updated 01:00 am EDT, Wed September 10, 2008
iTunes 8, media player
Every Mac comes with iTunes, but Windows users can also download and install a free copy of iTunes as well. The new 8.0 version of iTunes coincides with Apple's latest announcement of iPod models, although you don't need an iPod to take advantage of its handful of new features that makes this version even more fun to use for playing music and video.
The most obvious new feature is a Grid View option, which offers another way to organize your music. Grid View works by grouping songs from the same album within the artwork of that particular album. Now if you want to search for a song to play, just skim through your album covers displayed in rows and columns. Double-click on an album cover and you'll see all songs that came from that album. Grid View mimics the old fashion method of browsing through album covers to pick out the songs you want to hear.
While iTunes tries to automatically display album artwork, imported songs from other sources may not include its album artwork. In this case, you may need to edit the audio file's tags and identify the album name so you can download the appropriate album artwork. If you can't know enough information about a song, there's a good chance that you won't be able to download the correct album artwork. As a result, the program just displays a generic music note in place of an actual image.
One unique characteristic of music is that people who like certain songs or recording artists often like similar songs or recording artists. To help you find new music that you might enjoy, you could randomly browse through different albums, music genres, and recording artists and hope that you'll find something that you like. However, a better solution might be asking a friend's recommendation who shares your musical tastes. Since you may not always have access to such friends, do the next best thing and take advantage of the latest Genius Sidebar list.
Just select a song and the Genius Sidebar displays similar songs by the same artist or entirely new artists who you may never have known about. Based on the recommendations of the Genius Sidebar, you'll likely find new music that you'll probably enjoy. Of course, this is Apple's subtle way of getting you to buy more music too, so you might not appreciate the bombardment of Buy buttons filling the screen.
A related feature is the Genius Playlist, which takes advantage of the music you've already collected. You could manually take the time to create different playlists of your favorite songs, but this can get tedious. Instead, just click on a song and let the Genius Playlist create a playlist of related music based on your favorite songs. Apple claims that the more you use this Genius Playlist, the more accurate it will get. As a result, using this feature is more of a good idea that doesn't always work as well in actual practice.
Listening to music can be fun, but with the new Visualizer feature, you can watch it too. Visualizer displays spheres, ribbons, and lights that blink, move, and flash in time to the currently playing song. Now if you're playing music on your computer during a party, guests can watch visual effects while enjoying your music collection.
If you enjoy watching TV shows, you'll be happy to know that the iTunes Store now offers shows in standard definition and high definition (HD). That way you can watch the HD version on your computer monitor and the standard definition version on a video iPod.
For those with accessibility limitations, this new version supports VoiceOver (Mac OS X Leopard) and Window-Eyes (Windows XP/Vista), two programs that allow vision-impaired users to control the program through voice commands and use special reading programs to read any text out loud that's displayed on the screen.
One major missing feature is a music subscription option, which is available in rival services such as Rhapsody. With Rhapsody, you can listen to different songs for a monthly subscription fee, and then download only those songs you truly enjoy. With iTunes, you're limited to just purchasing and downloading songs.
Since it's a free upgrade, there's little reason not to download and install the latest iTunes 8.0. With its new Grid View and Genius Sidebar and Playlists, the program provides new ways to organize your music collection. With its new Visualizer, you can make iTunes handy for filling a room with music and filling a screen with unusual visual effects. If you're a music or video lover, iTunes 8.0 offers enough new features to make the program worth using.