Genius

I’ve flipped back to iTunes as my default audio player.  I was avoiding it for a long, long time for a lot of reasons but when WinAmp randomly stopped playing OGG files (which I have a lot of), and I couldn’t fix it, I installed the Xiph QuickTime Components plugin and downloaded the latest version of iTunes.  And I have to say, having a functional playlist generator is nice.  Here’s why I was against iTunes in the first place and why I came back:

1. iTunes is a resource hog

It’s no secret that iTunes is a huge application.  When the download size is over 70MB compared against the comparatively miniscule WinAmp (currently sitting at 10.7MB, which is twice as large as earlier versions), you know you’re in for more than just something to play music on.  Additionally, the minimum system requirements for iTunes is about double the minimums of WinAmp almost across the board, including 1GB of RAM if you want to play HD video (I don’t, but that’s besides the point).  As a designer, my RAM is a precious commodity, and the last thing I want is my music player getting in the way of the resources required by my graphics application.  That said, I upgraded from 2 – 4GB of RAM recently, and upgraded my operating system from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows 7 at the same time.  The native 64-bit iTunes has yet to cause any problems with resources while I’m designing (although it gets a bit slow internally when it’s downloading art or updating Genius – but that’s mostly to be expected).

2. iTunes does weird things to your music collection

I’ve had my own directory hierarchy for years.  Music Folder/Genre/Artist/Album.  However, there’s several inherent problems with this, not the least of which being when you have over 30,000 music files, organization is a bitch.  And then there’s the genres themselves, which I kept deliberately general (Alternative, Jazz,  Indie, Punk, Rock, Soundtrack, Rap, Electronic, etc…) – does Nine Inch Nails go in Goth or Industrial?  Does Guitar Wolf go in Punk or Japan?  Is Lady Sovereign Rap or Electronic?  I may not like iTunes messing with my folders, but then, if I can’t find the artist I’m looking for because I can’t remember if I put them in Indie or Alternative, having the artists filed alphabetically starts looking pretty appealing.  And what is my own, personalized directory structure really getting me, anyway, other than headaches?

What’s more, I’ve recently started using the Grouping tag to handle sub-genres – so the Genre field in my tags are the more general genre, and Grouping is for the forks and sub-categories like Dream Pop or Indie Electronic or IDM or Alternative Folk or Death Rock or Shoegazer, and this seems to be working pretty well.  The other thing that’s cool about using the Grouping field is when you have a variety of interpretations of a sub-genre…Alt Country is a great example of this — is it Alternative? Country? Indie?  I use it for Rockabilly, where I stash my newfangled indie Rockabilly Revival and Psychobilly artists alongside the originals like Wanda Jackson, The Collins Kids, and Elvis.

3. iTunes doesn’t automatically update your library

Probably my biggest complaint ever with iTunes has always been if you’re going to take over my entire music collection, why the fuck do I need to manually add new music?  This has been fixed (in fact, it was fixed in iTunes 9).  Now there’s an Automatically add to iTunes folder in your music library folder, which is all the more reason to just let iTunes handle your directory structure for you.  Adding new music to that folder, it gets gobbled up by iTunes and automatically added to your collection.  Which is exactly how it should be.  No more dropping down in File –> Add folder to Library bullshit.

4. Apple is a huge corporation that just wants your money

Yes, but, isn’t everyone these days?  WinAmp may be an independent contractor, but it’s still sporting the Aol logos everywhere, and it’s not exactly the scrappy underdog it was, you know, 15 years ago.  And anyway: so what?  I hate to break it to you anti-Apple-everything geeks, but Apple actually makes some good products.  They may be overpriced ripoffs of other stuff that already exists, but they’re really good overpriced ripoffs of other stuff that already exists.

And here’s why sticking with iTunes is actually probably a good thing:

1. Genius fucking works

Seriously, WinAmp’s Gracenote-powered playlist generator was awesome…for the five minutes that it worked.  Then it sucked.  Sure there’s alternatives, but isn’t it nice to have something built-in that just works?

