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October 18, 2003

Trivia of the day. Apple released a Windows version of iTunes, its jukebox program for organizing music on your computer and (optionally) copying it to your iPod. Cool, thought I, I’ll put it onto our sole Windows PC and we’ll move the household mp3 store over there and serve it to the house network. Since that’s the computer that gets used the least anyway, being as it is, you know, cough, a Windows PC.

So, to make a long story short, I installed it, it hosed my Windows 2000 Professional setup, I happened to post a cranky comment about it to this post by Greg Greene, Greg happened to mention it on the Pho list, and the next day I had email from a CNet reporter asking for more details. By evening the story (“Windows iTunes sparks mixed reactions”) was up on CNet, quoting me and everything. Remember, complain about all your software misadventures on The Green[e]house Effect, because Greg Greene gets results.

(Actually, the only result was a couple of curious emails from old acquaintances. Having had no success with the repair methods described in this discussion among other iTunes/Win2K victims, I simply blew away the crippled Windows installation and installed the previously-unused copy of Windows 2000 Advanced Server I had stashed away. Okay, it’s like trading your Honda for a tank because you like the tank’s radio better, but server stuff is mostly what that box does anyway. Yes, my inept fumblings with software are of consuming interest to everyone around me, why do you ask?) [07:38 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Trivia of the day.:

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 08:22 PM:

Hey, it was of interest to me--I'm currently nervously contemplating installing iTunes on my Windows 2000 Pro machine.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 08:40 PM:

I switched from OS 9 to OS 10.2 just so that I could upgrade from iTunes 2 to iTunes 3 (and be able to join tracks together when ripping them). I wound up having to wipe my hard disk in order to get OS X to boot! But on the whole, I think it was worth it. (Er, that is, I find OS X to be enough better than OS 9 to have been worth it, with the better version of iTunes being the proverbial icing on the cake.)

JeremyT ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 09:36 PM:

Damn, I wish I would have read this before I installed it on my work machine. I totally locked up on restart, and safe mode didn't even save me. What I did was "restart with last known working settings" (paraphrased) and that got me working again. I thought it was just me. Glad to know it was just apple living up to their reputation for writing windows apps.

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 09:58 PM:

iTunes is humming away happily now for me.

I very carefully choose "use shopping cart" rather than "buy with 1-click" in order to inject some sanity into this process. =>

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 10:00 PM:

Mumble from the old Windows cave, here.

For W2K Pro, always install the command-line recovery utility, by inserting the CD, going to the Start-> Run menu and entering the command
[d:\]i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons. You'll see what
this does, the next time you boot the computer.
(It puts an escape-to-command-line repair option on the startup menu.)

Whenever you're about to make significant changes
in W2K Pro, open up the Backup utility in the Accessories->System Tools folder, and choose the "Create Emergency Repair Disk" option from the
Tools menu. You don't even have to actually create the floppy disk. The point is to checkmark the "Backup System Files" option, which copies the central nervous system of the operating system to a folder called \Winnt\Repair\Regback.

Do this and W2K is fairly invulnerable to sabotage. If a program installation blows it away, you just

a) boot to a command prompt from the Recovery Console option you now have installed.

b) copy the central nervous system (System, Security, Software, etc files) from
Winnt\Repair\Regback to \Winnt\System32\Config

Reboot and the system comes back to life, just as it was before Itunes (or whatever) tried to screw with it.

This also works in Windows 2000 Server and
Windows XP.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 03:30 AM:

So, to make a long story short, I installed it, it hosed my Windows 2000 Professional setup, I happened to post a cranky comment about it to this post by Greg Greene, Greg happened to mention it on the Pho list, and the next day I had email from a CNet reporter asking for more details. By evening the story ("Windows iTunes sparks mixed reactions") was up on CNet, quoting me and everything. Remember, complain about all your software misadventures on The Green[e]house Effect, because Greg Greene gets results.

You are Jerry Pournelle [*] and I claim my five Pounds.

[*] In a good way, of course.

