Wake-up call: Apple won’t port iTunes to Linux

Introduction
I want to bring iTunes-loving Linux users back to reality. As you can see from the following Ubuntu Forums threads, some Ubuntu-ites are deluded about the idea of Apple porting iTunes to Linux:
Why Apple doesn’t want to release iTunes for Linux
Petition – iTunes for Ubuntu
Should Apple port iTunes to Linux?
The iTunes Linux Project

If you’re too lazy to read those links, I can sum up how the iTunes discussion usually goes among Linux users:

Hi. I’m new to Linux. How do I install iTunes on it?
iTunes is a bloated piece of crap. Use a real music application like AmaroK.
I really like iTunes, though.
I installed iTunes on Ubuntu with Wine.
iTunes installs with Wine, but it isn’t fully functional. Don’t bother.
Why do you have an iPod anyway? Use a Cowon player instead. It’s more Linux-friendly.
I kind of like the iTunes music store. Will the songs I bought from there be able to play on a Cowon player?
No. Pop music sucks these days. Don’t support the big labels. Support independent artists.
But I like pop music. Can’t we convince Apple to port iTunes to Linux?
I’ve put together a petition for it. Go to this link to sign it.
I hate iTunes, but I signed the petition because it’ll help bring more users over to Linux.
Apple can keep its proprietary applications. We have better iPod-management software on Linux anyway.

I think I got all the major arguments in there.

Philanthropic Apple porting iTunes?
Now imagine you’re an executive at Apple—Steve Jobs or somebody else. If you read that kind of back-and-forth, would you (even if you were more philanthropic- than profit-oriented) port iTunes to Linux? I know I wouldn’t. Even if I didn’t care about profit, I wouldn’t, because there are too many anti-proprietary software and/or anti-Apple elements in the Linux community. With the number of Linux users not buying iPods, buying iPods and installing Rockbox onto them, and using non-iTunes Music Store services like Jamendo, eMusic, or Amazon, I wouldn’t see a very compelling case for putting any resources into porting iTunes to Linux.

Profit-oriented Apple porting iTunes?
But that’s also assuming Apple isn’t, like almost all corporations, motivated by profit and pleasing the shareholders. Apple is a hardware company focused on hardware sales. They do earn some money from iTunes Music Store purchases, Apple Care subscriptions, and software sales, but their big cash cows are iPods, iPhones, and Macs. That’s what their efforts are focused on: How do we get people to buy more iPods, iPhones, and Macs?

Why did Apple port to Windows?
Apple ported iTunes to Windows, because they knew Windows users wouldn’t otherwise buy Macs in order to have their iPods sync properly, which meant Windows users wouldn’t otherwise buy iPods. And if Windows users hadn’t bought iPods, iPods wouldn’t have taken off. Creative or Sandisk might have instead dominated the portable music player market. The supposed “halo effect” that has Windows users gradually moving to more Apple products is the main reason for the iTunes port to Windows.

What would porting to Linux gain for Apple?
Could a similar effect be achieved by porting iTunes to Linux? I doubt it. My general sense from three years of active participation in the online Linux community is that those who want an iPod will get an iPod, regardless of whether iTunes is available for Linux or not, and those who won’t get an iPod won’t get one anyway. Not to mention that there aren’t (relatively speaking) that many Linux users to begin with.

As a matter of fact, porting iTunes to Linux is counterproductive to Apple’s goals. Porting iTunes to Linux might make Windows users take more seriously Linux as an alternative to Windows, which means they might keep their old Dell or HP computers and install Linux on them instead of saying, “Hey, I want a Windows alternative. Maybe I’ll get a Mac.” People generally do not think of Linux as a viable alternative to Windows, which is fine by Apple. Remember—it’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC,” not “I’m OS X, I’m Windows, I’m Linux.”

It wouldn’t even help community relations
And porting iTunes to Linux wouldn’t even build good will in the Linux community. As a PR move, it would fall flat on its face. I don’t know whether it’s large percentages of users or just the vocal minority, but you know the second Apple ported iTunes to Linux, there would be cries of “Do not infest my system with your proprietary, bloated crap” and “Why don’t you just GPL iTunes instead?”

