What Are The Sensible iTunes Alternatives?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm hoping you can help me with my iTunes problem, which drives me bananas! Despite recently updating my aging XP laptop with a shiny, new Macbook, iTunes runs so painfully slow on both machines as to render it virtually unusable. I'm plagued by 'spinning beach ball' freezes constantly, no matter what I do - booting iTunes, playing a song, copying music to devices. Every action, every button press results in a loooong wait. (Sometimes over a minute.)

Most of my 150gb music library resides on a Linux file server, shared via NFS. (I've also tried Samba share - no difference!) I use my laptop for wirelessly streaming audio and video to my stereo and for managing music on my iPhone. Can you suggest any fixes or alternatives to iTunes that will allow me to play and manage my music via my laptop without the excruciating freezes?

I'm fairly sure the server itself is not the issue. Despite it being an old computer, I can quickly navigate to the files themselves and they play instantly if I use another app like VLC. The server is not set up for use as a workstation, so managing music and devices directly from there is not an option. Thanks, Tim

Hi Tim,

iTunes is, to put it bluntly, not a very flexible program. If you operate in exactly the way it suggests and make no changes, it will generally work OK -- though its update process remains an embarrassment in 2010 and the Windows version is a lot sloppier than the Mac release, despite the former sitting on rather more machines. But on either platform, the more you try to customise the experience, the better the odds of something going drastically wrong -- and using a networked drive is often a cause for frustration.

I can't offer any specific advice on your networking problem, beyond the obvious thought of making sure your iTunes installation is working OK (removing it and reinstalling it might be worth trying, even though that sounds like very Windows-centric advice). If any of our Mac-meets-Linux expert readers have more specific thoughts, please share them in the comments.

As for iTunes alternatives, the two which get the most mileage around here are definitely Songbird and doubleTwist. Both are good options, but with one massive caveat: using them to sync with an Apple device is a decidedly hit and miss process, as Apple makes frequent firmware changes which are hard for any developer to keep track of. Sorry not to be more helpful, but it's a hard truth to avoid: iTunes is a massively popular platform but not one that's easy to use in more complex scenarios.

Yours in sync, Lifehacker


    Give Yamipod a try, it's free:

    A little crazy trying to run iTunes accessing a networked file share. That would be like trying to run a SQL database remotely, ie. The engine on the local machine and the physical database remotely; it just won't work well. For a database the engine HAS to be on the same hardware as the storage (or us a NAS with fibre optics). If you do otherwise, performance will always suffer.

    I have a shared 500GB iTunes library on a Mac with local drives (I've also used USB drives in the past with success). This installation is always snappy and I can stream the music and video throughout the house to other Macs and my Apple TV's with no problems.

    I'd really suggest you reconsider the networked drives regardless of which application you use to manage your media as they are all going to struggle to index and organise a remote library. Even gigabit ethernet is noticeably slower than local drives. If you must use the linux server to host the data, then seek out a linux media manager to run on the same server.

      Actually, that's horse shit dude.

      Firstly, I run my iTunes library on a NAS via 1gbps network. Runs fine, no problems at all, even with myself and my fiance accessing.

      On top of this, running an SQL db over a network is not abnormal at all. For security it is advised that you do this anyway - if the front end box is compromised then at least there's a layer (however small) between the compromised box and the SQL server.

      Your rational is outdated by 20 years or so.

      The problems that this person is experiencing does tend to sound like there may be problems with the media files themselves. I can't say I have any problems on my machines - Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, & Windows 7 desktop running files from either my DNS-323 or my linux server (direct from shares or via iTunes server on the DNS-323).

      If it is such a problem and you are unable to resolve it (I'd suggest googling first), try turning off write permissions for the share, or just use doubletwist or songbird. Another option is to turn off atime on your HDDs on the server (change the 4th column in /etc/fstab to defaults,noatime). This option does tend to up performance of read/writes on network shares.

        I'm afraid your SQL analogy is incorrect - an SQL server would run on either the same hardware as the storage or through a SAN. No sane engineer would ever design an SQL server that stores logs/data on a NAS!

    My iTunes is shared on my "server", actually a Win7 box that I use as a server and Media Centre backend for my 360.
    I have no delay problems as described in the post.

    iTunes is set to manage my Music folder and points to the Music folder on the server.

    If Tim is using the new "Monitored folder" approach, perhaps that's what is causing the delays?

    Media Monkey FTW
    been using it for quite some time now, will need quicktime or an alt codec for *.aac but other wise does all you need,

    sync with a nokia n97, either mass memory or card? yes

    Sync with an ipod/i phone? yes

    handle a 50k track music library? yes

    Do that over the network from the htpc library from the gaming machine, while gaming and not consuming a ridiculous amount of system resources? YES

    have extra candy i don't use like a visualiser thingo, party mode and other stuff? Yeah i guess, don't use it, but its all there....

