Earlier this week, Steve Jobs characterized iTunes 9 the "the biggest release of iTunes in a long time." We naturally grabbed a copy and took it around the block a few times to see if we could verify that claim for ourselves. Though the biggest changes (aside from the Home Sharing feature) are mainly connected to the highly revised iTunes Store, what we discovered is that iTunes 9 has many refinements that are hidden all over the application. Unfortunately, many of these little settings and features aren't easy to discover, and may be buried in menus you rarely think to check.
The first thing we noticed when launching iTunes 9 is that the user interface has been revised yet again. And no, standard scroll bars aren't part of the changes. Instead, iTunes 9 looks unlike any Leopard or Snow Leopard application.Note how almost every UI element looks different, even the sidebar icons.
The new UI look has been hinted to be the actual "Marble" interface theme rumored to appear in Snow Leopard; it's now suggested we won't actually see it until Mac OS X 10.7. iTunes 9 has an interface that departs heavily from that of iLife '09 and standard Snow Leopard UI widgets and styling that was earlier claimed to be Marble. In particular, iTunes 8 tended towards a darker, more flat look to UI elements, giving it a smoother appearance. It also used the same darker "unified window" appearance that came with Leopard and is carried over to Snow Leopard. iTunes 9, in contrast, has a much lighter window gradient near the top, and all the UI elements have a subtle, but notable 3D appearance. All the buttons, the information display window, and even the icons in the sidebar all have this slightly smoother, slightly shinier look to them. Honestly, it's not a bad look, but I don't see why Apple is always changing the UI look for iTunes, and why it never quite seems to be in sync with the OS.
The other notable UI change, and one I found confusing after I first launched iTunes 9, is that in the "browse" mode, columns are to the left of the tracklist, instead of on the top. By default, iTunes 9 shows a single artist column in a long vertical column on the left, with the track list on the right. I vastly prefer the old method of having a series of shorter columns on top, and after some playing around in the view menu I found an option to move those browse columns back to the top.
Other UI changes, which are more subtle, include column headers in white, a lighter blue background on the sidebar, and an extremely faint blue background on the browse columns and an alternating light blue stripe in the track list. Personally, I don't care too much for these changes, but, c'est la vie.
A new library management scheme
The next thing we noticed is that iTunes was rebuilding the library file, which has become pretty much standard practice with each major (and occasionally with a minor) revision of the application. What we didn't notice is that iTunes 9 brings a new default library management scheme. That's because iTunes will only use this new management scheme if it makes a new library, or you specifically tell it to use it. The command to do so is buried under File > Library > Organize Library.
This new scheme puts a folder inside ~/Music/iTunes called iTunes Media (unless you upgrade a previous library, it which case it inexplicably remains named iTunes Music). Inside iTunes Media, there are folders for Downloads, iPod Games (if you have any), Mobile Applications, Movies, Music, Podcasts, Ringtones, and TV shows. Previously, these folders were scattered in a few different places, and the new scheme is much better organized. We noticed that a few folders were left over after running the organize command—after some digging it turned out to be either some duplicate files or, in one case, a corrupted file from trying to import a very old, scratched-up copy of Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation. It's safe to trash these leftovers. (Several folks have noted that redoing the organization will result in a major Time Machine backup happening of your library, even though only the location of the files have changed—keep that in mind if you decide to opt for better organization.)
The other new thing added to this iTunes Media folder is—finally!—a watch folder to automatically add media to iTunes. Why Apple buried it in iTunes Media is beyond all logic, but you can make an alias of the folder and stick it anywhere you like. I put it on the desktop—you could also put it in the Dock or in the Finder Sidebar for easy drag-and-drop importing into iTunes. If for some reason the file isn't compatible with iTunes, it'll get relegated to a "Not Added" folder inside the "Automatically Add to iTunes" folder. Good move to make the watch folder—people have been asking for it for years—bad move burying it in the media library hierarchy.
now you're talkin'