Personal story time
My first portable audio player was an iPod, and I used iTunes for Windows with it. When I moved to Linux, I dual-booted with Windows just for iTunes. Eventually, I weaned myself off iTunes and the iPod and used Rhythmbox and a Sandisk player instead, mainly because iPods don’t have FM radios. My wife (also a former Windows user), on the other hand, bought an iPod, used iTunes on Windows until she had to buy a Mac for school (the school mandated students in her line of study buy a Mac), and then she used iTunes on the Mac. There was a time when she considered getting a non-iPod portable music player, but the information on what non-iPods worked well with Macs was too difficult to find at the time, so she stuck with iPods. I had one dalliance with Cowon’s crappy players (the iAudio 7, which busted after only three months of use), but I’m back to Sandisk.

Now, if Apple had ported iTunes to Linux when I was dual-booting just for iTunes, I would have found it convenient to have iTunes on Linux (and I’d have ditched Windows sooner), but I’d have probably still moved to Sandisk just because of the lack of radio in the iPod. So Apple wouldn’t have sold our families any more iPods or Macs. And I think that’s a pretty typical scenario.

Conclusion
With regard to Apple products and Linux users, I’d say Linux users generally fall into these categories:

  • I have no problem with Apple products. I own them and use them in addition to Linux.
  • I have no problem with Apple products. I own them and install Linux or Rockbox on them, or mod them in some other way.
  • I’ll use an iPod, and I wish Apple would port iTunes to Linux, and I’d be grateful to have better integration, but in the meantime I’m coping fine with AmaroK, GTKPod, and other native Linux applications.
  • I’ll use an iPod, but I hate iTunes and much prefer native Linux applications.
  • I realize some people like Apple products, but I don’t really need them. I prefer non-Apple products.
  • I hate Apple products. I think they’re overrated and overpriced. Apple locks users in more than Microsoft does. Down with DRM! Down with proprietary software!

Some of the expressions in there might be exaggerated, but those are the major demographics in the Linux community with regard to Apple, and I don’t really see how any of them would be buying more Apple products than they already are if Apple ported iTunes to Linux.

iTunes on Linux—not going to happen.

Further Reading
The Futility of Online Petitions

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. Other issues, low development bar.

    Apple ported iTunes to windows because:
    1) Quicktime was already ported to Windows
    2) RedBox, aka Next, aka Cocoa User Interface API already ran on Windows (and Solaris and HP-UX)

    Don’t ask for iTunes. What Apple really needs to port is the Cocoa User Interface API to Linux and Windows…

    The possibility of this happening are now much higher. Adobe and Microsoft have ported their code to the Cocoa API’s to get Intel Mac Compatible…

  2. Nice article. I’ve often wondered why Apple never ported it’s free applications over to Linux as well.

    One thing people have to understand is that executives at large corporations don’t just do things on a whim or to be “nice”. Executives have an obligation to maximize the value of the shareholders. There is nothing inherently mean or nice about that. They don’t have the luxury of being “philanthropic” with investor’s money. Every decision they make must be a justifiable investment. As you mention, porting to Windows wasn’t just throwing the Windows users a bone. It was necessary in order for the iPod to take off. Obviously, that was successful and proved to be an extremely wise investment.

    If Linux on the desktop ever gains any real momentum, you might just see Apple and other vendors investing in Linux. For the time being, it’s simply not worth it. I like Linux (and most Unix-like operating systems). Likewise, I’d be happy to see Apple port Quicktime/iTunes/Safari to Linux. But, I won’t hold my breath. I believe there are lots of reasons why Linux has not been successful on the desktop, but, that’s probably beyond the scope of this discussion.

    Anyway, nice article. Thanks!

  3. 1. QuickTime for Windows has a ton of the Carbonized part of MacOS. Before OSX, it was nearly a full port. With the approaching death of Carbon, they will go Cocoa (NeXT).

    2. iTunes is Carbon based and will be for quite some time.

    3. OpenStep exists but don’t count on Apple releasing a public API for any other OS. They are using the iPhone to gain a developer base (and cut their dev costs by deprecating Carbon).

    Correction to above article: Apple does have FM radio:
    http://store.apple.com/us/product/MA070G/D
    as an add-on — at a high $50.

  4. If only Apple had made an iPod Radio Remote… oh, wait, they did. Search for that title in their online store and *bam*. It’s not a core feature in their opinion, and I agree.

  5. If only Apple had included the radio as part of the iPod and not charged you an extra $50 for it… oh, wait. They didn’t.

