Why The File Manager is Still the Best Media Manager

After I first installed Windows Vista, I attempted to use the default application (whenever possible) for activities which I usually installed some kind of helper app. For example, I initially toyed with Media Player instead of installing Winamp, and use the included photo manager instead of grabbing Photoshop Album.

In the process of installing my iPod software, I also decided to give iTunes a whirl. I have never actually used iTunes — it’s always been completely at odd with my expectations from music management software. The few times I played with it, it was baffling. I didn’t quite understand it’s legendary status as the most usable media player available. It was also huge. Before I get too far into this, I should take a step back and explain the foundation of my position. I am a music fiend (hence, the musical focus of this website). I have over 65GB of mp3s. And — other than DJ livesets — it’s all in complete albums. I love albums. I never listen to singles, and I never use shuffle. I listen to complete albums, start to finish, and then select another one. If I like a song by a new artist, I’ll grab their latest album. Even when I love the song, if the artist can’t put together a complete album, into the trash bin it goes.

To facilitate this particular album fetish, everything is stored in my “Music” directory in a fairly flat hierarchy. Album directories are named [Artist] – [Album], and I usually stick a playlist in each directory to facilitate easy launching. Now I can sort the Music directory by date, and get an ordered list of albums by date purchased. Or I can sort by Filename and easily find something specific. If you’re following along, you’ll see where iTunes, and other media “libraries”, start to fall short.

iTunes seems to assume you want to listen to singles. This makes sense, since Apple really wants to sell you singles. If I have an entire album, iTunes still sees it as a collection of tracks. iTunes 7 gives me some visual separation of albums if I have cover art, you can’t sort albums by date added. Instead, you get the individual tracks in whatever order iTunes detected them.

Most catalog-style media players have the same problem. They introduce a layer between you and your filesystem that may make things worse. While playing with iTunes, I had to maintain two versions of my catalog: one on the filesystem, and another in iTunes. Adding a new album meant maintaining the directory structure, and then importing it. I know you can set iTunes to automatically manage your Music directory, but then you’re forced to use Apple’s preferred structure. And scanning 65GB for updates takes quite a long time.

When you want full, simple control of your music collection, nothing beats the File Manager.