Andy ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 02:29 PM:

Just bear in mind Patrick that one problem with using a Server class product as your OS is that you will have to use server versions of common utilities. I'm thinking of things such as anti-virus and defragmentation programs. It can be a bit of a pain.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 08:05 PM:

Annoyingly, the program won't work for those of us stubbornly running Win98 because it has a DOS shell that works better with WP5.1 and other antique-but-stable DOS programs.

The new incarnation of Napster is also not Win98 friendly.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 04:06 PM:

I was less peeved by the fact that I can't run it on my win98 boxen (and that's all I have atm) than by the attitude I saw displayed regarding this, i.e., not only did Apple not address it in an obvious place, but an admin-type on the fora was basically telling people "get a modern OS, you loser!"

To try to head off the earlier reactions I got to this, let me stress the attitude annoyed far more than the system reqs. (I really don't want to argue about whether or not I should upgrade my boxen.)

On the plus side, by the time I do get around to upgrading, iTunes just about oughta be stable on win2k.

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 05:46 PM:

I've had an iPod for about a year and have been anxiously awaiting the release of iTunes. It works beautifully on my laptop. It collaborated with pre-existing hardware conditions to make my home desktop machine unusable, and I ended up having to replace the OS. I'd been blaming it on my machine, but your post makes me have second thoughts.

Tina - i'm terribly sorry, but as a professional developer of windows development tools, if a potential customer complained that my product wouldn't run on windows 98, i'd give them a sugar coated version of the reaction you got from the Apple people.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 05:54 PM:

Rob — the sugar-coating is important.

Buzz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Patrick, so with the system change, you've put iTunes for Windows back on? It runs okay otherwise?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 07:42 PM:

Yes, it appears to run fine. Of course, now I need to go buy a Firewire card for this hand-built PC, so I can sync my iPod, but that's doable. Until I do that, the household mp3 store stays on Teresa's blue-and-white G3.

Yes, I know we could park the mp3 library on the PC and fiddle iTunes-for-Mac so that it thinks its home directory is on the PC. We did that for a while. It's a pain; iTunes keeps losing its place and having to rebuild its XML pointer files when you least want it to. And another good reason to park the whole blob-o-tunes on the PC is that the PC happens to have the fastest CD reader and burner of any computer in the house. Gosh, this is fascinating, isn't it? And in this drawer I save string! I've saved a lot of string! When I've saved enough string I plan to start unravelling it into little threads, so I'll never be out of thread! I have a whole system of paper bags to do this with! You know, you should never throw away a paper bag. Do you kn--*bang*

Excuse me, he said, coughing and looking quickly from side to side. On a different subject, I wouldn't call anyone a "loser" for preferring Windows 98, but I do have to point out that in 1998, the Mac OS was at 8.5. Is it reasonable to expect newly-released software from Apple to be compatible, in 2003, with Mac OS 8.5? Is it even remotely surprising when something isn't?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 07:48 PM:

Yes. It should be compatible.

Look, I know I'm not going to get compatibility; but I refuse to accept as normal a situation where such complex and expensive machines are declared useless after only a few years of operation.

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 07:49 PM:

While I wouldn't call it fascinating, it's always interesting to me how people who aren't professional computer people use computer technology. :) It's very easy, living in the insular world of Silicon Valley software development, to completely lose touch with the rest of the world, on this issue at least. :)

When checking out firewire cards, beware one thing: there are two different sizes of firewire port. Any reputable manufacturer will give you a cable that converts between them, but the smaller one - the one that isn't the size the iPod uses - doesn't allow the iPod to draw power from the uplink.

Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 10:15 PM:

Patrick asked: Is it reasonable to expect newly-released software from Apple to be compatible, in 2003, with Mac OS 8.5? Is it even remotely surprising when something isn't?

A few special cases aside, I absolutely see no engineering-related reason why software should not work on five-year old hardware and operating systems, assuming a semi-sane software development process.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 10:23 PM:

Well, yes, but between then and now Apple abandoned/end-of-life'd/terminated the Mac OS and went with OS X.

Apple can't possibly make any money continuing to support apps behind that break, and I think it's better that they stick around as a company than that they try.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 10:50 PM:

Backwards compatability is a hallmark of Windows. On my computer, I have programs from 1989 that I used as recently as last Saturday. I have text files transfered from a UNIX machine, circa 1984. And since they were written in nroff format, I can very easily translate them to html.