    There’s no way I’d pay $50 for a radio add-on when my Sansa Clip was $60 total – player with radio already built in. That’s the entire cost of the player.

  6. Wow you managed to stereotype all of us Linux users, I can’t believe how negative you have made us all sound. I for one am for diversity, if you want iTunes and can use it I’m happy for you. I personally haven’t even ventured to the site, I prefer to buy my music on a CD :) and I don’t care for DRM. Most people are not aware of this until its too late and they have made a considerable investment in mp3s

  7. Not sure why anyone would think Apple would spend the time to develop iTunes for such a small market. And while Apple has never been about “money” since they share the same “hippy” mentality that Linux users share, the idea of porting Linux to .7% of the market doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    A correction to one of the coments, most of the songs on iTunes no longer have DRM, and now are at 256k quality… that changed over a year ago, so everyone needs to update their minds.

    The only thing I would add to your common Linux complaint list is… “iTunes needs to play the OGG format” which is silly since AAC is more of an open standard and produces far better sound for the size than OGG.

    And yes, most iPods can have Radios, Apple even sells one and many others do as well. But automatic syncing of Podcasts pretty much ended the need for radio. Soon with the iPod Touch you’ll be able to wirelessly stream radio directly from the net, so the idea of 1930’s “radio” completely dies after that event.

    June 9th is going to be a big day for iTunes, the iPhone and iPod Touch, so hang on tight!

  8. Amen, I will loathe the day that Apple ports itunes to linux.

    For Me, iTunes is horrible, its so unintuitive. There are better pieces of music software for Linux anyway.
    I don’t like AAC format, dont care if its open or not, just dont like it.

    I believe linux has a much larger market share, than people say. In my company alone We use linux on over 250 servers, about 75 desktops, We have maybe 5 people using Macintosh. Outside in the real world, Well, not sure how you can track Linux, due to the fact that most people download and install it, as opposed to getting it pre-installed. Market share is not what apple cares about.

    Apple figures, some people who own a Windows computer actually pay for software!! haha. So with that in mind, “maybe these people will pay for music???”

    With Linux folks, We really are spoiled with getting EVERYTHING for free in the OS with ease.
    I think Apple understands that I am not going to pay 1.00 for 1 song. I actually buy CDs (remember those things) , and I also ripped my collection to mp3s and oggs. I’m not going to buy my whole collection over, especially from Apple!

    I know plenty of Windows users that have bought at least a few songs via itunes.

    Basically put, I really dont care if Apple never makes software for Linux, those guys cant even give you the option of shutting down your program with an ‘X’ button!

  9. In my opinion, iPods and iTunes have been hyped to death. No one can argue with the level of refinement in most Apple products. It is just that the success of the iPod lies not so much in its refinement as it does in the transition from having to buy an album to being able to buy any single.

    Look at the timing. We had Napster open up the gates to being able to “acquire” any single. That forced the music companies to start thinking of breaking up albums into their constituent singles and also to reduce the price of these singles to the correct divisor.

    At that time, even an ordinary company with an ordinary player, a simple website and no support from the media would have achieved nearly as much. Of course, there are examples of other outfits having tried and failed. But then these have to be blamed on the excessive hype Apple was showered with.

    The reason behind this could be that the legitimate albums to singles transition was attacking the legimate business of albums so it had to be toned down using a dominant player and DRM.

  10. Don’t port that bloated windows crashing program to Linux where quality and usability are more important than money. In the short time that I have been using IT my XP system has seized up and crashed more than any time in almost 6 yrs. of usage.

  11. iTunes sucks. Crappy user interface and DRM makes it a completely worthless application.

