SAN FRANCISCO, 12 SEPTEMBER 2008 - The last few major updates to iTunes have added everything from new looks to the ability to watch movies and TV shows, download podcasts, and get recommendations for iTunes Store purchases. It would seem that all that could be done to Apple's media manager and player had already been done. But it turns out that Apple still has some tricks up its sleeve with iTunes 8. The latest version returns the sense of fun to listening to music on your Mac (or PC).
iTunes 8 isn't a revolution in media players, but its new features, a new Grid layout, Genius Playlists, the Genius sidebar, and a very nice new visualizer, make an already capable application even more indispensable.
The first thing you'll notice after installing and launching iTunes 8 is a progress bar churning through your iTunes library. This one-time process creates album art for the new default view of iTunes: Grid view. Very similar to Events in iPhoto '08, the Grid view displays your iTunes library as a grid composed of album art. (This view is available for music, podcasts, and videos.)
Think of it as a flattened Cover Flow, the same eye candy with about the same amount of practical use (that is, very little). You start playing an album or video by clicking on the album art. Double clicking on an album takes you to a more traditional list view with the addition of artwork in the first column. To change what view iTunes defaults to when you launch the program, simply change to your desired view before you quit iTunes.
If you're the type who makes sure that all your albums have cover art, and all the genres are applied correctly in the metadata of your media, then Grid view is going to be your new best friend. If you're like me, Grid view is going to serve as a reminder that yet another aspect of your life is out of control. No where is this more evident than in the Grid view sorted by genres. Apple has provided a number of tastefully designed stock art images for genres found in the iTunes Store. When in this view, you can scrub through the albums in each group by dragging your mouse across the artwork, much like Events in iPhoto and footage in iMovie. The problem arises when you have music that wasn't purchased from iTunes. A surprising number of genre name variants crop up, leaving you to either edit the metadata for a cleaner, more organized experience or live with a sloppy iTunes library.
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