Almost everyone I know uses iTunes for music, and while in my personal experience it’s extremely uncommon for anyone to use anything other than Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging, it’s practically unheard of not to use Adobe PDF Reader for PDFs. In my opinion, it’s simply a sad historical accident that these programs ended up as the default, and a real pity that there are so few people open-minded enough even to imagine using better software, since there is a huge collection of truly excellent open-source and free software out there. I’ll post an ongoing blog series of superior software alternatives, and if you have suggestions for better alternatives (or disagree with me!), please go ahead and leave a comment.
iTunes, while having many powerful and easily-accessible features, is, for lack of a better word, stressful to use. The stubbornly un-customisable interface and the painfully slow scrolling through large libraries are annoyances, while its gleeful enforcement of DRM is a real hindrance to music enjoyment. Its unnecessarily large memory footprint and insistence on installing Safari on updates, when added to the apparently obligatory iPodService and iTunesHelper module serve merely to aggravate its users further. All in all not pleasant to use and I was glad to rid my computer of it once and for all.
… replaced with Foobar2000
My suggestion is foobar2000. As a direct comparison: it is Firefox-like in customisability in terms of skins, keyboard shortcuts, library view styles, and actually pretty much everything. DRM is not insidiously forced upon the user to the point that converting to another player would involve losing gigabytes of purchased music to the notorious m4p format, and the user experience is incredibly fast and snappy; scrolling through thousands of items is a breeze. It’s also very conservative on the system performance front, and generally a much more satisfying and enjoyable experience to use. It can also, unlike iTunes, automatically scan folders for new media; plugins (of which there are many, and of which one implements iPod support) are a breeze: a simple matter of dropping a dll into a folder; and the entire package is even portable! But for me, a power user who can’t do without APIs and programmable features, the best part is the immense power of the search bar which can use bitwise logic operators. As a simple example, to search for classical pieces with a rating of over 3 stars I query %genre% IS “classical” AND %rating% IS “* * *”. As a replacement for iTunes’ ‘consolidate library’ feature, foobar has ‘file operations’ in which you can copy / move music files using patterns. For example moving your library to %artist%\%album%\%tracknumber% %title% organises it in folders by artist and album with track numbers in the file name.
Foobar has even been rumoured to sound better than other media players and it overcomes all the problems people may have switching from iTunes (primarily iPod support). It’s a truly impressive program; there’s no excuse not to switch to it from iTunes (for music) and I’d definitely call it my best free software find this Summer!