Annoying Software: Is Apple iTunes the New AOL?

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Remember how much everyone loved to hate AOL at the turn of the century? AOL offered bloated software, piles of unwanted installation discs, a walled garden of content, an overloaded newbie network, and a pricey dial-up service.

AOL has changed a lot since then, even though it's still here to kick around. But who needs to pick on AOL when we have Apple's iTunes?

(You might also be interested in PC World's story "11 Things We Hate About iTunes.")

The status of Apple's iTunes today bears an uncanny resemblance to the dominance, influence, and nagging problems that AOL had in early 2000, when the ISP boasted 26.7 million paying subscribers and Steve Case was the Internet star of the moment.

Now, Steve Jobs is the much-admired digital maestro, with his iTunes media store and software that allows users to manage their iPods, iPhones, and Apple TV. But just as AOL reached great heights and subsequently made dismaying missteps, Apple is showing signs that it could be on a parallel trajectory.

Background

First, similar to AOL at its peak, iTunes has gazillions of users. Although Apple won't release a figure for that, it does brag that it has sold 100 million iPods, which likely puts the number of iTunes users in the stratosphere since that number doesn't even include iPhone users.

Recent iTunes troubles include last month's iPhone 3G activation nightmares, not to mention complaints of buggy software downloaded from the iTunes App Store. These issues followed reports from users about problems syncing first-generation iPhones.

iTunes is to digital media today what AOL was for the Internet circa the year 2000. Here are seven reasons why.

1. Bloat

Apple originally released iTunes as a tool for managing your iPod and a music store--that's it. The most recent release of iTunes (version 7.7) comes with too many other features and functions. You can use the software not only to manage and buy songs for your iPod but also to download games, grab movies, buy ring tones, manage your iPhone, and stream online Web radio stations. The list goes on.

I don't know about you, but when I want to update my iPod with new music, I find it obnoxious that iTunes is pushing "Top Music Videos" from the Pussycat Dolls and trying to convince me to buy episodes of the AMC TV series Mad Men.  

Over the years AOL similarly weighted itself down with features such as the AOL Shopping Assistant toolbar for your browser, the AOL media player, AOL Wallet, and AOL SpyZapper (thanks, but no thanks). AOL also pitched products, many times not its own, which got the company into hot water on occasion.

Trying to use the basic functions of iTunes makes me feel the same way I do about using the basic functions of AOL: Getting involved with either of them seems like taking a trip through Times Square--too many ads and unwanted distractions.

(Agree or disagree? Let us know by commenting.)

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