iTunes 9: At Home With Home Sharing

homeiconFor me, the Home Sharing feature introduced in iTunes 9 has been a long time coming. I’ve always run at least two Macs, one desktop and one notebook, and over the years I’ve tried various solutions for sharing media between multiple machines.

Of course, there was always the option of sharing your library on your home network. This allowed you to play streaming music from one computer on others via iTunes. It works well enough for what it is, but Home Sharing does that, and much more.

Share More Media

First of all, you can share much more than just music between computers. Movies, music videos, and TV shows are all now playable on any machine in your network you authorize via Home Sharing. Authorization is simple, but requires you to have an iTunes account, and to have authorized the computer in question to play media associated with that account. Once that’s done, your Home Share libraries should appear in your source list.

home sharing 1Clicking on an available library brings up a straightforward list of all the media available on that library. As with Shared Libraries, you can only view Home Shares in list view, not in Grid or Coverflow. It’s inconvenient and unfortunate, but it doesn’t really detract that much from the feature’s usability that much, especially since you can still filter the library via search.

home sharing 2Copy and Sync

You can also break down the shared library into categories, just like iTunes’ native library is divided up. Clicking on any item in any category will activate the “Import” button, which allows you to physically copy the item to your current library with a single click.

home sharing 3To make it easier to find items you don’t already have, there’s a simple drop down menu in the bottom left-hand corner of the media browser window that lets you choose between “All items” and “Items not in my library.” You can also open the “Settings…” dialog to set up automatic transfer of new purchases from one library to another via Home Sharing, ensuring that your content is up to date across all computers.

One Central Location

For my own purposes, I’m much more interested in Home Sharing’s movie and TV show streaming. I couldn’t tell you why I have a problem with keeping a decent amount of hard drive space clear on any of my computers, but the fact remains that I do. It definitely doesn’t help that I can’t keep the lines clear between a dedicated media machine and a work machine.

With Home Sharing, I can use my Mac mini as I intended when I bought it: As a central repository for all entertainment media. On those occasions when I want to watch something on my iMac or on the bedroom TV via my Macbook Pro, I no longer have to transfer any files (which I invariably forget/am too lazy to delete). Media stays where it belongs, and remains accessible.

Good, But Should Be Better

So what is Home Sharing still lacking? How about the big glaring omission: the ability to share content to iPod touches and iPhones on the local network. I can’t imagine what’s preventing Apple (s aapl) from allowing me to view Home Share playlists in my iPhone’s iPod application as well as on other computers. If you’re paying attention, Cupertino, think about working that into iPhone OS 3.2.

If you were hoping that since Home Sharing requires you to be using one of your five account-authorized computers, you’d be able to access shared libraries on the road, you’ll be disappointed. Only computers on the same Wi-Fi network can see active shares. To get this functionality, and to be able to stream iTunes libraries to your iPhone or iPod touch as mentioned above, check out Simplify Media and its attendant iPhone apps.

My ideal vision for the future of Home Sharing? Tie it to MobileMe and have an option to keep libraries synced the way you can Address Book and iCal, make it accessible away from home from authorized computers, and introduce mobile device streaming for iPhones and touches. It’s a nice start, but those features would make it a true game-changer.