The final major thing that "I Don't Like About iTunes and iPod" has annoyed me from Day One: the monolithic bloaty binary library, and the accompanying tidy-but-inefficient XML backup. For a small library, it's no problem, but mine has major issues. Heck, and I don't even consider my ~40GB library to be particularly big!
Over the past few months, I've noticed that iTunes has been getting slower and slower. It's clear that iTunes doesn't scale particularly well. For anything under, say, 5000 tracks, it starts up quickly. If you go much above that, it gets sluggish on startup. Searches start getting slower too. This doesn't happen linearly, either.
The binary library file was also significantly larger than the XML library file. As a rule, I've noticed that the XML tends to be a little bit smaller, but my binary file was almost twice the size of the XML. In this case, I felt it was worth regenerating the library.
Okay, the usual procedure for this (rather drastic) action is to shut down iTunes, and purposefully corrupt the binary library file. iTunes will then rebuild the binary from the XML "backup" when it next starts. If you just delete the file, it'll assume you don't have a library and will wipe the XML too. So, I tend to move the old binary into a backup directory and then create a new dummy file.
In the past, this has tended to work well. Occasionally there are a few quirks: in an old version of iTunes, I seem to remember the play counts got trashed.
This time, there was a problem. My Podcasts section was empty! The files were still there, but they didn't appear on the list. I then noticed that there was a new static playlist called "Podcasts" with all my old podcast files, but as as normal audio files rather than categorised podcasts. These items didn't appear anywhere in the Library section: just the playlists. So, it's not seemingly possible to delete them from iTunes.
I tried adding the Podcasts again from the iTunes Store, foolishly hoping it would notice the existing files. Unfortunately, it just downloads fresh copies instead, naming them with a " 1" suffix.
So, I deleted the files manually, and then used the excellent Super Remove Dead Tracks from Doug Adams's site.
This problem highlights the design bloat I spoke about in my previous post. Back before podcasts, audiobooks, video and all the other stuff appeared in iTunes, everything was neatly kept in the Music Library, and it all worked. It was possible for the filesystem and iTunes to get out-of-sync with both missing and excess files in the iTunes Music folder, but on the whole, it worked well.
Nowadays, the addition of these new media types to the increasingly-inaccurately-named iTunes has complicated everything. There's no central folder of everything and stuff can seemingly fall through the cracks. If a Podcast isn't in the Podcasts list, it won't appear anywhere.
I think Apple should build a new piece of software, called iMedia or something like that, for managing everything currently handled by iPod, iTunes, iPhoto, iPhone, Apple TV and Front Row.
They should also consider using something intrinsic to the OS -- such as Spotlight -- to manage the libraries themselves, rather than relying on easily-breakable and easy-to-desynchronise monolithic files. At the very least, they should rework it using Core Data, and if I had my way, also add "proper" RDBMS support to Core Data so I can use MySQL as my music library index!
In the process, they should reconceptualise the whole thing. How should a digital hub operate? It should work well with multiple libraries at the same time, with network nodes as data suppliers, so families and housemates can share media. It should allow offline media integration, such as Delicious Library, so I can organise and manage my books and DVDs too. Ideally, I'd want it to be able to control DVD jukeboxes, so I could build the mother of all home entertainment media servers around a single Mac Mini and a bunch of external jukeboxes, sources and filestores. It should be open enough to allow companies like Elgato to fully integrate stuff like EyeTV.
That's the kind of innovative thinking we've come to expect from Apple. Instead, we've got bloated, inflexible creeping featurism of the kind we've come to expect from Microsoft.
Oh, one more thing. I'm on iTunes 7.1.1 on OS X, and it's crashing more than it did before. I've had it bomb out a few times while converting videos for iPod. Not good.
In conclusion, I must say that I still prefer iTunes and iPod to the alternatives... by a long way. They're just not as good as they could, or should, be.
Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know what bugs you about these packages, by commenting below.