The Leaning Tower of Ping: How iTunes Could Be Apple’s Undoing

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SoundJam MP, a program that Apple purchased from Salinas, CA-based software publisher Casady & Greene in 1999.) When Apple released the first iPod in late 2001, it marketed the gadget as a way to listen to your music on the go without having to tote CDs around, and it was at that point that iTunes became the main conduit for getting music onto the device.

So far, so good; as a music manager, iTunes did a decent job (though I had complaints about it even then—specifically, about the way the program organizes music files on your hard drive). But what has happened to the program since then—starting with the addition of the iTunes Store in 2003—is the very definition of cruft. If this isn’t a term you’re familiar with, let me quote the best explanation I know, which comes from Neal Stephenson’s In the Beginning Was the Command Line:

All of the fixing and patching that engineers must do in order to give us the benefits of new technology without forcing us to think about it, or to change our ways, produces a lot of code that, over time, turns into a giant clot of bubble gum, spackle, baling wire and duct tape surrounding every operating system. In the jargon of hackers, it is called “cruft.” An operating system that has many, many layers of it is described as “crufty.”

If you’re not convinced about iTunes’ cruftiness, let me take you on a tour of the program’s main functions. This is a long list, but bear with me:

• It lets you rip CDs to digital formats and play the new files

• It lets you burn new CDs from your digital files

• It lets you print jewel-case inserts for your newly burned CDs

• It gives you several ways of visualizing your media collection, including Cover Flow

• It lets you curate your music collection with ratings and the like

• It lets you create playlists from subsets of your music collection

• Its “Genius” feature can automatically create new playlists based on your listening habits

• It includes a music equalizer and other sound processing features

• It stores copies of your purchased albums, TV shows, and movies

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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