2. Automatic fucking updates

What’s the worst thing about software updates?  I’ll tell you: it’s having to go to the fucking website and download/install a new version of the software you already have installed.  Really?  It’s 2010 and we still need to install our own updated software?  Most Linux distributions do this for you, you just need to say “uh…okay…” when an update is available.  Java does this, too, along with a bunch of other, more intelligent pieces of software, like FileZilla and uTorrent.  Apple, too, has been doing this for years for their Windows users (and automatically bundled in the Apple Updates for Mac users), and I think it’s awesome.  Why more software developers don’t build this in to their applications is baffling.  Get over it.

3. Smart playlists

Smart playlists are effing brilliant.  It’s like someone crawled into my head and extracted precisely what I’ve been wanting to do for years.  I want to listen to this type of music but not this stuff over here, and if you could add this artist, that would make it even better…Sometimes I don’t want a Genius playlist, but I don’t want to go through and manually build a list to listen to…with smart playlists you can tailor them to just about any freaking thing you can imagine, and here’s where things like Grouping and all sorts of other tags come in handy – Indie Rock from the 90s? Check.  Alternative rated 4 stars or above? Check.  All the stuff I haven’t listened to recently?  Sure.  Or, my favorite, everything with “snow”, “holiday”, “santa”, “winter”, or “christmas” (excluding audiobooks titled SnowCrash, thank you very much)?  Instant holiday playlist.

Like it or not, iTunes is solid.  Big, but solid.  Stupid icon, maybe.  Why fight it?  What’s the point in using some super awesome, uber-customizable little app (Foobar comes to mind) that almost does everything you want?  Now, that Ping thing…that’s another matter entirely…

In-Place Windows 7 RC downgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium

a few months ago, i posted a link to a hack that revealed how to do an in-place “upgrade” (although it’s really a downgrade) from Windows 7 RC-1 to a lesser version of Windows 7.  as the nag alerts saying i need to backup my stuff and reinstall have started cropping up, i decided to finally put the copies of Windows 7 i actually purchased to use.  but i knew i was going to be in for some issues.

click here to skip the narrative and go straight to the fix.

see, what i did — which made perfect sense at the time — was i took advantage of the limited-time, special pre-order discounts that were available towards the end of the official testing period, grabbing two copies of Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade for $50 each.  i figured, someone, somewhere, would figure out how to hack them to just do an upgrade from the RC.  they figured out how to hack the beta to the RC when you weren’t supposed to be able to do that…

the problem of course (which didn’t apply to the beta → RC upgrade), is that Home Premium is a different version of Windows than RC, which uses Ultimate.  and therein lies the issue — an issue i realized would be a problem when i tried the upgrade sometime in december (before i found the hack) and it was giving me this message:

when i went to do the upgrade using the method i linked to after christmas, i still got the same message.  i didn’t get it.  yes, the hack was a pretty stupid hack, just changing a couple registry values from “Ultimate” to whatever version of Windows was less than what you were trying to install, but still, supposedly people had done it with success.

it wasn’t until i found this hack — which is based on that one — that i was able to figure out a way to get it to work.

so the original hack goes like this: open regedit, and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion and change the values for EditionID and ProductName.  The assumption is that you could change them to whatever you want, just name it the name of the operating system.  so you’d go from “Ultimate” to “Home Premium.”  the problem, of course, is that this didn’t work.  and from what i could tell in the comments for that post, it didn’t work for a lot of other people trying to downgrade to home premium.

the difference in this other hack i found, first of all, is in how the edition is named — e.g. it’s important that you use the exact name that the edition identifies itself as on the DVD, which he displays in a graphic:

so, that helped, but it still didn’t work.  i used “HOMEBASIC” and “Windows 7 HOMEBASIC” in the correct keys and still got the same message saying i can’t upgrade from Ultimate to Home Premium.

really, Microsoft?  i finally decide to spend money on your operating system and — because of a loophole in your installation process — you’re still going to try to either suck even more money out of me or force me to find a pirated copy anyway?  i started warming up my demonoid searches…

but then i notice that the post indicates that the registry values you enter need to match the version you are installing.  but that can’t be right…surely changing the values from “Ultimate” to “HOMEPREMIUM’ aren’t going to work on a Home Premium install, are they?  it works like the cversion.ini hack used to upgrade from beta to RC — you just need to make it something less than the current version…

i tried it and, whadayaknow, i saw a new screen:

so i knew i was in pretty good shape when i saw the installation actually start working.  i was a little nervous, however, when the install hung at 20% on “Gathering files, settings, and programs”.  i stopped and restarted it when i didn’t see it changing at all, and it hung again at 20%.  this time i left it alone and went away from the computer.  a while later i came back and saw it had moved to 88%, and it was fine from there.

