Scripting News: iTunes is an outliner.

Doc Searls posted an item yesterday explaining how journalism is an outline.

Then also yesterday iTunes 11 came out, and it’s the topic du jour. Pogue says it’s great, overlooking the features they took out. He says if you complain about iTunes you’re a bad person. This, in the Paper of Record. I’ll remember that next time they pan a movie I like. (Seriously the Times tech reviews are pretty awful. They used to be great when Sandberg-Diment was doing them.)

  • His actual words: “iTunes 11 is, on the whole, better than what came before it — if only because it’s faster, far less cluttered and laid out more sensibly. Yes, change always ruffles people’s feathers — you could argue that Apple’s specialty is feather-ruffling — but this time, at least, the overall direction is up.”
  • Bleh. This is typical Pogue. Nasty shit they should edit out, on the chance that their reviewer got it wrong.

Anyway, luckily if you know what pref to turn on, you can get iTunes working again. The way it ships you can’t use it to move content onto an iPad or iPod. Not exactly a minor function of iTunes.

Farhad Manjoo says it’s time to take iTunes out back and shoot it. It’s bad software he says. I’d like to offer the perspective of someone who has made his share of bad software. Go watch the great documentary, The Fog of War. Most software is like that. A big Ouija board. In one rev you try to solve a problem, but in doing so, you lose the solution to the problem three versions back. So you fix that, and undo something else.

It’s like renting office space for a growing company. In the first office you were on the ground floor but had windows that didn’t open, so the office was stifling in the summer. So the next office has windows that open. But you forgot how nice it was to be on the ground floor.

The only way software really flows is if you focus relentlessly on a very small set of features, and write down what the rules are, and never break them, and take lots and lots of time to Get It Right.

A picture named iTunesIsAnOutlinerSmall.gifThat’s why it’s important to study something like iTunes to figure out what it really is, and don’t just tack on annexes and add-ons to suit the needs of the next “Stevenote” demo. When you step back and look, and think and think some more, you’ll see that it’s an outliner. You have devices to hook in, and apps on those devices, and songs and playlists. Every one of which is a hierarchy. And you’re moving and copying things from one hierarchy to another. When I realized that everything in computers was like this, I decided to make a tool that was really excellent at editable hierarchies, so I wouldn’t have to keep making shitty little outliners for every one-off problem. Because managing iPods is a lot like managing documents on a hard drive or ideas that make up a presentation or a business plan or a set of software reviews. Why have five miserable iTunes-like tools when one really great one will do? That way you keep the fog down to a minimum. (Remember to go see the movie if you haven’t already.)

I thought Apple would copy us and put an outliner in the Mac Toolbox. Should have happened in the late 80s. But for whatever reason they didn’t do it. So they’re still stuck in the fog of outliners shuffling stuff from one rev to the next. Until that major reconceive happens, it won’t do any good to start over.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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