Editor’s Blog: The ourTunes Revival

Editor’s Blog: The ourTunes Revival

 

There's an odd feeling of abandonment when software you depend on (or maybe even truly love) ceases to exist. It doesn't happen often, but when it does happen, you're at a loss. What are you going to do without your tools?

 

That’s how the users of ourTunes felt after iTunes 7 was released in September 2006. In addition to Cover Flow, automatic album art, iPod games, and other flashy new features, the new iTunes also rendered ourTunes useless.

 

What’s ourTunes? It’s an open source, free, Java-based software utility. When you run it on your Mac, it creates a listing of the shared iTunes music on your network (not the Internet). You can then sift through the list and download any song that doesn’t have DRM to your Mac.

 

You can see why Apple doesn’t want software like ourTunes to work. For most people, ourTunes is a way to steal music. However, there is a legitimate use for ourTunes. Say, for example, you’re putting together a photo slideshow on your MacBook while you’re sitting on your deck, and there’s a song on your iMac in your den that you want to use, and you can see it over your Wi-Fi network through your iTunes shared libraries. Instead of getting up and grabbing the CD from your collection or going to your den and getting the song from your iMac, you can just fire up ourTunes and grab the song yourself. (OK, so my example just shows that I don’t like getting off my fat ass, but I think you get the idea, that ourTunes can help manage your music library on a small network.)

 

With iTunes 7’s release, it was time for the ourTunes developers to get cracking, so ourTunes can work again, right? Well, actually, ourTunes hasn’t been updated since its last version, 1.3.3, was released before iTunes 7 appeared last year. The original developers are probably busy with more important things. It’s a lot of hard work to constantly figure out iTunes’s authentication schemes, so perhaps the original developers simply though it wasn’t worth the effort. Especially for software that Apple doesn’t want to work and that enables unlawful use.

 

Lots of people missed ourTunes, including Justin Stanley, who stumbled upon ourTunes nearly two years ago. A student who does IT support part time, Stanley found ourTunes to be a valuable tool for managing his music among his four computers. When development stopped, he took it upon himself to find people who can help him improve ourTunes through the Save ourTunes project.

 

“I searched and searched and could find no indication that anyone was taking up the cause,” said Stanley. “I had hoped to hear something after a month or so. Right around the middle of November [2006], I figured that if no one else would take up the cause then I could try to get something started.”

 

Stanley has recruited a couple of developers to create the new ourTunes, including David Hammerton, who gain notoriety a couple of years ago by reverse-engineering the authentication used by iTunes 4.5. Development is coming along, but hiccups happen along the way - or, more accurately, life happens. To make things even more difficult, the Save ourTunes developers don’t even live on the same continent.

 

“Development has slowed down in the last week and a half because a good portion of our dev team has to deal with midterms and school work,” said Stanley. “I have people asking me all the time for a time frame, but people have to remember that this is not a company or anything like that. Nobody has any idea when this is going to be done, as frustrating as that is. All I can say is that we are working on it.

 

“The hardest thing thus far is the way that Apple has obfuscated its hashing algorithms,” said Stanley. “In order for ourTunes to communicate with iTunes, ourTunes needs to look like an iTunes client to iTunes itself. We have to come up with totally new code to do that.”

 

Stanley said that ourTunes will continue to be Mac and Windows compatible, and will use as much of the original code as possible. “The client DAAP (Digital Audio Access Protocol) portion of the software is what we are working on and that has to be completely rewritten.”

 

As with the last version of ourTunes, the new ourTunes will move only non-DRM music. There are no plans to have ourTunes have the ability to unlock DRM music purchased from the iTunes Store. Still, the DRM limitations have not stopped and won’t stop people from using ourTunes to pirate music.

 

“I hate what the RIAA is doing and the way I see it using ourTunes is no different than borrowing a friend’s CD and ripping a copy,” said Stanley. “I think that ourTunes is going to fall under the Fair Use Act, if it passes. People may use it to download music over an Intranet, like a work sub-domain or dorm, but never over the Internet. I encourage people not to pirate music.”

 

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