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Arrogant Software

By Shamus
on Saturday Oct 7, 2006
Filed under:


Rabid Paladin has a rant on Arrogant Software. He mentions Adobe Acrobat, which I have picked on in the past. He also singles out Realplayer and iTunes as a couple of particularly onerous offenders.

It’s been almost a decade since I let Realplayer set foot on my computer. Occasionally I’m compelled to help a friend fix their screwy computer and I’ll see the Realplayer icon in the system tray. I still recoil at the sight of the thing, as if it was a flaming pentagram icon or Carrot Top.

My own experience with iTunes:

A while back Pepsi had a promotion where about half of their 12oz drinks had a “free song from iTunes”. This is what actually prompted me to download iTunes in the first place. I snagged a couple of songs. I liked the way you could browse, preview, and download songs. I redeemed a couple of these free songs before I noticed the catch: The songs come in iTunes-only format. Then I remembered a bunch of ranting on Slashdot about DRM when the iTunes service first opened and I realized this is what I was looking at. I didn’t care so much about the copy protection, but I didn’t like the fact that in order to play my songs I had to use their player. (Yeah, I know, that’s how it works, blah blah. I could care less.) Nobody could ever get away with selling cassette tapes that would only play on a Sony tape player, but iTunes is doing exactly that with digital music. Yech.

I wasn’t about to give up my beloved mp3 player of choice to use the bloated and slow-loading iTunes. The shopping interface was perfect, but the player interface was about as useful as a twenty-pound salad fork. I also wasn’t a fan of how iTunes tried to abstract my MP3’s into “collections” or whatever. I already have them carefully organized and labeled – the last thing I need is a program that tries to impose some other organizational system on top of that.

I suppose in some abstract way I still “own” the songs I downloaded, but I have no way of playing them. If I sold someone a television and then told them it would stay at my house and they could come over and watch their television anytime they wanted, I don’t think they would feel like they owned the TV. I don’t feel like I own these songs.

So yeah: iTunes is a jerk of a program, although unlike the other two it is partly so by design.

Hat Tip: The Rampant Coyote

Comments (11)

  1. Pixy Misa says:

    iTunes leaves Acrobat in the dust when it comes to bloat and inefficiency. Downloading podcasts with iTunes takes pretty much 100% of my CPU – a 2.6GHz P4.

    It is as you say a jerk by design, but it is also incredibly poorly written.

  2. Pixy Misa says:

    And like you, I haven’t allowed Realplayer to touch any of my machines in years. That thing is a blight.

  3. BeckoningChasm says:

    What I dislike most about iTunes is that you can’t access any of the songs without installing the software–there’s no online catalog where you can see what they’ve got and decide if you want to go their route (at least I haven’t found one). In order to see if you want to install the software, you have to install the software. Sheesh.

    For my iPod, I use Annapod Explorer. Works for me and doesn’t bother me a lot.

  4. Andrew F. says:

    It’s worse than that, actually. If you’re reading this on a PC with iTunes installed, hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete and click the ‘Processes’ Tab. There will in all likelihood be processes named iTunesHelper.exe and iPodService.exe running. On my machine they’re taking up about 8MB of memory right now.

    That’s not even the worst part. We’re all geeks here (well, at least most of us); we know how to nuke undesirable startup items by editing the registry (directly or indirectly). If this is done, iTunes will still work, but after being run a few more times it will re-register the processes. If you use iTunes at all, there’s no practical way to banish these entirely unwanted and non-essential memory residents–squatters, if you like.

    However, in spite of that and the other valid complaints you all have about this program, it’s still my primary music player. There’s a gigabyte of RAM in this machine–I’ll begrudge the squatters their 8MB. I do a clean boot with msconfig for demanding games, anyway. I came to iTunes as a former user of Musicmatch, Winamp, and Windows Media Player, and found it to be an improvement in every way that mattered. Not unlike the reason for the iPod’s success, I suppose–it’s far from perfect, but when it first showed up it beat the heck out of the competition.

