Bolstered by a slew of related releases, including QuickTime 6.5.1 and the iPod 2004-04-28 Update (both also available in Software Update), Apple today put out iTunes 4.5, the latest version of its free music application. iTunes also acts as the front end to the iTunes Music Store, which celebrates its first anniversary with a total of 70 million songs sold so far, and is currently enjoying a run rate of 2.7 million songs sold per week. Don’t forget to check in each of the next eight days for a different free song from a well-known artist; Apple will also be giving away a free song each week to spotlight new artists. The iTunes Music Store now contains over 700,000 songs from the five major record labels and over 450 independent labels.
New iTunes Music Store-related features abound. You can publish your playlists to the iTunes Music Store as an “iMix;” others can see your selections, listen to 30-second clips, rate your playlist, and purchase those songs (of course!). Track, artist, and album QuickLinks in the main iTunes interface now make it easy to browse the iTunes Music Store for music from artists whose music you already own. The iTunes Music Store now offers a listing of what’s playing on over 1,000 radio stations complete with 30-second previews and links to buy. Also new on the iTunes Music Store are music videos and movie trailers with links to buy the associated songs. You can also save preview tracks from the iTunes Music Store to a local playlist to create a wishlist, something previously done by using the shopping cart approach instead of instant purchasing.
Apple has also both loosened and tightened the digital rights management code: you can now authorize up to five computers to play purchased music (up from three), but you can burn the same playlist to CD only seven times (down from ten). This is an overall win, since it’s trivial to change a playlist to work around the burn limit, whereas the three computer limit was troubling to families with more than three Macs.
Even if you don’t buy music online, iTunes 4.5 is worthwhile. A new Party Shuffle playlist selects a random list of songs to play from one of your playlists (or your entire library), but unlike simply shuffling through a normal playlist, you can see what just played, see what’s coming up, change the order of songs on the fly, or add new songs. Sharing music in iTunes now works between users of the same Mac (using the same sharing settings as earlier versions); amusingly, iTunes continues to play the current song as you switch users, and if the other users starts a song playing as well, the two songs play simultaneously. For those who burn CDs, iTunes can now print song lists, along with jewel case inserts using album artwork (in mosaic patterns if necessary, or using one of a number of jewel case templates). Lastly, to ensure the highest audio quality, you can rip CDs using a new Apple Lossless Encoder that uses a lossless compression method that reduces file size by 2:1 (as opposed to 10:1 or more for MP3 or AAC) without compromising quality at all. iTunes 4.5 is a 10.0 MB download; it requires Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later, with current versions of Mac OS X and QuickTime recommended for best results.
iTunes 4.5 is also available for Windows, where it has the same feature set, with the addition of the capability to convert unprotected WMA files to AAC, letting iTunes take over for all music a Windows user might have, short of purchased songs from other online music services.