The Mini-Store in iTunes 6.0.2

An annoying iTMS window has crowded itself into the latest version of iTunes, pervading ordinary playlists and hurling recommendations at you based on the currently selected track in your local library. Privacy advocates are sounding the spyware alarm, and iTunes veterans are grumbling in unison that this is “typical Apple.” But I like it.

First, however, you’ll want to know how to turn it off: Shift-Command-M. That’s the keyboard shortcut for “Hide Mini-Store” in the Edit menu. I’d agree with the privacy crowd that Apple’s decision to show the Mini-Store by default is questionable. They don’t need to know every time you select a track, and the window eats up display space better spent on listing the music you have (as opposed to the music you don’t), so there’s no reason to leave this pane open. Early reports indicate that no data is transferred with the window closed, so you can relax for now. Steve Jobs isn’t slowly crawling your entire library.

Once you get this little window under control, you can start exploring its surprising utility. All you have to do is select a track in your library and hit Shift-Command-M to find similar tracks in the iTunes Music Store. You get a handful of albums by the selected artist, plus a “Listeners also bought…” list pointing the way to like-minded music. Click on any of these to switch to the iTMS for more details and buy what you might like. It’s simple, but it’s slick.

For a more advanced application of this concept, take a look at Pandora, a “Music Discovery Service” which assembles a dynamic streaming playlist based on a track you select and data compiled by the Music Genome Project. You guide the musical direction of the stream by giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down to tracks it plays. My hope has been that Apple will find a way to fold similar intelligence into the music store and even iTunes itself, perhaps as “Super-Intelligent Playlists”, but this new iTMS integration will make it easier to find new music in the meantime. Close it by all means when you’re not using it, but give it a chance once in a while to freshen up your collection.

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