    Another vote here for MediaMonkey. I've been using this amazing application for a while now and paid for a Gold membership to get all the extra features. There's also add-ons to control it with the iPhone's remote app, just like iTunes.

    Before you address sloppy itunes... Perhaps address sloppy MacBook? I'm using one of those babies myself right now and I've never noticed it sluggish with itunes... Or anything infact, aside from loading a craploat of album art at the same time. Do you have coverflow enabled when you use itunes? That might just be the problem. Get iStat or something and have a look at the CPU useage. How much of your HD is full? What processes are currently running?

    I don't see why running a music collection from a networked drive/NAS is crazy at all. I have my music stored on a 4bay RAID-5 NAS to make sure it is protected as it can be.

    When I was on a Windows machine using Winamp, I had no issue running my music from my NAS, I ask it to play a song, it plays it without delay. I make meta data changes, those are applied almost instantly. Even if I use Crossover and Winamp, I am able to connect to my share, play music, make changes without a hint of a beach ball.

    Yet with iTunes, it grinds to a holt as soon as I attempt to do anything. It's not the fact that I am running it from a NAS that causes iTunes to be slow, it is just iTunes is slow.

    On Mac iTunes is still a Carbon app, unable to tie into any of the new framework provided to Cocoa applications. Once the switch is made, once it can use Grand Central Dispatch on Snow Leopard, once it is 64-bit, I believe it's speed will improve.

      Using WinAmp on a networked storage is no problem at all, as all WinAmp is doing is really just reading the data. There is no management of the data so it should always be quite snappy.

      iTunes is different; it is managing the data on the NAS, which is why it is a lot slower than WinAmp. That is, both the music files themselves, their names and the folder structure is managed. iTunes also keeps an index and database in the local machines \music\iTunes directory to reflect the media folders setup. The directories would be different (which is not the default) for the networked setup described by the original poster (configured in "preferences/advanced/itunes media folder location".

      You should see an improvement in performance of iTunes if you go to the "preferences/advanced" tab and turn off "Keep iTunes Meda Folder Organised" and "Copy Files to iTunes Media Folder when adding to library". Of course this means you'll have to organise and place your media as you would like it.

        I don't let iTunes manage my music at all, I prefer to use a dedicated tagging & renaming program and then import into iTunes. Which then has to render it own album art caches, determine gapless playback (which has failed to do so more then it has actually worked), then it has to calculate the volume (which it does on it's own, ignoring the replay gain album/song metadata)..

        iTunes (should) only have to organise the music once. It should not cause the whole program running from a library on a NAS to respond slower. If on every play it has to recheck everything, that is poor coding on Apples part.

      Yes I do agree that iTunes could do with a re-write. But a change from carbon to cocoa and 64 bit wouldn't necessarily be good enough. It is the organisation and structure of the application that needs to be re-designed to operate more effeciently.

    I use Winamp and the ml_ipod plugin. I like it because it's easy to view my files, I can drag files on without adding them to my library, can transcode files, it can replace the useless "Notes" feature so you can instead have nested playlists (very handy for my directory-based music sorting), and it's Winamp which is still pretty darn snappy!


    Have you looked into setting-up a daap server on your Linux box? Firefly Media Server is one such program, and I've used it a little bit on my server that runs FreeNAS.

    Quicktime has some known issues with networked drives and may refuse to access an iTunes library or be impossibly slow -- I can't run iTunes on my XP computer to successfully access my networked library.

    Can't recommend MediaMonkey enough. I've switched over most of my mates from using iTunes over to MM. Pay the extra coin and upgrade to Gold, you'll definitely benefit from the extra features.

    The software is regularly updated, and can sync with not just iPhones and iPods, but also with USB devices and network storage devices. It lets you create playlists on the fly and include them in the syncs. You can use winamp plugins for visualisations, input filters, output filters and even to plug into Digsby/MSN/last.fm etc. Possibly the most standout feature is the auto tagging and file organisation tools. With the right filenaming patterns you can create libraries organised by genre, artists, year etc.

    It runs on all windows platforms, and even on slower PC's and Netbook hardware. You'll still need iTunes to add your apps and firmware updates to your portable devices, but that's about it. iTunes recognises the uploads you make with MM, as it properly creates the indexes and filestructures. Best of all, it isn't loaded with bloatware (like iTunes and quicktime etc). Its free to try and leaves no trace when you uninstall it.

    Sorry Angus, but did I read correctly that you have a macbook?! Have you had some sort of moral epiphany since your BRAN days?

    Try sharepod, works well when I used it.


    I tell you a method.You can use iTools.Because iTools can convert music to any apple device iTunes alternative, such as transfer music to iPod without iTunes.It can be said to be a free music app for IOS.:)

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