Slimming down the bloated iTunes

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Slimming down the bloated iTunes

How do you supersize a simple music manager? Ask Apple. The Windows version of iTunes 8, released earlier this month and quickly patched after it caused an outbreak of blue-screen crashes, is a 64MB download. (For the sake of comparison, Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP is just over 24 MB.) The full iTunes 8 installation takes up nearly 200MB of space on a Windows PC.

As it turns out, the iTunes installer has been bulking up for the past year or two. Don’t be fooled by the filename: iTunes801Setup.exe, the most recent version as of this writing, includes much more than the iTunes client. Without any disclosure and without your consent, the iTunes 8 setup program installs kernel-mode drivers, multiple system services, and at least one add-in. It takes a supersize helping of chutzpah to create an ad that criticizes Windows for its “bloat” and then deliver an upgrade with as much unnecessary junk as this one.

The last time I wrote about this, several commenters defended Apple by insisting that every component in that full install was necessary, and that trying to carve away any of those bits will degrade Apple’s awesome end-to-end experience. I’ve looked at the iTunes installer on multiple Windows machines and am convinced that those Apple defenders are wrong. If you’re like most people, you don’t need any of that additional junk. In this post, I’ll explain how you can figure out which parts of the package you need, and then show you how to wrestle control of iTunes back.

For starters, let’s look at everything that’s in the iTunes 8 Windows installer, with an explanation of what it’s used for and how you can decide whether you need it:

  • QuickTime is Apple’s multimedia framework, a collection of codecs, plugins, DLLs, and several players designed to help you play back digital media files in most popular formats. The big selling point is support for the QuickTime movie (.mov) format, via the standalone player or an embedded ActiveX control.

  • iTunes is Apple’s all-purpose media player/device sync application. If you own an iPod, this is the only officially supported way to interact with it, although third-party alternatives are available. iTunes also provides access to the iTunes store, and if you own an iPhone you must use iTunes to activate it, update its firmware, and sync its content with your PC.

  • Bonjour is Apple’s implementation of the open-source Zeroconf, a multicast DNS responder used to discover services on a local area network. It’s installed by default with the iTunes download and also installed silently with some Adobe products, a decision that “freaked out” some Adobe customers. Adding unauthorized peer-to-peer services on a corporate network is a distinct no-no, as a number of customers have told Apple on their support forums. (The response? Crickets.) If you want to share iTunes libraries over a network or use Apple TV, you need Bonjour. If you have a printer attached to an AirPort device, you should use Bonjour. However, if you simply want to play media files and sync your iTunes library with your iPod, you don’t need Bonjour. (And Photoshop users can safely remove it as well unless they have a Version Cue server on their network.)

  • Apple Mobile Device Support is the synchronization framework for the iPhone and iPod Touch family of “mobile devices.” This package is not necessary if you have any other member of the iPod family, including the Classic, Mini, Nano, or Shuffle, which sync just fine using just the basic iTunes app.

  • MobileMe is the support software that enables synchronization of email and contacts and calendar items with Apple’s MobileMe service (previously .Mac). It is included with the iTunes installer to update existing installations, but is no longer installed as part of a default new setup.

  • Apple Software Update is a utility that checks for new versions of Apple software installed on your PC. It also pushes new Windows-compatible Apple software programs. Understanding how this utility works is crucial; it can and will install software you have explicitly rejected if you don’t monitor its actions carefully.

So, how do you wrestle back control of iTunes so that you’re not installing unneeded and unwanted junk? Your essential starting point is to unpack the installer files from the single file that Apple provides. You’ll need a third-party utility to do this. If you already have WinZip or WinRAR installed, you can use the File, Open menu to extract files from iTunes801Setup.exe (or, on x64 Windows machines, iTunes80164Setup.exe). I use the wonderful free IZArc utility, shown here displaying the contents of the 64-bit iTunes 8.0 installer.

what’s inside the itunes 8 installer?

Performing a selective iTunes install involves three steps:

1. Extract the installer files you need to a local folder.

2. Run the installers with the proper command-line switches.

3. Prevent Apple Software Update from undoing your careful work later.

I believe most Windows users can safely slot themselves into one of the following five installation scenarios. Use the bold-faced text to determine which one applies to you, then follow the accompanying instructions.

You want to play QuickTime movies and media clips. If you don’t own an iPod and you prefer another media player to iTunes, avoid iTunes completely. Go to Apple’s QuickTime download page and choose the QuickTime-only option (don’t accept the default, which includes the full, bloated iTunes installer). If you’d prefer an even lighter option, try the unofficial QuickTime Alternative, which runs on XP and Vista.

You want to use iTunes with an iPod Classic, Mini, Nano, or Shuffle. Extract two files from the iTunes8Setup file, QuickTime.msi and iTunes.msi, and save them in a local folder. Open a command prompt window, navigate to that folder, and run the following commands:

  • Quicktime.msi /passive

  • iTunes.msi /passive

(If you have an x64 system, the second command is iTunes64.msi /passive.) The /passive switch performs both installations in unattended mode. After you complete the installation and restart your system, you can rip and burn CDs, play music from your collection, buy music tracks and TV shows from the iTunes store, and synchronize music and other media files with any iPod except an iPod Touch or iPhone.

You want to combine multiple iTunes libraries on a local network and/or connect to an Apple TV device. Install the QuickTime and iTunes packages as described in the previous scenario, and also extract and install Bonjour.msi using the /passive switch. Note that Bonjour must be installed on any computer whose library you want to share.

You want to activate and manage an iPhone or synchronize with an iPod Touch. In addition to installing the iTunes and QuickTime packages, you’ll need to extract and run AppleMobileDeviceSupport.msi (on x64 installations, be sure to use AppleMobileDeviceSupport64.msi.) The original iPhone does not support or require Bonjour; I am unable to confirm whether the iPhone 3G uses it.

And finally, decide whether you want to install Apple Software Update. Given the history of serious security flaws in QuickTime and iTunes, it’s crucial to remain up to date with patches for all Apple programs you choose to install. The trouble with Apple Software Update is that any attempt to “update” iTunes will install the other, unwanted packages as well. If you decide to use Apple Software Update, I recommend using it as a detection system only. When you see that a new update is available, download the iTunes installer manually and then extract and update only those components you want.

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