note:  i will say that at some point the computer rebooted and brought up a screen about how the repair wizard couldn’t fix the startup error.  i closed that screen, the pc shut down, but then started windows for the first time fine after that.  it’s been working with no issues since, so i’m calling it a fluke for now.

after that, it booted up fine and asked for my product id (which, of course, i have), and has been working like a charm ever since with a retail version of windows 7 home premium.

so, once again, here’s how to downgrade from Windows 7 RC-1 (Ultimate) to Windows 7 Home Premium
(note:  presumably this would work with other versions but as i have not tested it on any other version, I can’t vouch for it personally, although the original post i used as reference indicated it would work for Home Professional as well)

1 – open the registry editor by going to Start > Run > regedit

2 – navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft \ WindowsNT \ CurrentVersion

3 – double click EditionID to open it and change the value from “Ultimate” to “HOMEPREMIUM”

4 – double click ProductName to open it and change the value from “Windows 7 Ultimate” to “Windows 7 HOMEPREMIUM”

you’re done.  it works without a reboot.  you should be able to just start your installation.

also note: this is still using the method that changes the cversion.ini file on the DVD image, so you’ll still need to do that first.

okay, ready, break. you’ve got about 9 days left before your computer starts shutting down.  if you waited this long to install the retail version, wait no longer, do it now.

Hack to In-Place “Downgrade” from Windows 7 Ultimate or Professional to Less Premium Editions

stumbled across this “duh” of a hack to allow up/downgrading (depending on your perspective) of a more premium version of windows 7 to a less premium version.  why would you do this?

if you were running a beta or rc version of windows 7 you can “upgrade” to a retail edition without wiping the system.

meaning those win 7 home upgrade dvds i pre-ordered for $50 when i decided to go legit with windows 7 in the summer won’t a) go to waste or b) require me to wipe both systems, install XP or Vista, then upgrade to windows 7.

Hack to In-Place “Downgrade” from Windows 7 Ultimate or Professional to Less Premium Editions » My Digital Life.

this is especially handy considering i’ve effectively failed (several times) to upgrade from a fresh windows xp install to windows 7.  (could that have something to do with the fact that the xp install was cracked or not activated before the upgrade?  it’s possible.  why did i do an xp-to-win7 install instead of a vista-to-win7 install?  i figured xp would be a faster install process.  which it would have been…if it worked.)

the “duh” part of this hack is that basically you’re finding a registry value that says “this os is Ultimate edition” and dumbing it down to say “this os is HomeBasic edition” or whatever.  given that the alternative i was beginning to consider was to find a crack to extend the lifecycle of the evaluation version indefinitely and use the retail versions if i actually did for real need to wipe the systems at some point in the future, i think that — despite this not being microsoft’s favorite idea in the world — it’s at least better than other options.

do this action for all current items. no, really.

okay, so i’m on windows 7. i’m transferring files (about 300mb of them) from my linux server to my local hard drive. there’s some lag on the network due to the server running a backup to a NAS backup server while i’m doing this. eventually, some file transfer times out and i’m given a dialog box that looks like this:

tryagain

i’m given 3 options: try again, skip or cancel.  and there’s a checkbox that says “do this for all current items.”  i hit “try again” and it works, and moves onto the next file.  so my question is, um…why isn’t try again the default action?  shouldn’t you try again anyway and then ask me wtf to do?

(note: okay, so maybe it does try again, and fail again, and so it’s asking me after having done this, and i realize that if it just continuously tried again that it could end up in a neverending loop that sucked up progressively more memory.  still, it seems rather redundant that i’m telling the computer how to do its job.)

how windows 7 will sell more by being free

windows 7 ships on october 26.  when that day comes, you’ll start to see (if you haven’t already) a lot of reviews.  i’m guessing most of them will be very positive.

here’s the thing: windows 7 is a very good operating system.  it’s generations better than previous versions of windows and will definitely give OSX a run for its money.  there are new innovations in win 7 — actual, useful innovations in how to manage your windows, shortcuts, and desktop.  stunning new visual effects that put earlier versions of windows to shame that actually work without slowing your computer to a crawl, and compare with what Apple has done for years. even intelligent and functional troubleshooting support when you have problems.