Since MP3 files will PLAY on a Win98 machine, and even a Win95 machine, there is no reason on god's green earth why the interface to download these files (and pay money for them) should require the most up-to-the-minute and spiffy machine, or even a marginally spiffy machine. It's like making your internet shopping mall only accessible to browsers able to handle Flash.

Napster and Apple will force me to do the kludge of downloading files onto the Win2K machine, then emailing them to the Win98 machine, which is the one with the extra hard drives and the better sound system.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 11:15 PM:

Jesus. I complain about Apple all the time, and I'm the guy whose OS got hosed, but this is silly. We're talking about a piece of software that Apple is giving away.

They've just expanded their potential user base by several zillion people, and immediately they're rotten nogoodniks because they don't support Windows 98. Hey, they don't support the Amiga, either! And it would be trivially easy to do so! Etc etc etc. Some people. New rope.

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 04:17 AM:

Firstly, don't write off running DOS programs under Win2K or XP without trying them first. I can still run GEnie's Aladdin (a cranky DOS program if I ever saw one) under XP. (Too bad there's nothing for it to connect to.) The only change is a patch to its CPU speed measurement routine -- this program from the days of 16MHz CPUs blows up when it sees 2GHz. This affects all programs based on Turbo Pascal for DOS.

The main non-starters in 2K/XP are DOS games.

Secondly, I'll bet the exclusion of the 9x/ME series has to do with digital rights management. Thanks to the security in 9x/ME (none), it's hard to enforce. WinME isn't all that old.

I'll have to try iTunes on a test 2K machine and see if I can crash it.

Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 09:03 AM:

It's been my experience that people who talk about how easy it is to support old OSes in new apps haven't had to do it. It's a pain in the ass; if you have to do it, you can, but if you can reasonably get away without doing so, you will. (Web developers, do you want to still write pages for Netscape 4? I thoughtn't.)

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 09:36 AM:

There are two explanations which immediately come to my mind as to why iTunes wouldn't support windows 98.

  • iTunes, by its very nature, has to monitor the firewire device and the cd device, and to talk to the sound device. If the mechanism in Windows through which any of these are done has changed between windows 98 and 2000 (something which is likely), then writing software to support both requires two completely different code paths. This is made more complicated by the fact that the operating system vendor has an annoying habit of making technical documentation regarding 'obsolete' versions of Windows difficult to find.
  • Also, has anybody tried running iTunes on Windows 98? It's entirely possible that it works, but that Apple didn't want to go through the expense of hiring people to test it under windows 98 (a cost which could easily have been upwards of $500,000). Saying that software requires a certain version of the OS when it could well run on an an earlier version but it wasn't financially worthwhile to test it on that version is a common practice in the software industry.

Jazz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 10:07 AM:

I'm not a software developer, and haven't worked in that field for some years (he said, happily), but unless I'm completely wrong, Windows XP/2K and Windows 98 are pretty different beasts once you turn them over and start inspecting their scaly underbellies.

Not only does iTunes deal with firewire and USB2 and CD burners and sound devices and other voodoo, but it also incorporates Rendezvous (zeroconf)-based local automatic sharing between macs and PCs -- something I didn't expect to see at all in the first release -- and otherwise duplicates the behavior of iTunes for the Mac OS exactly, feature for feature.

For free, on the first release.

I'm just a bush league techie when it comes to Windows, but it strikes me that the options available were probably something like this: Release a version of iTunes that works in Win 98 and NT/XP/2K that has less features, costs more to support (while making no money in return), and would probably lag behind the mac version of iTunes owing to its much more bloated codebase and larger support team.... or release a full version that works only in Win 2K/XP and can keep pace with the mac version, while draining a minimum of money from a company that, after all, has to compete with Microsoft.

(That sentence should probably be dragged into the street and shot.)

Yes, in an ideal world, you'd get both. But this is the alternate branch of history that ended up electing Dubya to the presidency, and personally I'm happy we got any version of iTunes for Windows at all, for free, period. God knows, precious little else has gone right, recently.

