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iPod and iTunes Hacks by Hadley Stern

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Hack #57. Clutter Your Desktop with Music

Neatness sometimes just doesn't count, particularly when it comes to artistic expression. So, go ahead and clutter your desktop with click-to-play album covers from your iTunes library.

Remember when discs weren't compact? I'm talking about albums, those lovely black plastic platters cluttering your shelves and spinning away with the occasional crackle and pop on your turntable. If you've made the switch to all digital yet still wax nostalgic for thumbing through your old record collection—each record lovingly tended, all but scratch-free, and gently placed within its sleeve—and find iTunes a little too sterile, you're going to love Clutter (http://www.sprote.com/clutter; freeware).

This groovy little app from Sprote Research gives all the MP3s and AACs in your iTunes 4 library the tactile feel of those stacks and stacks of records, eight tracks, cassettes, and CDs you left behind in your frenzy to join the 21st century. Set aside any tendencies toward neatness you may have, toss album covers on your desktop like so many throw pillows, and just enjoy the colorful clutter, as shown in Figure 4-25.

Embracing the clutter and enjoying the color

Figure 4-25. Embracing the clutter and enjoying the color

When you first launch Clutter, a small Not Playing window appears (Figure 4-26, left). Launch iTunes, start playing any song in your library, minimize or hide iTunes, and bring Clutter to the front. Clutter's Now Playing window (Figure 4-26, right) sports the album cover (if available) in the formerly empty square. You have a nice set of play/pause, fast-forward, and rewind buttons, overlaid in music-video style with the artist, song, and album names (if defined in iTunes).

If no artwork appears and the album name is defined, select File Find Cover On Amazon (

image with no caption

-F) to search for and download the associated album cover, as shown in Figure 4-27. If Amazon turns up nothing, you can also Google for something appropriate by using File Search Google (

image with no caption

-G).

Clutter's Not Playing (left) startup and Now Playing (right) windows

Figure 4-26. Clutter's Not Playing (left) startup and Now Playing (right) windows

Finding cover art on Amazon

Figure 4-27. Finding cover art on Amazon

If you have an image on hand, you can simply drag it into the window. With your preferred cover art showing, you can use Clutter's File Copy Cover to iTunes option to copy it over to iTunes if you like.

There are several other programs available—not to mention a handful of Konfabulator widgets [Hack #59] that display album covers. What separates Clutter from all those other programs is the ability to clutter your desktop with these works of art. That's right; throw them anywhere you like. Simply click on the album cover in the Now Playing window and drag it onto your desktop to add it to the mix.

Tip

It took me just a few minutes to clutter my desktop with a rich assortment of colorful album covers. The only glitch I encountered was when Clutter gave a song from Guns N' Roses's "Greatest Hits" album the artwork from Fleetwood Mac's "Greatest Hits," even though the cover art was already defined in iTunes and both songs came from the iTunes Music Store. A quick Amazon search and replace corrected the problem.

Each of these covers is independent; you can move them around, stack them on top of one another, or organize them neatly in rows (if you really have to). Browse your desktop for something you want to hear, double-click the album cover, and it'll start playing in iTunes. If you can't find a particular cover in all the mess you've made on your desktop, you can cheat by Control or right-clicking Clutter's Dock icon and selecting it from a list. Just try that with your physical album collection spread across your floor or real desktop!

Not sure what album a piece of artwork belongs to? Simply Control- or right-click on it to bring up a contextual menu containing all available information on the album: the artist and album name, along with the titles of all the songs from the album, are all available right there on the menu. Just choose your favorite song to jump right to it.

If you switch back over to iTunes, you'll see that Clutter has its own playlist that contains the currently playing album.

Tip

There's even better news. According to a little benchmarking I did with top, Clutter takes up practically none of your processor power (unless it is searching for album artwork that it doesn't already have loaded, in which case the load is still minimal). Its memory footprint can be somewhat large for a small program (in my case, 131 MB of virtual memory!), depending upon how many albums you have open, but with something this cool, who cares?

Before Panther and Exposé, I hated windows cluttering my desktop, and as a result, I never really got into Clutter. Now, however, I can easily shuffle through all of my albums, or push them all out of the way with a mouse gesture or a keystroke whenever I want. And any song I want to hear is simply a couple of clicks away; I no longer have to scroll through a long alphabetical list in iTunes to find it.

I have my albums again!

C. K. Sample III

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