    Sorry for the longish comment; I’d post it on my own blog and link here, but unfortunately I don’t actually have my own blog…

  5. Actually, there is a way to banish those unwanted background tasks: you delete the exe files directly. Then it doesn’t matter if there are registry entries to invoke them, because there’s nothing there to run.

    Quicktime keeps trying to run something in my background, and I found that the only way to prevent it was to delete the file it was trying to run.

    …but then, Quicktime has been a painful thorn in my side for fifteen years. Why should it stop now?

  6. ubu roi says:

    Sometimes I can’t view things because I don’t have Realplayer or Quicktime installed.

    Doesn’t bother me. I own this computer, and I say what runs on it.

  7. David V.S. says:

    My favorite dysfunctional software, which is “arrogant” in its own special way, is the HP Printer Updater.

    Every couple months the updater will tell me there is new software to download. I click “okay”, and it does the typical thing of downloading the update while a progress bar advances. Afterwards, it again politely asks me if I am ready to install the update. I click “okay” and the instalation process begins — only to end a moment later when I am told that the update does not apply to my printer.

    I like my printer a lot, and would happily get another HP. The software dysfunctionality is more amusing then annoying. It’s actually become somewhat suspenseful and entertaining: will the update apply to my printer this time? (Of course, if I was using dial-up and this process took more than a minute it would be much less funny. Or if this happened more than once every few months.)

    Perhaps HP really does care about my privacy enough to not remotely identify what printer I own, but I doubt it. I instead assume they simply bundle the same updater with every printer, not realizing or caring about the result.

    If the downloaded installer produced a “progress bar” which was a dart arcing towards a target, and the dart shot forward but missed the target when the installer was inappropriate — that would make it cool as well as dysfunctional.

  8. bkw says:

    A number of years ago I came across Media Player Classic ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/guliverkli/ ), which will play both RealPlayer movies and Quicktime files, as well as pretty much everything else.

    Highly recommended. (iTunes still requires Quicktime, unfortuntely.)

  9. Will says:

    I think it was about a year and a half ago that I inherited a computer from a coworker. One Monday I come in and the power supply starts squeeling. It was undersized for the machine, so anytime the processor kicked up to 100%, it started pulling on the battery.

    I wasn’t doing anything intensive, so I check the process list and there was a file called itunes.exe spiking the processor in the background. Someone had created a virus that disguised itself as itunes. Apparently he’d done a little pr0n surfing on his lunch break and picked something up. All that garbage was still in his temporary internet files, and activated over New Years weekend. We eventually just scrapped the machine. The bug was exploiting an issue with Win2K that no one seemed inclined to fix.

  10. This is why I searched for a non-ipod Mp3 player, when I got one. I settled on a Sandisk (Sansa something in other). I went shopping, and after doing my online research, went to a few stores and said “Show me anything that isn’t an ipod.”

    I hate i-tunes.

    AND realplayer.


  11. blizzardwolf says:

    This is somewhat belated, but I like commenting on things that interest me.

    I’m a music major in Sound Recording Arts, and my two players of choice are iTunes and Windows Media Player 10. I stick with player because it’s highly organized, and the search option is a vast improvement over previous versions. As for iTunes, if you feel like getting past the issue of it wanting to organize your music for you (which I let it), it’s also extraordinarily good for creating playlists, far better than WMP, and the search options it has are an improvement over most other programs I’ve tried, such as Real Media, realplayer, and Winamp.

    As for the DRM iTunes imposes on songs purchased through it, that’s an easy fix. iTunes has no way of transferring DRM to a hard media like a disc. So you can simply burn your songs to a CD-RW, (which is what I recommend) then re-import them as MP3’s. iTunes will encode them as such, and voila! They’re free of DRM.

    I understand if that’s a little more hassle than most want to go through for music though.

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