iTunes infelicities

October 3, 2004

Although I had issues with the closedness of iTunes, it’s such an amazing product that I became addicted to it when I had a Mac at my old job. Now I’m back to Linux, but Tim has a Powerbook and I have an iPod (well, I stole his iPod), so I embarked on a big quest to replicate my playlists on the iPod.

First off, it turns out that although you’re allowed to play music you paid for on up to 5 computers, you’re not allowed to download it 5 times. So if your hard disk crashes or you’re making your patented 5-minute getaway from a company that just fired you (for instance), you have absolutely no recourse except to buy the music again. You’re evidently supposed to be making backups by hand, believe it or not. Uh… there is NO TECHNICAL REASON whatsoever that Apple could not offer multiple downloads, even as a fee-based service. It seems to be just part of the whole “we don’t trust the customer” thing that infects everyone in the digital media game.

But whatever, I’m straight with paying for the music twice, since my issue is convenience rather than money. So I get on Tim’s computer and use my iTunes account to buy all the songs again. And they play fine… but they won’t transfer to the iPod. I end up having to get his root password, create a new user account for myself on that computer, copy all the AAC files over to my new user’s home directory, chown them, log out as Tim, log in as me, authorize the computer in iTunes, and delete the XML file that defines what’s in the iTunes library — just to make my songs play on the iPod. And good luck getting help from Apple in figuring all this out.

I’m sure there’s some tremendously clever reason why my iTunes user and my Mac user and the computer-level permissions interact like this… but it’s just a pain in the butt, and ends up actually allowing me to give music to the other users of this computer which I imagine Apple doesn’t want me to do. Usable DRM is a hard problem, and this experience convinces me that even Apple hasn’t solved it yet… but I think they’d be better off just making it easy for me to download my music five times.

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