If you've read some of the content on my site before, you'll know how much I love the third party software available for OS X. They really enhance my enjoyment of using a Mac.

But it's also important to remember how good Apple themselves are at making software. You only have to look at the operating system itself (OS X) to see that. But over the years they have produced great software applications like Keynote, Final Cut Studio or GarageBand. Or applications that came packaged with the operating system: Quicktime Player, Mail and iCal. But for me there is one application that stands above them all.

iTunes - it's probably my favorite piece of software. It's definitely the best application I have installed on my Windows machine. And I could probably say the same on my Mac. Whatever I'm doing, whether it's writing, web design, surfing the web or just fiddling, iTunes is a part of the experience. It's always there in the background, doing it's thing. And doing it well.

So I wanted to share some tips that have improved my usage of iTunes. This will not be a full review, just a collection of practices I have picked up over the past few years to make the most of my music library.

File metadata

This is the first step, the foundation to making your library useful. It is work, but you can get into some habits that will make things fairly easy. At the very simplest, every time I add music to my library I add a rating and check the genre. If the genre is missing, or if I disagree with the given genre, I change it.

With those two pieces of information in place for every song, you can now take advantage of smart playlists.

Smart playlists

I have a fairly short list of these. It changes from time to time when I have a specific need and add a new list, but these here are the basics that are always around.

The majority of my listening is done in one of two ways - I either listen to an entire album or I use one of my smart playlists. The lists here are self explanatory for the most part. The My Favorites would be the list I use the most, and the one I listen to when I really want to be productive. It has a couple of important rules - plays only songs rated above 3 stars, and only plays songs not listened to in the last 10 days (to keep things fresh).

The first nine playlists are for listening to. The last two are actually tools to keep the library up to date. They are fairly simple - Songs Rated Too High includes any songs that have a skip count greater than 3 and a rating of more than 3 stars:

I use this to show me songs that I am tiring of. I periodically check the lists for new songs. If something shows up, I either reset the skip count or decrease the rating. Same goes for the Songs Rated Too Low, except reversed.

Utilizing the metadata associated to your media files to create and use these smart playlists displays the power of flexibility of iTunes. And there are no shortage of resources for good playlist ideas. It's a great investment to take some time to find ones that work for you.

Miscellaneous items

There are a few other items I would mention about iTunes:

Library organization

I never mess with the default preferences for keeping my library organized. Now I don't have a whole bushel of computers with which I need to keep a large library synced on, but my personal experience is that iTunes does a thoroughly adequate job of keeping the library organized. I'm not about to mess with something that is working fine.

Last.FM integration

This is not really a feature of iTunes itself, but I mention it since it increases my enjoyment of my iTunes usage. If you use Last.FM, updating your profile from iTunes, even from multiple machines, is not problem at all.

There are a few different audioscrobbler plugins and utilities out there that can do the job. As I wrote recently, I checked out the official Last.FM player after a clean install of Leopard and was pleasantly surprised with the improvements in the newer version. Growl support and more control of the dock and menubar preferences sealed the deal for me. I've been using it ever since.

iTunes resources

I wrote this piece without including details like how to edit the rating, genre or other metadata about any song. There is good documentation available to learn these types of items. The Apple support documents are quite good and have served me well when I've needed a little more detailed help (moving libraries between computers etc.).

iTunes is a great piece of software. I have not even mentioned the slickness with which the application handles podcasts, or interfaces with your iPod or iPhone. Or the simplicity of the iTunes Music (Media) Store. There is a ton of functionality within this application and for a lot folks, it has become the hub of their media experience.

And as really great software is wont to do, it fits the needs of the simple and power users both. It is an intuitive enough piece of software that you can use it without dabbling or even knowing about any of the items I've mentioned above. But if you want to make the most of the experience, try out some of these tips.