Not Quite Sold on iTunes Home Sharing

There were really only two items out of Apple’s “It’s Only Rock & Roll” event earlier this week that managed to capture my attention. First off, where the heck was the iPod Touch camera? Several credible leaks, including compelling imagery, suggested photographic and video functionality was an inevitability. File this one under don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

Next up is Home Sharing, introduced within the refreshed iTunes 9. (See Engadget’s brief video overview above.) This feature allows you to copy purchased iTunes content amongst five authorized devices in your home. It’s surely a simpler method of interaction than sneakernet-ing files around. However, Home Sharing does nothing to overcome the single iTunes Store account limitation. And, in fact, now that Apple’s tracks are DRM-free, Home Sharing is actually more restrictive than simply copying music via a USB stick. Perhaps Home Sharing 1.1 will allow Melissa and I to link our iTunes accounts in a ‘family unit’ sort of way.

Another perceived limitation was the implication that other computers must be powered up to access all home media. However, folks with Macs running Snow Leopard and an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule now have Wake on Demand capabilities. In our household, that should allow Melissa to grab tunes from my laptop (when it’s home). But I still wouldn’t be able to access her iTunes library when her Windows 7 machine is shut down.

Ideally, Apple would bring true iTunes server functionality/support to NAS devices. Even if limited to Time Capsule, that’s the sort of hub & spoke model many of us seek: A central home repository of media files, with family members creating their own individual, custom playlists to stream or mirror on demand – not just to computers, but to iPods/iPhones and AppleTV as well. I’ve gone down this path on my own, with limited success. What we really need to succeed are Apple’s philosophical and technological blessings.

11 thoughts on “Not Quite Sold on iTunes Home Sharing”

  1. This is one of the few areas where I think Microsoft actually has a leg up. They already have the central storage issue covered with home server; on the desktop with homegroups, libraries, and media player; remote streaming capabilities with media center, extenders, and xbox; and mobile with zune.

  2. Can you connect a Sling box to a Mac ( or your “centralized home media server NAS ) and invoke “audio only” streaming to an iPhone?

  3. Todd, yeah that’s doable for Macs with IR inputs (or an AppleTV). Although, it’d be a hack – you’d probably want a better mobile UI than squeezing all of iTunes into that small space. (iPhone Slinging is still WiFi-only for whatever that’s worth.)

  4. I think this is a funny feature. Basically they are saying “we purposefully limit what you can do with your own files.”

    They have made things too complicated with iTunes because of copy protection. Now, sharing your own files to other computers you own is a “feature.”

  5. Dave, you’re confusing streaming with sharing. iTunes has supported streaming for a while – where iTunes on one computer can make its music available to another computer. Home sharing lets you copy iTunes files from one computer to another. It’s an alternative to sneaker net – walking files around on USB key.

    The other alternative is to setup the iTunes library on a NAS. I’ve done this for several years. It works great, with two issues. First, you need a fast NAS and a fast network connection. 802.11n is barely fast enough; Gigabit ethernet is much better. Second, iTunes locks the library files, so only one computer can access it at a time.

  6. I think their current model is designed for “purchased content”. The concept of a family account would be wonderful.

    They (Apple) seem to act as if the feature of a home “server” would be so revolutionary. It isn’t. I’ve been doing it for years…with hacks to sync and stream it the way I want. Now, if Apple wanted to fully embrace “open standards”, they could move iTunes to use all open standards and we could write our own servers!!!

  7. Greg – Nope, not confusing it. I even say ‘copy’ right up there. Managing multiple libraries of the same content is not ideal. Also, as I wrote, I have gone the NAS route. With limited success. We need a smarter, supported network solution for multi-person, multi-device households.

  8. It’s actually relatively painless to move your files to a NAS or server and then have iTunes play them. Just move the files then dig into your Library.xml file and do a find/change all for the network path. I’ve had mine set up like this since iTunes 7. Solves a lot of problems.

  9. @John: But what happens when one person adds new songs to the NAS and someone else adds other new songs to the NAS? Now the libraries on those two machines are out of sync, and any other machines don’t even know new music has been added.

  10. @Steve: You can put the library file on the nas too and point all versions of itunes at it if you want. This can result in some performance issues though if your network connection isn’t fast. YMMV. Personally, I only run itunes on one machine to keep things simple. All other devices just use an .m3u playlist from the server.

  11. Transitive trust is hard to do correctly, and Apple likes to do incremental changes. The five-machine-per-account approach is aimed at head of households that lead the pack. As Apple gets the wife, kids, room-mates, life-partners, etc into the their user base, the patriarchal/matriarchal concentric approach is toast. And they truly want all of those users in their camp. I read this as Apple knows that the writing is on the wall, and they are working on finding a way to make users and the content providers equally uncomfortable, yet make some forward ground.

    They have to address these issues, is raising the bar and has the chops to provide a more public alternative, focused on the kids. As @John points out earlier in the comments, MS has a better handle on sharing assets within your direct control.

    What I’m looking for: DoubleTwist to be the uber connector between Zune and iTunes. But that would most likely put Jon Lech in twice the legal issues he’s into now…

    If you are familiar with you can connect different DAWs and other VST-host environments together using several different interconnection interfaces. We need a control/mediation host controller for Zune and iTunes as well.

    Of course this is a collection of babbling vanity, pay no attention to this…

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