power. No software changes. There’s always content changing on the i-devices, but nothing out of the ordinary. No completely new apps. I do have my iTunes library on my Windows Home Server so the problem could have been there. And the one thing I did change was I applied the monthly Microsoft patches to the WHS shortly before the iTunes problem happened. I did reboot the server during the issue and that didn’t help the problem and since I didn’t change anything on the server to resolve the problem I don’t really think that was the issue.

I guess iTunes just had some issues that it needed to work through.

Trashes folder on a WHS share

Apple Software On WHS Shares

Trashes folder on a WHS shareI run a mixed Windows/Mac home and all my data resides on my Windows Home Server no matter whether it’s Windows or Mac. This means my iPhoto library, iTunes library, Aperture library are all on my Windows Home Server. I recently noticed that these libraries were saving deleted files forever.

The libraries are a directory structure that OS X understands and may present to the user as a single file. For example, iPhoto displays as a single file in OS X unless “show package contents” is selected. Even though my iPhoto library is on a WHS share OS X displays it to me as a single file bundle. As long as the files remain within the library structure all is well. Libraries that maintain their own internal trash bin (i.e. iPhoto and Aperture, maybe more) end up trying to move the files to the OS X trash bin when you empty the library’s trash bin.

I recently noticed that when I emptied the trash in iPhoto that it moved the files to a “.Trashes” folder on my WHS share. (Note the leading dot)  See the first graphic to see what I mean, click it to enlarge) Well actually I noticed this huge .Trashes folder and then found it came from iPhoto and Aperture. If this was an OS X drive running on OS X it would be part of the trash bin and get emptied when I emptied the trash. Aperture also worked the same way once I checked. On the WHS share they live forever,  even OS X didn’t see it as part of the recycle bin.

The .Trashes folder could be deleted just like any other folder without causing a problem. The next time you empty a library’s trash it will be recreated. To see the folder you need to enable viewing hidden files and folder (click for full size for the Windows 7 setting below):

 

Show Hidden Folders Option

I also found that iTunes saved replaced apps to the .Trashes folder. Luckily it doesn’t save replaced or deleted podcasts. If it did I’d probably have run out of disk space. iTunes doesn’t seem to save anything I delete on my own, only the apps it replaced.

It’s only my apps that maintain their own library structure that have this issue. Deleting regular files on my WHS from OS X deletes them immediately.

I guess there is a price to pay for trying to get Microsoft and Apple to play together. But this is a small prices since it’s easily fixed with a scheduled task to delete the directory.