and i should know: i’ve been using windows 7 for months.

what microsoft realized after vista is that image — more than the product itself — is everything.  this was proven when they did their mojave experiment, a bait-and-switch product test of vista which gave people (who had already decided not to upgrade to Windows Vista) a glimpse at a “new” operating system (actually Vista in disguise).  what these people realized is that when they actually saw Vista, they liked it. but the knowledge that microsoft had actually succeeded in making an operating system that people really liked alone wasn’t enough to salvage Vista’s bad rep.  could they still be battling the negative public opinion of the company since their antitrust case in the 90s?  microsoft needed to go one step further than they did with vista: they needed to make a great operating system that far surpassed anything they’d done before, and they needed to repair their broken image.  so they held a public beta of the new windows 7 operating system and gave it to the one group of people that mattered the most: the geeks.

let’s face it, geeks weren’t behind vista.  the heavy-handed addition of new gadgets and visual effects (at the expense of speed and reliability) and extra security measures (like User Access Control — invariably the first thing people turn off on a vista installation) made geeks rail against the operating system.  sales and public opinion were so bad that they extended support (and sales) for windows xp — many of us in the geek crowd saw this as a) admission of failure and b) an apology.   i used vista — it wasn’t all bad.  it was slow, and the network security measures made accessing my samba shared folder slow (something that carries over into win 7) was obnoxious.  but many of the complaints against vista could be overlooked or turned off.  but vista also got a lot of things right.  like, for example, that an appealing visual interface matters — something Apple has known for a long time.  and that, for 99% of their users, ease-of-use and accessibility is important — make everything easy to find and use — evidenced by some of the explorer upgrades (albeit undermined by UAC).

this wasn’t the first time microsoft previewed their new operating system.  however, it was the largest scale public beta they’ve ever done.  windows 7 picks up where vista left off and adds performance to the mix.  i won’t go into the list of features as this is less of a product review and more of a testimonial.  if you want a full features overview, gizmodo has a roundup of their complete windows 7 coverage which is a good place to start.  i was understandably reluctant when giz first announced the win 7 beta.  great, a beta version of windows, i thought.  as if windows didn’t have enough bugs in their released versions. a beta version of windows seemed to be asking for trouble.  but the initial reviews showed only minimal problems, and a lot of benefits.  not being overly attached to using a scrounged copy of vista, i went for it.  and i’m glad i did.  i love OSX, but the windows 7 experience (combined with the dock-clone for windows, objectdock ) makes me feel like i’m not missing out on something (except, maybe, garageband ).

here’s the real seller for microsoft, though, is this: windows 7 will be the first version of windows i’ve paid for since windows 98 .  i used to do tech support, and in tech support, it was somewhat of a joke if someone admitted to paying for a copy of windows.  everyone knew a list of places where they could get a copy for free — sometimes even just pilfering a corporate license from work.  we all knew that windows was an accepted necessity (although, for a lot of us, myself included, not that much of a necessity, and we ran linux instead of, or in addition to windows), and many of us thought that we certainly were not going to pay money for something we spent all day trying to fix for other people.  windows 7 changes that, and not because they’re doing a new Genuine Advantage thing.  by giving it away to geeks, developers, and technophiles  — and making it usable through summer 2010 to all beta and RC previewers — they’ve established that, this time at least, they’ve got their money where their mouth is: a great, feature-rich operating system that performs well and doesn’t suck.  and i’m not alone in saying that i’d be willing to pay for that.  glancing at the comments over at gizmodo, that sentiment echoes among many others.  for my own part, i really would rather use a legitimate license than be forced to find a hack or a workaround — it gets tiresome.  being a part of the beta and RC preview, it was relieving to not have to worry about that.  maybe i’m getting older and this is a new, more conservative me talking.  and the limited-time pre-order prices ($60 for Home edition, regular $199) helped a lot.  but it’s just like file sharing in music — if i hear something i like, i’m more likely to pay money for it, either go to the show or buy the cd.

we’re still a little over a month away, but i’m predicting windows 7 will be a huge success.  and i challenge you to find a review of windows 7 that says it sucks and isn’t written by a semi-literate neanderthal on a bulletin board.  the question isn’t whether it’s good this time.  the question is whether it’s good enough that it’s a rightful standard, or just another necessary evil.