twenty years of iTunes

A huge chunk of my music collection shows a create date of 9/24/01. And well it should. That was the day that I installed the MacOS X 10.1 update on my white and gray iBook SE, and the day that I was finally pig-committed to moving my MP3 collection over from Mac OS 9 to the future, in Mac OS X with iTunes as my player app of choice.

My first MP3s were downloaded at the tail end of 1998 – the very first being Hole’s “Celebrity Skin”, though many many more followed, and I spent days at work trying to engineer swaps and downloads and such to get this or that song. It was tough, in the pre-Napster era, to find anything specific – let alone of playable quality. Things like that are how you end up with multiple versions of classic disco tracks, because you need trade stock for those 1:5 download/upload sites. And playback was through MacAmp, then Audion, then Casady & Greene’s SoundJam MP right before Apple bought it to re-engineer it into what we now know was iTunes.

Not that iTunes is still around. It’s become the Music app, part of Apple’s move to streaming, where most of the kids are these days (apparently Spotify is the done thing nowadays), And the Celestial Jukebox has arrived – rather than rip, mix, burn or download, you pay someone a monthly nut in exchange for access to every song ever recorded so long as it’s digitized and the rights are available. And I occasionally wonder if I wouldn’t be better off that way, especially looking at how much room the iTunes folder still takes up on my desktop computer at home and considering how all the Marvel and Disney stuff I ever need is already there in iTunes so why am I buying movies individually any more (and that might be finished, for what it’s worth). 

But…I dunno. Sure, Spotify has been around for a while now, and Apple Music is tethered to the largest company in the world. If there were some way of migrating your playlists in exportable form and knowing that you could bop from service to service without losing your list of tracks, that would be ideal and might just tempt me. But there’s a (brief) playlist there for September 2001. And another for October 2001. And then another, and another, and another, all in a folder labelled “it’s a long story” all the way up to (as of this writing) a September 2021 playlist. It is, quite literally, the soundtrack of my life. And in theory, if I unplugged my Mac from the network and never upgraded or updated or connected to the internet again, I’d still have all those songs for as long as the device would bear it. I’ve lost count of how many computers it’s hopped between, from the iBook to a Titanium PowerBook G4 to God knows how many laptops at Apple for three and a half years, ultimately from a MacBook to a Mac mini to another Mac mini to a third Mac mini to an iMac…

The remarkable thing, in retrospect, is that various iterations of the same software program have served this need for twenty years. I can’t think of another program I have lasted that long with in my personal life. Office will be with us always, sadly, but personally? That’s longer than Safari (itself interrupted by Firefox and Chrome at diverse times), longer than MarsEdit, longer than Evernote, longer than Reeder or NetNewsWire or Slack or Tweetbot or Downcast. It’s a program that works with the iPod, but was made originally to serve the various Rio-type flash-memory MP3 players that would hold 128MB or what have you. 

And that’s ultimately the catch: Apple has been around, and thrived and survived. Other options have been less successful. Microsoft thrashed about and ultimately gave up, and I suspect Google has done the same. Right now, it seems like it’s Apple or Spotify, and right now I’d give better odds on Apple lasting longer. And yet…I don’t want to go the celestial jukebox route. I want my songs on a device that can play them, and that in theory could do so on some other gadget in future. Maybe there won’t be any. Maybe the new business model of the world is that you have to pay rent on anything They can compel you to, and that you never actually own anything any longer. 

But what the hell. I never expected my music to last this long in one place. Maybe I’ll be able to stay one jump ahead of the crocodiles, one swing ahead of the sword, for another twenty years or so.

Because yeah…it’s a long story.

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