Sunday, October 23, 2005

Controlling Apple AirTunes with SlimServer, or how I was turned to the Darkseid

I've been around long enough to know how pernicious and nasty these DRM (digital rights management) schemes are. I knew sooner or later they'd turn me to the Darkseid where one skirts the edges of the foul abyss of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. (DMCA badness befouls both Republicans and Dems alike.)

So my 3,500 iTunes tunes are 99.99% from our large CD library. Only a few are AppleStore FairPlay DRMd. Still, they are largely AAC, which is theoretically an open (mp4) standard. All the same, I've been cautious.

Good. Because Apple has broken their implied contract. The contract worked like this:
1. We will grudgingly accept Apple's four DRM scheme as the best of a bad bunch.
2. Apple will provide us solutions that work.
With their failure to provide a half-decent remote control solution for iTunes/AirTunes Apple has left us with no good way to stream music from a server based iTunes library to an AirTunes speaker. Even the Keyspan remote is a weak solution. We needed an Apple solution at least as good as the SoundBridge and SlimDevice solutions; Apple has persistently failed to provide.

So it's with a clear conscience that I now skirt the twilight zone of SlimServer, the iTunes LAME plug-in, and even (dare I mention the word?) JHymm (though the last is least important). Solutions that are legal today, but certainly unpleasing to Apple.

Thus far the results are remarkably better than my attempts with AirTunes (I walk upstairs to adjust the volume?!), TuneConnect (no playlists, still this is very promising) and NetConnect (disappointing). At the moment SlimServer and iTunes are running on my iMac upstairs in a background user session. SlimServer is reading in AAC files, transcoding them using the iTunes LAME plug-in, and streaming them as high quality .mp3 files to iTunes. iTunes is then transcoding them to FLAC (I think) files and streaming them to my remote AirPort Express, the music then plays on my speakers. I can control play from a web browser on my iBook, or I could use the Java softsqueeze app for remote control. This cost nothing, though it all works better if one buys the Squeezebox hardware remote.

Weird. Kludgy. Hard setup with a few odd bugs I had to work around. Limited documentation. Had to download and install several pieces. It will all work better, of course, the further I move from Apple's DRM vision.

I hope they're listening. Apple has the capability to provide a great solution, but they're choosing to really irritate their customers.

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