doubleTwist Takes Jab at iTunes Tyranny

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Look out iTunes, there’s a brand new media manager in town, in the form of a public beta just released for OS X. The program is called doubleTwist, and it’s the brainchild of anti-DRM crusader “DVD” Jon Johansen.

Ars Technica had a look at it in length, and it seems to be fairly promising. The idea is the same one behind Pioneers of the Inevitable’s Songbird, namely to provide users with an alternative to Apple’s own iTunes, which is sometimes criticized as having an unnecessarily large memory footprint, among other failings.

The killer feature of doubleTwist, the one which really sets it apart from both Songbird and iTunes, is its ability to sync your media on pretty much any portable device of your choosing that’s capable of playing it back. In fact, doubleTwist supports syncing with literally hundreds of devices, among them the standard heavy hitters like BlackBerry, Sony’s PSP, Nintendo’s DSI, and just about any mobile phone you can think of. Except, and this is the odd part, for the iPhone and iPod, which are currently available for PC users only, though the Mac client with iPhone/iPod support is in private testing.

Curiously, doubleTwist does feature a mandatory sign-up before you can start using it. And, annoyingly, you have to wait to receive a confirmation email and click an activation link before the application will even let you get past an authentication screen. It wouldn’t have been nearly as aggravating if I’d just received the email right away, but I had to wait quite a while to even get started.

Aside from login issues, the program itself is intuitive and easy to use. It can automatically scan all of your drives, folders, and connected mobile devices for any kind of media to build a comprehensive library, organized by where it was found. Unfortunately, doubleTwist is DRM-phobic in its current incarnation, and will not find or recognize any DRM-enabled content, besides iTunes music, which it can presumably play by running Quicktime in the background.

The beauty of doubleTwist, from the perspective of someone who hates messing about with conversion software and often gets frustrating results when he does, is its automatic conversion feature when dragging and dropping media to different devices. If the device is one of the many doubleTwist has in its expanding database, your file will either just be transferred to it automatically if already in a compatible format, or converted into a file type the device will recognize. No muss, no fuss. Which is also a limitation, since you have no control over conversion.

I’m not sure it’ll ever replace iTunes as my primary media manager, since I’d miss Apple proprietary features like AirTunes support, but it does help me wrangle my gadget collection a little better, and with a lot fewer headaches. Let’s hope future updates fully realize doubleTwist’s early potential.

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