Jun 7, 2010

What Is iTunes?

First introduced in January 2001, iTunesApple's "jukebox" or digital music organizer application was the first in a long series of software applications developed by Apple after many long years of publishing almost nothing but the Mac operating system (Mac OS) for the company's Macintosh computers. Indeed, iTunes in its original form was compatible only with Macintosh's running Mac OS 9 or the then-new Mac OS X. Many of Apple's applications developed since that time iPhoto, iDVD, and many of the built-in applications and utilities found in recent versions of Mac OS X (10.3 "Panther," 10.4 "Tiger," or 10.5 "Leopard")share a common look and feel with iTunes, including its metallic gray skin, the list of data sources down the left side, and so on. Third-party application developers for Windows and the Mac platform have also jumped onto the bandwagon, using the iTunes style of interface for attractive, innovative software that's as pleasant to look at as it is easy to use. 

Many have argued, though, that few if any applications truly match iTunes' revolutionary unified design or accomplish their desired aims quite so well.
As discussed in "About Digital Music Technology" later in this chapter, the idea behind digital music is that instead of listening to songs from your favorite artists by putting a tape or CD into a standalone deck or player and playing it from beginning to end, you can copy or rip the music that's on a CD into compressed data files on your computer. These music files, which you can select and play through your computer's speakers, don't just have the benefit of being freed from the bulky physical medium of the tape or CD; they also can contain all kinds of useful information built right into their structure, such as the name of each track, the name of the artist and album, the year it was released, the musical genre, and even image data such as album art and user-defined information such as a "star" rating indicating how much you like a given song. These data filesoften stored in MPEG-1 layer 3 (or MP3) formatcan be collected on your computer's hard drive, rearranged, selected individually, grouped by arbitrary criteria, and played back with good clarity and audio quality. Doing this, however, requires software that is capable of making all this simple and intuitive.
iTunes runs equally well on a Windows PC or a Macintosh.
Before the release of iTunes, digital music technology was the realm of technically astute music enthusiasts who did not mind wrestling with austere, difficult-to-master software. Digital music files were exchanged primarily through illegal, underground file-sharing channels, and it was all but unthinkable that digital music could become a mainstream medium to rival compact discs.

Ripping, Mixing, and Burning

After iTunes was released, however, under Apple's slogan "Rip. Mix. Burn," the first step toward legitimization of this new medium had been taken. Apple was actively encouraging computer users to extract the music from their compact discs (rip), rearrange it to their liking (mix), and create (burn) new CDs full of their own custom mixes. With iTunes, users finally had a tool that made these tasks easy. iTunes is built around these three fundamental functions adding new music to your Library, organizing it to your taste, and converting it to useful forms that you can take with you. Changes to iTunes over the years since its release have only strengthened and expanded on these core functions, which are iTunes' essential reasons for being.
Key Terms
  • Rip To copy or import audio data files from the tracks on a CD.
  • Mix To select tracks from multiple different albums, organize them into a playlist, and listen to them according to your own musical tastes rather than in the order in which they appeared on the original CDs.
  • Burn To create a music CD using a writable disc (CD-R, CD-RW, or writable DVD).

Today, collecting music in iTunes has become a thoroughly mainstream and entirely legal affair, thanks to the iTunes Music Store, an Internet-based record and video store whose interface is built right into iTunes. Now there's no need to buy a physical CD of your favorite artist's latest album you just click a button, and legitimately purchased music is downloaded directly into your iTunes Library for you to play with a click of the mouse. iTunes can also import music from your favorite CDs, and it can play back individual digital music files that come from just about any source.
What's more, iTunes is an ideal program for subscribing and listening to podcasts, which are like personal radio shows that can be recorded and published onto the Internet by anybody with a microphone. With iTunes, you can seek out and subscribe to a podcast, whether it's geared toward talk, sports, music, politics, movies, video games, or anything else; download new episodes every week (or whenever they're released); and enjoy them at your leisure all for free. iTunes also allows you to listen to the podcast forerunner, Internet Radio, a network of streams of audio data to which you can listen at any time by specifying the Web address of a desired channel.
The "mixing" aspect of iTunes is more robust than ever, giving you all kinds of possibilities for how you might choose to organize your music. In its basic interface, iTunes gives you great control over your music by letting you navigate quickly to a desired genre, artist, or album using the Browse lists; you can also go directly to a specific song by typing part of its title into the Search bar. This is only the beginning of your organizational options, though. Not only can you create a playlist of favorite songs by clicking and dragging them into order in the list, but with Smart Playlists, you can tell iTunes to automatically filter through all your music according to criteria you specify such as "released in the 1980s" or "played more than 10 times" or "in the Rock genre"and produce a playlist that shows you all your music that matches these criteria in whatever order you choose.
Finally, making your music portable by sharing it with other people, or just by giving you the option to take your music with you wherever you go is what gives the iTunes digital music system the expandability and flexibility you crave as a music enthusiast. As it could since its initial release, iTunes can burn a playlist of music onto a writable optical disc such as a CD-Rif your computer has a drive that supports burning. (Most modern ones do.) You can then play this burned CD in any standard CD player. You can also burn data discs full of compressed digital music files, which you can then play in any CD player that is capable of playing MP3 CDs. (This way you can fit as much as 12 times as many songs on a single disc as would fit on a standard audio CD.) iTunes even prints jewel-case inserts using album art so that you can keep your burned CDs organized attractively.

Additionally, iTunes is a network-aware application, and multiple copies of iTunes running on the same home or corporate network can connect to each other and share music with each other. With Airport Express, Apple's audio-capable wireless networking base station, iTunes can broadcast music through the air to a speaker system of your choice, including the big stereo system that's hooked up to the A/V rig in your den.None of these sharing options, however, holds a candle to the portability of the iPod, Apple's portable digital music player. The iPod was specifically designed to give you all the flexibility and ease of use that you find in iTunes, in a compact device that fits right into your pocket.
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