Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

To make a better iTunes

Over the past couple of days, there’s been a couple of articles on the web criticising Apple’s iTunes. Yesterday, I linked to ExtremeTech‘s article about why WMA is a good audio format (and why iTunes should support it) and today Jason Snell at MacWorld posted an editorial weblog entry about the lack of innovation in recent iTunes versions (thanks to Breaking Windows for the second link).

I think Apple could silence many of their critics with just one new feature: plugins. Winamp has them. Windows Media Player has them. And most other media players let you add extra formats via codecs. With a good plugin architecture, third-party developers could add extra formats, and bring extra audio formats to the program. The second is important because in not being able to play Ogg Vorbis, and especially WMA, iTunes is marginalising itself in the PC arena. If iTunes could play WMA then you could play all those files that the iTunes Music Store doesn’t sell but are available elsewhere (and perhaps available cheaper too, although that perhaps underlines why Apple hasn’t added WMA support).

But “hey!”, you’re thinking, “QuickTime can already accept additional audio formats”. Yes, it can. But the fact that there’s no widely available additional codecs for it probably means that Apple has either made it too difficult to develop codecs that integrate with QT or is reluctant to encourage people to create extensions in this way.

Winamp can now play almost every audio format under the sun thanks to an open plugin architecture that allows additional codecs to integrate seamlessly with the application. If iTunes could do the same then I’m sure more people would switch, perhaps myself included. In the meantime, I’m sticking to dBpowerAMP which can already play a long list of formats, Ogg and WMA included.


  1. I wish they’d allow WMAs in iPods as well, I’m thinking about getting one and all my music files are in WMA format. I can convert most of them, but not encrypted ones (for example those I got from And to top it all off you can’t subscribe to iTunes music store unless you reside in the US!

  2. You CAN convert encrypted WMA-files to non-encrypted MP3, but you have to pay $29.95 for a program called “Advanced Encode Decode Tools”. As long as you own the license (which means that you can play back the song in Windows Media Player), AEDTools should be able to convert it.
    The trial-version does not contain this functionality!

  3. The problem with that is that the resulting MP3 sounds worse than the original WMA file since you have transcoded it. The only way you could get your protected WMA files to play in iTunes without losing quality would be to use that tool to convert them to PCM Wave, then use something like dBpowerAMP Music Converter to convert them to AIFF, and then play them back in iTunes. Of course then each music file will take up 30-odd megabytes because iTunes doesn’t support any losslessly compressed audio formats, such as FLAC, OptimFROG, WavPack or Monkey’s Audio. If Apple added plugin support, however…

  4. I agree plugin support would be great. I think the problem comes from how iTunes works with regards to the iPod. iTunes syncs with the iPod every-time its plugged in, and if they allowed other media formats to be supported via plug-ins they would have to re-write the way the application syncs with its music player to prevent files that cant be played by the iPod from being synced to the iPod.
    I don’t think Apple would add WMP support on their own, because that directly competes with QuickTime, and Apple doesn’t see any reason to give MS that advantage.
    But, Microsoft and Apple have been in meetings discussing ways to make the two formats more compatible with each-other including finding possible ways for easy conversions.

  5. There are in fact two different Ogg Vorbis QuickTime components which allow your music to be played in iTunes (but obviously not the iPod) you can find them here and here.
    I’m increasingly coming to the view that given the ever falling price of storage I want everything in FLACs which are then transcoded to my format of choice on the fly, Vorbis, AAC, WMA, MP3, anything.

  6. “…they would have to rewrite the way the application syncs….”
    Good comment, but what’s the big deal about changing a little code? Get on with it Apple!

  7. If you are so enamored with WMA, or feel that you can’t spend the time to re-rip your CD’s to AAC (I re-ripped mine which were in MP3 format), then buy a PC and a Dell Jukebox…

  8. btw. They already have support in iTunes for not syncing files that can’t be played. I’m pretty sure I got a diaglog about it, sadly it was a while ago and I clicked ‘don’t ask me again’ so I can’t gibe you more insight but a quick locate and grep on the iPod in /Volumes shows me that none of my oggs are on board.

  9. Plug-ins aside, I’m really surprised with how many of iTunes’ user base put up with the lack of customization–mainly skins. Winamp, Foobar, QCD, Sonique, XMMS, and even WMP all have great “skinning” potential.
    A quick Google search for “itunes” and “skins” comes up with this. That’s just embarassing. Meanwhile, the newest submitted skin on Winamp’s site lets you mess with the playback controls with a Space Invaders-esque interface/GUI. It’s not the most usable or impressing skin to bring up, but it shows you what these audio players are capable of, and how much more “adaptable” they are to a user’s needs and preferences.

  10. I too have been lookinf for some Plug-ins for iTunes…
    Yes i would be nice to see more Audio support. But thats just the tip of the iceburg as to why SO MANY people will continue to hesitate to switch over from WinAmp,or the like, to iTunes.
    the other side of this is that people, like my self would like to add other things(such as minimize to system tray only…or have the name of the song and/or artist in the program name rathering then telling me its iTunes when i mouse over it… thats USELESS… i’d like to know what song I’m listing to with out haveing to open the program.
    And as for radio streaming… i’d like to be able to have the Song listing editable. I don’t need to know what station that I tuned in to.. again, i know this, i want to be able to have the song and artist there only.
    Though this is a great program there are MANY little things that can be done to improve it too.
    just like in life,(and this is what there AD CAMPAIN is about, the iLIFE) its the little things in life that matter.
    If apple doesn’t feel like spending very little cash/time to get ALOT more users( as they should feel only obligated to do) they should alow users to then.

  11. does the registered version of AED Tools let you convert DRM encrypted files (such as the ones you download from napster)?