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 10:17 AM:

iTunes update:

Runs cleanly, though slowly, on my 3-4 year old Pentium II laptop with Win2K. Runs so slowly that I turned about six CD-Rs into coasters last night before determining that yes, I really needed to set "burn" on 1x speed.

But now we have the new Barenaked Ladies CD in a regular CD player, which is cool.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 12:13 PM:

I find it ironic that Apple would port iTunes to Windows XP, given that XP was what pushed me over the edge to switching to Macintosh in the first place.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 06:58 PM:

Whereas, heretical though it may seem, I've been using XP ever since our corporate systems department dropped an XP system on my desk a few months ago, and (mumble mumble) actually quite liking it.

Granted, most things are pretty comfortable to use on a 2.4 GH P4 with a sharp, comfortable LCD screen. Moreover, I don't have to support the beast. I'll decide more firmly whether I like XP once I've actually installed it on something.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 07:42 PM:

I tried downloading it and installing it on Win98 to see if it would run anyway. It downloaded, but identified my system as Win98 and wouldn't let me install it.

So far as writing off Win2K for DOS applications, my experience with Win95 and Win98 is that WordPerfect 5.1 will occasionally do screwy things if you run it from a DOS shell, but if you reboot as DOS (still included in Win98, as opposed to an emulator, as I understand 2K to use), you can run it on the machine with no troubles, or at least no more troubles than DOS.

In regards to supporting Netscape 4, if you make a webpage simple enough, Netscape 4 will read it just fine. Besides which, one of the things that killed WebVan was an upgrade to a spiffy new web design that didn't run on a great number of the antiquated computers their customers were using.

Somewhat of a nonissue here, since the 2K machine is the one with the CD burner anyway (this one has the DVD) but it's still an annoyance.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 08:08 PM:

If I understand correctly, Windows 2k/XP came out of the NT development line, so yes, it really probably is extremely different under the hood.

I have no trouble understanding why they don't have a product that works on all versions of Windows. It's the attitude surrounding it I dislike. And the fact that it's just assumed that you'll upgrade your OS, like you might not really like your current one, or you might not be willing to shell out so much money for the new version of Windows (I'm not, by the way); that if you don't upgrade your OS you're the problem.

I would pay for an iTunes for Win98 if that's what it would take. But instead, the assumption is that if I can't be arsed to keep my computer "up to date" (not how I think of it) than I just will have to live with it.

Which, well, I will. But I don't have to like it.

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 02:09 AM:

The "DOS mode" in Win98 is exactly MS-DOS 7.1. The DOS-in-a-window in 2K/XP is indeed an emulator, but it generally does a better job than the DOS box in Win9x/ME. Since DOS programs think they own the entire system, they can mess with 9x/ME and crash it. The tighter security in 2K/XP doesn't allow this, although it might make the DOS program misbehave.

You can set up an XP system to dual-boot to some version of DOS, or you can just use a DOS boot floppy. XP can make one directly, though 2K can't. The advantage to the XP DOS disk is that it supports large hard drives and FAT32 partitions, which DOS 3.3 doesn't.

I did download iTunes and give it a try. It worked fine for me, other than the store being understandably slow. If you do have problems, just remember that Jobs said, "This is the best Windows application ever written." Either he thinks iTunes for Windows is fantastic, or he's commenting on the state of Windows software -- you pick.

My only real complaint is the clunky (to me) user interface. Yes, I know they drive on the left in Japan, but when I buy a Toyota in the US I still don't want the steering wheel on the right. Windows has a control panel for setting the style, size, and color of scroll bars, buttons, menus, lists, etc. iTunes ignores all of these settings, something I wouldn't expect from the "best" Windows program. It instead looks like something transplanted from OS X. You may be able to change the appearance of these things in OS X, but iTunes for Windows doesn't come with an OS X control panel.

So my preferred fat gray scroll bars are now skinny blue blobs. Apart from my taste or lack thereof, it also means the accessibility options (large fonts, high contrast colors) don't work either. And it's irritating to know that they had to go to a lot of effort to program their own skinny blue blob scrollbars, rather than use the built-in Windows ones.

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 01:27 PM:

Apple has released iTunes for Windows 4.1.1, which is supposed to fix the problems with Win2K.