Out of all the new product announcements from Steve Jobs at Apple's most recent shindig, I was most intrigued by a feature in the new iTunes software: Home Sharing.
What it is: Imagine you have put most of your digital music on PC No. 1, but then over the course of a few years you decided to install iTunes on your work notebook, and then a brand new Windows Vista notebook that you bought. Sure, you could grab a USB hard drive and manually copy all of the music files, but wouldn't it be easier to just transfer those files over your Wi-Fi network?
That's the basic idea behind Home Sharing, it lets iTunes owners with multiple PCs (and Macs) within the same network listen to (or even copy) music stored on other systems.
Why it's cool: A library sharing feature was available on earlier iTunes versions, but Home Sharing is much easier for people to enable and use. A simple enable/disable function lets you decide whether you want to share your content with others on the network. Enabling the feature is as simple as typing in your iTunes password. When your next system turns on iTunes and enables Home Sharing, the software sees the first library, and you can play those songs over the network, or copy files to the new system. A nice part of this is the ability to display only those files not already on the second system, although I discovered that some CDs I had burned on one PC were already on the second, but under a different title, an error I attribute to the CD database not having the correct title at some point (common with compilation albums).
Some caveats: Unfortunately, the software didn't work correctly all the time. A bug in the software prevented Home Sharing on a third machine in my home (a Windows Professional notebook) from seeing my other two systems (a Vista notebook and a Windows Home system). The system said that Home Sharing was enabled, but it couldn't see the other two libraries on the other two systems (A could see B, and vice versa, but C couldn't see or be seen).
Despite several attempts to fix this, including opening firewall ports and enabling sharing features on all the systems, I couldn't solve this problem. A scan of Apple forums and Google searches indicated this was a problem for other users as well. Hopefully Apple can fix this issue quickly with a patch.
In addition, at the moment this only works on systems connected with the same iTunes accounts. My wife has a separate iTunes account, so I'm unable to transfer purchased music from her Mac into one of my PCs. Technically I could do this by copying the file from her Mac onto a thumb drive and then transferring the song to my system, and then authorising the computer to play that song, but it would seem easier to just allow multiple iTunes accounts, as long as you were still under the limit. Come to think of it, Apple should just forget about all of this authorised music business anyway (they already offer DRM-free versions).
Grade: 2 stars (out of five)