Kara Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Cutting the iTunes cord

Note: This post was written before I realized I was trans and/or before I came out online. As such, I might refer to myself as a man or use my deadname. Please read my name policy to understand how you should refer to me.

I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux as my primary operating system for several years now. Ever since I first tried Linux, I’ve dual-booted it alongside a Windows installation—this means that when I turn on the computer, I can choose whether to start Windows or Linux. Once upon a time, Windows was the default. No longer!

Ubuntu has steadily improved over the years, as has my familiarity and proficiency with Linux. Indeed, much of what I do on the computer is faciliated by using Linux. For example, in university I started using LaTeX to typeset math proofs, and Linux has several great LaTeX editors (I like Kile). I also spend a fair amount of time coding, and Linux makes installing development stacks for LAMP or Python a breeze. Plus, I’ve started using git, which on Windows is an experience … well, it’s an experience.

Still, Windows still has the edge for certain tasks. This includes SMART Notebook, the software I use for preparing lessons—to its credit, SMART has a Linux version, but it doesn’t receive updates as frequently, and it doesn’t perform as well as the Windows version. Steam used to be a major reason for me to boot into Windows, but now it works natively in Linux, and there are plenty of games to keep me entertained.

My last major reason for resorting to Windows was iTunes.

Some people swear by iTunes, and others would like nothing more than to see it burn in a metaphorical hellfire. I’m somewhere in the middle; for me, iTunes is a necessary evil. There are better ways to organize my library, but for the longest time, it has remained the most convenient way for me to purchase music.

I’ve been getting frustrated by this dependence on iTunes. For a while now, I’ve been putting off buying music because it means stopping whatever I’m doing, booting into Windows, applying updates, updating iTunes, and downloading the music. That all sounds so time-consuming that I procrastinate, and because I’m lazy, I don’t note the songs I want to buy, so I forget them, and then I don’t buy music at all. This benefits no one—not Apple, not the artists, and certainly not me!

There has to be a better way. I knew iTunes was but one of many music stores. The only one I could name off the top of my head was Amazon’s, and I wanted to see if there were any more palatable alternatives before surrendering yet more money to this online giant. So, I hit the tubes and did some more thorough research.

I discounted eMusic. It has a plugin for Banshee, my Linux music player of choice. However, I just want to buy songs or albums apiece, not subscribe to a monthly service.

Next I explored the Ubuntu One music store, which is now available online. It seemed like the perfect iTunes replacement for Linux … but its selection is incredibly limited, at least from my experience using whatever store is available in Canada.

Digging deeper, I discovered that Ubuntu partnered with 7digital for its music offerings. Its limited selection is a result of a tradeoff to avoid maintaining so many region-dependent stores—which I totally understand, but it just didn’t work for me. But 7digital seemed like a viable option: great selection, available in Canada and the UK, and reasonable prices.

I bought 21 by Adele; It’s Not Me, It’s You, by Lily Allen; Life in Cartoon Motion, by Mika; and Sounds from Nowheresville and We Started Nothing, by the Ting Tings. (Most of these come by way of discovery on doubleTwist’s Magic Radio.) After purchase, 7digital let me download everything as one gigantic zip archive.

Even cooler, 7digital has an Android app. I listen to my music primarily on my phone and tablet, and until now I’ve synced it using doubleTwist’s egregious Windows program. (It’s like pulling teeth with the door-slamming method.) Through 7digital’s app, I can download or stream any music that I’ve purchased; once downloaded to my phone, doubleTwist automatically picks up on it without any problem.

So, in conclusion, I have cut the iTunes cord and simplified syncing my music to my mobile devices. Oh, and I have some good tunes for my flight back to England. Not too shabby for a day’s work, eh?