There are few things in the computer world as frustrating as having to choose between two applications which between them have all of the features you want or need but neither of which is enough on its own. It’s even worse when one of them is clearly far more complete than the other but lacks the one critical feature that you can’t or won’t do without. Conversely there are very few moments that can compete with the satisfaction of discovering the final critical feature your ideal product of choice.

To skip neatly from generalised ramblings to a specific case: I have discovered the iPod plugin for WinAmp (thanks to this interview with Justin Frankel). Initially it seems like I’ve gained a single feature – namely synching my iPod from WinAmp – but by all practical measures I’ve really gained a whole lot more. This plugin allows me to finally ditch the frankly pathetic iTunes and its features I can list on the fingers of one finger in favour of WinAmp and its global hotkeys, system tray minimisation, and general get-out-of-my-way-ness.

I have to question the widespread praise of Apple’s usability. I’ll grant that the iPod has about the easiest and simplest user interface I’ve seen on a portable music player. My experience of Apple’s software is somewhat less favourable. Though I have been limited to Windows-based software I can’t see why it should be any worse than their Mac versions of the same software. iTunes and Quicktime for Windows are truly appalling. iTunes is riddled with holes. It’s missing almost every feature I want in a music player. On the fly playlists? Equaliser? Minimal mode? Minimise to tray? The whole thing feels like it was designed for someone who doesn’t know what a computer is. I always get the impression that it was designed to stay in the foreground, as if I’m meant to be using my computer as a €1,400 hi-fi system.

Quicktime is even worse. It won’t autoplay movies. If I want to play a quicktime movie I have to double-click the file and then click the play button. Who’s ever going to want to open a movie in a movie player and not play it? Of course I can’t hit play until I’ve dismissed the Lie-to-Me ad screen that Quicktime throws at me every time I launch it. "Do you want to buy me?" No! I don’t want to buy it now, I don’t want to buy it "Later" (the only useful option on the box), I don’t want to buy it ever. Then there’s fullscreen (what’s that?), keyboard access (useless cruft as far as Apple is concerned), persistent volume accross sessions (it always starts on full volume – I keep my media players close to half volume so I can adjust from the player itself, windows volume control or the speakers depending on what’s most convenient), File->Open. Where are all of these things? These aren’t features, they’re basic functionality that’s completely missing from every version of Quicktime for Windows. Worst media players ever.

Back to the main point: Yay WinAmp.