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iTunes is a Network Application

Jeff Atwood thinks that iTunes is Anti-Web:

Is it so unreasonable to expect links in your browser to resolve to, oh, I don’t know, web pages containing information about the thing you just clicked on? Is there anything more anti-web than demanding users install custom software to display information that could have just as easily been delivered through the browser?

Jeff– whom I met at WWDC last month at a party and had a blast talking with– is just wrong here, because iTunes falls into a breed of application between Web Applications and Desktop Applications, which I have taken to calling Network Applications: they live in the desktop and inhabit that world, but some large part of their functionality– sometimes but not always all– is based on having a network connection. Your feed reader is a Network Application. So is your Email client. So is MarsEdit, which is the application I’m writing this blog post in.

But Network Applications live in a continuum measured by how much they do with the network. Email and Feeds are useful offline when you’re reading the stuff you’ve stored, but needs the network to get new stuff. MarsEdit is useful for writing and revising, but needs the network to post. Most networked games have a fully playable single-player mode that works without the network. Etc.

What distinguishes iTunes is that it’s a Network Application for only one part of its functionality– the iTunes Store– but that is a tiny part of the whole application. Moreover, it’s a function that a lot of competitors built on the open web. But iTunes builds the store into the application so that it can offer a more seamless experience for downloading. Should they replicate the entire store online for people who want to browse, but then force people to open the app if they want to buy? That thing we just tripped on was a seam in the downloading process.

Now a more reasonable suggestion comes later in the article:

At the very least, I might want some basic information about the media I just clicked on. Right here in my browser where I already am. Information like what the heck it is, some artwork, maybe some audio clips, how much it costs — sweet talk me. Make me want to buy it through the Apple Store. Dazzle me with your simplicity and ease of use. Beguile me with your wares!

In the case where iTunes can’t be found, this would absolutely be the right way to go. But it should be pretty minimal because you don’t want it to become a backdoor way of browsing. It should show the song or album that was linked to, and that should be it. And they should keep that big fat “Download iTunes” button that would let you see more.