  12. I’m a windows user but have some older laptops on Linux.
    I’ve noticed that many of my daughter’s friends (and my daughter) have an ipod and sync it with their iTunes library at home.
    However all the ‘younger generation’ (am I REALLY a 40 year old geek??) of teens are looking to have their own laptop and the new sub-laptops are very appealing to them (I know – I’m being badgered all the time for Birthdays and Christmas) such as the Eee PC et al.
    Now, for a marketing point of view, the CHEAPNESS of these little laptops and the portability make them the next accessory for the teens, but the thing that is holding them all back – and they have talked about this – is the fact that they can’t have iTunes + iPod on their little linux laptops.
    Please don’t come shouting back to me that you CAN have iTunes with WINE etc.. as you have all said it’s a bit dodgy and doesn’t work properly.
    The desire of the teens is for a cheap laptop that they can take with them, surf the net, im, and sync their iPods.. To the teens it’s not about propriatory software or breaking with the open traditions of Linux. It’s about an affordable, small laptop that they can use with most of their accessories (their iPods!).
    Perhaps if Apple recognises this area of the market they might think twice and make a GOOD decision to include it on Linux. I know.. a ‘GOOD’ decision. Face up to the changing market people, the likes of the Eee pc opens the laptop market to people (mainly teens) who see Linux as a door into affordable computing of their own, rather than jointly using the family pc/laptop. They don’t really care if it’s linux or windows or even OSX – just so long as they use it to update their facebook, bebo, chat on im, listen to their music and sync their iPod.
    My daughter has £180 saved up and to get a reasonable, small laptop she would need at least £350 but an Eee pc is only £200 – but it’s got Linux and she needs iTunes.
    Sorry people, but business is business.

  13. Well, if your daughter and her friends want to sync their iPods, I think they can use native Linux applications like AmaroK or Banshee or even GTKPod.

    It’s not that you can’t use an iPod with Linux. You just can’t use iTunes reliably.

  14. IMHO Apple decision not to support Linux is not so logical. iTunes is nowadays the biggest media store in the world, and to gain more customers apple shouldn’t put barriers for entering in their market. It’s against their interests if their goal is to sell media to the biggest possible audience.

    I agree that linux users are usually a bit different from usual Win/Mac users. Yes we’re always speaking about principles, about free software, about freeing applications but that doesn’t mean we don’t like music and we dont want to buy legal music or tv shows.
    There’s also a good side of being penguin idealists:
    Most of linux users are against piracy and just want to be able to buy music DRM free music at good prices without having to be constantly forced to use other platforms or trying to emulate them.

    iTunes is now offering DRM free media so they now have exactly the right product for linux users. The problem is that there are not many people using linux, and porting iTunes to linux could be very expensive for apple. But another good thing about being “geeks” is that most linux users are developers. So, don’t free itunes, just provide proprietary modules or API so that linux users can buy their own apps with app store support.
    I don’t think this would be so bad for Apple: Most linux users only want something to:

    – access to iTunes store
    – be able to sync bought material with apple devices (they will sell more of them of course)

    So apple should not provide a linux solution to be “nice”, but to gain money from it… and yes it’s possibile.

    I’m pissed of with apple behavour because it seems to me that they don’t want to support linux because they are afraid of it, they don’t believe that Macs will be so interesting for users if linux would be perceived as a new alternative to windows. Apple strategy consist of ignore linux and not speaking about it. Linux should not become a second competitor in the OS market. Nobody has to consider linux as an alternative so that apple will be perceived as the only possible alternative to windows.
    And that’s the right meaning of apple strategy, a strategy built on fear.

    Apple should believe more in its strenghts. They’re the n.1 mp3 player producers, the n.1 music reseller in the world. They have good products meant for a specific target (and usually this is not a linux-compatible kind of user), and they build beautiful machines and gadgets.
    Nobody will steal significant market to apple because targets are different, and if apple continues to do a good work with they products linux users will buy apple products. If not MacOSX or a Mac, they will buy iPods and Iphones… and this should be good for apple…

  15. Don’t forget the Linux fans with iPods running software like iPod Linux or now even iPhone Linux on their iPods, iPhones and iPod Touches.

    While I would like to see iTunes for Linux myself I know it is highly unlikely to happen unless Linux surpasses Windows in market share (remember when Apple ported iTunes from the Mac to Windows and started making iPods also Windows compatible they had to support Windows given it is the dominant OS, naturally they want people to use their platform Mac OS but not everyone is going to switch to a Mac and even out of those who do Apple has acknowledged the need of some to still run Windows software which is why Intel based Macs can easily and natively dual boot between OS X and Windows thanks to partitioning by Apple’s Boot Camp) there was a time before iTunes and iPods worked with Windows when it was Mac only and Apple had much less market share but there was high demand by Windows users for Apple’s cool iProducts that they ported iTunes to Windows and started making iPods cross platform compatible between Mac and Windows OS environments.

    If Apple ported iTunes to Linux they would be legitimizing the work of the iPod Linux and iPhone Dev Teams who work on porting Linux to iPods, iPhones and iPod Touches.

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