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Tweaking iTunes
Pages: 1, 2

Cover Yourself

One of the most impressive visual replacements for the iTunes library has to be CoverFlow, a (currently) free app that makes browsing an album collection lots of fun.



On first launch, CoverFlow automatically sets out to find as much cover art as it can for you. It starts off looking on your hard disk, in case you already have artwork stored in iTunes. But failing that, it'll hunt around online to find artwork, and import it without a fuss.

Coverflow at work

CoverFlow displays your albums as a neat stack. You scroll through them with clicks, or by dragging the A-Z slider at the bottom. Double-click the frontmost album cover and it starts playing (at this point, CoverFlow creates a new playlist in iTunes with the appropriate tracks and starts it playing).

It might sound like a gimmick but CoverFlow is an enchanting little app, if only because it encourages you to forage within your music collection, the way people used to when music came on 12-inch vinyl.

While CoverFlow does a great job of finding artwork for itself, you can't use it to populate your iTunes library with artwork.

In the event that CoverFlow doesn't appeal to you, have a look at the $20 alternative, CoverBuddy. It won't fetch artwork from the net (the developers were warned off this by their lawyers), but on the other hand it runs on OS X 10.3 Panther, while CoverFlow is 10.4 Tiger-only.

Share Your Stuff

Enable video sharing

New in iTunes 6.0.2 is the ability to share videos.

You probably know that libraries and playlists within iTunes can be shared over a network. Anyone else on the network can listen to the music directly from your Mac. With hardware extras like Airport Express, you can use AirTunes to distribute shared music to audio-video devices too. It's all very simple to set up.

But what if you want to do more with your shared music? What if you have a desktop and a laptop, and want to make a perfectly legal copy of some music from one to the other? Either Blue Coconut or getTunes can help you here. They allow you to download a copy of a song from a sharing source to your local hard disk.

Sharing music across your own network is nice, but wouldn't it be great if you could share your music with others, across the internet?

You can, using either Zerospan or SlimServer, both free applications. Zerospan works in conjunction with Address Book, allowing anyone listed there to connect directly to your Mac via a specially generated data tunnel, through which Bonjour-compatible services can be used as if on a local network. As well as sharing music, Zerospan claims to make all manner of other things possible, including Apple file sharing. As with most networking issues, beware of hiccups; Zerospan's makers are keen to stress that your mileage may vary.

SlimServer, on the other hand, is cross-platform Perl that creates a music broadcasting server on your chosen computer (Windows, Mac, or Linux). Although created and released by the company behind Squeezebox, the code supports streaming of a wide range of file formats across pretty much any network, between all kinds of computers and devices. It plays nicely with iTunes, and boasts a simplified browser-based user interface for track-to-track control. There are even some plugins for further hackery if you're feeling inspired.

AccessTunes is another option. It's shareware ($15), and allows music sharing from the moment the computer has started up (in other words, before any users have logged in).

Perfect Podcasts

A recent newcomer to iTunes, podcasting has really taken off in the last year. By making the distribution of podcasts so easy, iTunes has made a big contribution to spreading the podcast meme further and wider than ever before.

But in iTunes, you have limited control over what happens to the podcast files you download. In the preferences, you can say how many recent episodes you want to keep, but this setting applies to every podcast you subscribe to.

Your options are limited with podcast removalCastAway is a shareware ($7) helper which lets you decide how long to keep episodes of each individual podcast. Now you can choose to keep the audio that's worth keeping, and trash the stuff that doesn't deserve the disk space. There's a bunch of other useful features in it too.

A podcast is ultimately a specialized RSS feed, one with audio or video files as enclosures. That makes iTunes, like the new iPhoto 6, an RSS reader of sorts. Which means that if you find a podcast you like on the Web somewhere, it's easy to add it to iTunes using Advanced -> Subscribe to Podcast.

Look After Your Data

Ultimately, iTunes is a database, albeit a very easy one to use. But like any database, it needs a little bit of care. The data you put in is used by many of the add-ons we've mentioned in this article.

Let's return to Doug's Applescripts. He's got one called Proper English Title Capitalization which will do a great job of tidying up all your track metadata, making it easier to read and possibly easier to use alongside other metadata-dependent services.

If you enjoy classical music and get frustrated by iTunes' clear bias towards more typical "artist/title" data for pop music, you'd do well to read a tip, and more importantly the resulting discussion, at MacOSXHints.com.

Some Other Useful iTunes Things

  • Libra, shareware for switching between separate iTunes libraries.
  • Jens Baumeister has an unusual approach to making playlists and rating songs; his scripts automatically increase the ratings of songs you listen to frequently and all the way through, and decrease ratings of songs you tend to skip.
  • Change what happens when you click one of those little arrows in the iTunes browser; the default is to take you to a suitable page on the iTMS, but you can flip it to take you to a suitable album in your library instead.
  • Ollie's iPod Extractor is the famous app that can suck music right out of an iPod and copy it to your hard disk. Incredibly useful if you've had a hard disk failure and your only music backup is the one on your iPod.
  • If you've upgraded to iTunes 6.0.2, Control-click or right-click on any song in your Library, and you'll see a new way to add the selected song(s) directly to a playlist.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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