As a new technology grows to household name status everyone is expected to be an expert in all things related or risk ridicule from friends, co-workers, and worst of all, neighborhood children. Apple’s iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes ) is one such technology. Having racked up 1.5 billion music downloads and sold 60 million iPods on which to play them, iTunes is the dominant force in legal media downloads.

iTunes was an instant hit, but Apple did not rest on its success. The computer maker, running with its smash hit, keeps adding new features, and has just released version 7.0. It’s free and it includes new capabilities for listening to music, watching TV shows, and, for the first time, downloading movies.

To help iTunes devotees get up to speed, and to teach newcomers how to get the most out of the must-have technology, and possibly get one up on the neighbors’ kids (don’t count on that one), the Princeton Macintosh Users Group presents an iTunes update on Tuesday, October 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Jadwin Hall on the Princeton University campus. Admission is free and more information can be found at www.pmug-nj.org

The seminar, led by David Ciotti, will give attendees a better understanding of how the iTunes software works and how media files can be transferred to an unlimited number computers or non-Apple media players.

Born in Philadelphia, Ciotti grew up in Pendell and joined the Navy right out of high school, where he got his first taste of electronics, back in the days of vacuum tubes, and well before the debut of personal computers. Ciotti has been president of Ciotti Industries, a Hamilton-based computer consultancy firm, since its inception in 1986, and has been an Apple and a Macintosh computer consultant for a number of companies, including the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Ciotti and his wife, Susan, live in Hamilton and both work for the College of New Jersey, he as a lab technician in the School of Engineering, and she as a program assistant in the honors program. Rounding out their “tech family,” their son works for Disc Makers in Pennsauken, where he produces small run CD and DVDs.

iTunes 7.0 has just been released with much fanfare and loads of new features. This would only seem to complicate things, and possibly make users’ media harder to work with, but Ciotti promises that the new software is easy to understand and work with.

While Ciotti does not condone the practice of uploading music files and sharing them with the world, he sees no reason why he shouldn’t “have complete access to information I pay for.” He believes that anyone should be able to make copies of their own files for their personal use. He says that everything he discusses is “absolutely legal.”

Waltzing around digital rights management (DRM). DRM is the big phrase in media downloads now, but what does it mean? DRM is the technology that music vendors use to protect files from being illegally distributed. The vendors’ attempts to protect their profits, and those of their artists, are understandable, but tend to trample on customers’ rights, says Ciotti.

At the forefront of consumers’ discontent with DRM is Apple’s iTunes. iTunes will only allow an “authorized” computer to play files downloaded from its online store. The company also limits the number of authorized computers to five.

While five computers may sound like a lot, the number shrinks fast when the average family factors in all of their home and office computers. iTunes also requires Internet access to confirm that a computer is authorized to play a file before it allows access. This means that offices with strict firewalls can be left without iTunes music to soothe those of their employees who meet deadlines most efficiently while plugged into their music.

The rules sound tough, but according to Ciotti, “Apple did not go to the great lengths that the record companies think they did.” In fact, the tools needed to remove the DRM from iTunes songs is included in the new iTunes software. Actually it was included in the older versions also, although many users may not have been aware that this was the case. Removing the protections is as simple as burning the downloaded songs to a CD and then ripping them back into iTunes. They are then ready to be loaded onto any non-Apple MP3 player.

Nobody files it better. Filing Music is one of iTunes’ strong points, says Ciotti. iTunes’ powerful sorting and search engines allow users to search for music not only by title and artist, but also by genre, duet duo, album name, year of release, and more. Once found, songs can easily be moved to an iPod or other digital player as individual files or playlists — a personal mix-tape of sorts.

Audiophiles will appreciate iTunes subtle new touches. Ciotti points out that while older versions of iTunes had to pause between songs, the new iTunes 7.0 analyzes your library and identifies songs that should be played back-to-back without pause, the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” for example.

So you want to be in the movies? Movies are brand new to the iTunes family of downloads. The new software allows the download of full length movies for about $10. The movie library includes only Disney titles now, but is expected to expand soon. By the sixth day after its launch, iTunes’ movie section had pulled in $1 million in sales. More major studios are expected to make their titles available by the end of the year.

Movies join iTunes’ library upon the heels of the success of its sale of television programs, a success that others have not been able to replicate.

As of the last week in September, early iTunes competitors had given up on trying to charge for television shows and were giving away downloads. Comcast and CBS had been partnering to sell popular shows, including CSI, for 99 cents, but scrapped the experiment, saying that few consumers were willing to pay to see even their favorite shows. They are now offering the television show downloads at no charge, with an advertiser-supported model.

But iTunes’s titles have found an audience. In less than a year there have been 45 million downloads, at $1.99 apiece, from its library of 220 shows from 40 television studios.

The television shows are available the morning after they run, and the new movie titles will appear on iTunes at the same time that they are released on DVD. The television shows and movies can be accessed from the same iTunes interface as the songs, and, like music files, can be played back on up to five computers and video iPods. Home movies can also be imported into the system for playback on an iPod.

Let the games begin. Games are also making their big debut on iTunes. For around $5 iPod owners can download a video game to play while listening to their favorite songs. iTunes is only offering nine games now, but the number is set to grow quickly.

Movies, and music, and games, oh my! There is a lot to do on the new iTunes, and Ciotti is eager to talk about how using all 7.0 has to offer can turn both neophytes and long-time iTunes fans into the coolest kids in the office.

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