iTunes 4: beyond music playback

Apple has enhanced its iTunes 4 software so that now it can link album cover art, stream music over networks, convert file types, and be used to shop for music online. This time we’ll look at how to perform these tasks, in addition to using plug-ins and listening to OGG (vorbis) files. iTunes 4 is available as a free download at www.apple.com.au/itunes.

iTunes 4 now supports AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) files, the technology that is a large part of the next-generation MPEG-4 specification. If you download the QuickTime Player (version 6.2 or later) from www.apple.com.au/quicktime/download you can also convert songs in AIFF, WAV or MP3 format to a new format such as AAC — previously, you needed a separate program to do this.

To convert files, navigate to Preferences from the iTunes menu and select the Importing button. From the Import Using drop-down box, select AAC, AIFF, MP3 or WAV encoder, then from the Setting drop-down box select the quality, and click OK. Next, select a track in a playlist or your library, pull down the Advanced menu and select Convert Select to...

Share, not steal

Although many people use the iTunes 4 sharing functionality legitimately (for example, to stream MP3s on an ADSL-connection between their Macs at home and work), some users have exploited this capability, making iTunes 4 a pseudo peer-to-peer file sharing application. When Apple released the 4.0.1 point release, the streaming/sharing ability was limited to working only between Macs on the same subnet (local area network).

To stream your iTunes 4.0.1 (or later) library, playlists or radio station links with up to five other Mac OS X 10.2.4 (or later) computers over a personal local network, perform the following steps.

On the Mac you’re sharing from, select Preferences from the iTunes menu and then the Sharing button, and tick the Share my music box. Now you can choose to share your entire library or your individual playlists. Next, enter a shared name, in addition to a password if you wish. You’ll need to leave iTunes open to see your shared information on the other computers. To see the shared information on these computers, tick the box titled Look for shared music (found in iTunes-Preferences-Sharing) and you should see the shared libraries or playlists become available in iTunes’ Source listing.

Track info and artwork

You can access track information three ways: click the right mouse button and then select Get Info from the resulting menu; press and click the left mouse button simultaneously, and then select Get Info; or press -I while the selected track is highlighted. You should then see the track information view as shown in FIGURE 1.

When sharing music over a network it can be quite easy to confuse local network tracks with those selected to stream. If a track is streaming it will be described as ‘remote’ in the Kind field, rather than ‘MPEG audio file’, for example.

Other useful information shown here includes size, bit and sample rates, and the file’s location on your hard drive. From the Info tab, for example, you can include additional information such as a track’s genre or beats per minute. From the Options tab you can change a track’s star rating (this rating is essential if you plan to use smart auto-playlists such as the default My Top Rated). With the Artwork tab you can import album artwork (a JPEG provides best results). You can either scan your own artwork or use online resources such as Apple’s Music Store (see below) to source album cover art.

TIP: If you click the fourth button from the left at the bottom of iTunes 4’s main interface, you’ll be able to view an album’s artwork underneath the Source list.

Adding on

To install a plug-in, download it and drag the file into the iTunes-iTunes Plug-ins folder located inside the Library folder at the top level of your hard disk. Some of the plug-ins you can download include new visualisations such as Kaleidostrobe (www.kaleidostrobe.lasi.org) and the iAlarm clock plug-in (http://homepage.mac.com/isamg/iAlarm).

There’s also a plethora of AppleScripts that can be used to customise iTunes, available for download from sites such as www.malcolmadams.com/itunes.

Fans of the open source audio format OGG (vorbis) will be pleased to learn that you can download a codec from www.illadvised.com/~jordy/ which, when put in the afore-mentioned iTunes plug-in directory, allows iTunes to import and play back the .ogg file type. You might also want to -mouse click on a .ogg file and choose Open With-Other-iTunes to ensure they open with iTunes 4 when double clicked.

Let’s shop, almost

By clicking on the Music Store link in the source list you can preview over 200,000 songs from five leading music labels before downloading your selection for just under $US1 a pop. (Note: you require a US mailing address to use this service.)

Rumours — even from Apple sources — suggest that iTunes may become available for Windows users, too, following the recent success of the iPod and the US-based Music Store. In addition, Microsoft and Yahoo are looking to develop their own version of Apple’s digital music shopping model.

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