Coding Horror

programming and human factors

iTunes is Anti-Web

Ever find yourself clicking on links to music or videos and getting blasted in the face with this delightful little number?

We are unable to find iTunes on your computer.

That's right -- links to any sort of music, TV shows, movies, podcasts, audiobooks or anything else available through Apple's iTunes store requires custom software to be installed on your computer before they will display thing one to you.

Is it so unreasonable to expect links in your browser to resolve to, oh, I don't know, web pages containing information about the thing you just clicked on? Is there anything more anti-web than demanding users install custom software to display information that could have just as easily been delivered through the browser?

So here's what we know:

  • Apple wants us to install iTunes.
  • iTunes is necessary to sync media with Apple's iPods and iPhones.
  • iTunes is only available for Windows and OS X.
  • iTunes is required to browse or buy anything from the iTunes Store.

That's all well and good for people who own iPods and iPhones -- and happen to be running Windows or OS X, I suppose.

But what about the rest of the world? Why lock them out with the ultimate login barrier? We might like to browse the iTunes Store, too. At the very least, I might want some basic information about the media I just clicked on. Right here in my browser where I already am. Information like what the heck it is, some artwork, maybe some audio clips, how much it costs -- sweet talk me. Make me want to buy it through the Apple Store. Dazzle me with your simplicity and ease of use. Beguile me with your wares!

Or, you could bludgeon me with the digital equivalent of a giant stop sign.

Hey, "it just works". Except when it doesn't.

I'm certainly able to click through to eminently purchaseable media on dozens of other places on the web using nothing more than my web browser. Let's imagine, for a moment, how utterly ridiculous it would be if I had to install the Amazon application to browse and purchase media from Amazon.

unable to find Amazon on your computer

And yet this is exactly how the iTunes Store works. Or doesn't work, depending on your perspective.

I can understand requiring iTunes once you want to sync your media with Apple hardware devices -- although I would argue syncing should really be a fundamental, built in function of the operating system. But I'm not trying to sync anything! All I did was click on a link. It's downright user hostile to demand installation of a special application merely to browse the store, and it is most certainly against everything the web stands for and was built on.

The last "application" I can recall needing to install to get to things online was AOL.

AOL 2.5 main menu

And we all know how great that turned out.

For all the buzz about the Apple "it just works" mystique, the current iTunes Store design surely doesn't -- at least not the same way the rest of the web does. And I, for one, can't get behind that.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: