Confused about iTunes Home Sharing?

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

I keep discovering new sources of irritation with iTunes 9. Having previously lamented about the confusion with ringtones and the iTunes Store Wish List, I’ve now tripped over another perplexing new feature: Home Sharing.

New in iTunes 9, Home Sharing allows you to access an iTunes library on another Mac, so as to either stream or copy its media (audio and video).

“Wait a minute,” you may be saying. “This doesn’t sound all that new. I can already stream media from a shared Library via settings in the Sharing tab of iTunes Preferences. True?”

That’s correct. For streaming media, the two methods function almost identically. Both are limited to a maximum of five users on a local network. Both prohibit you from streaming protected media purchased from the iTunes Store, unless the user is also authorized on your iTunes Store account (via Store > Authorize Computer).

Actually, in a couple of minor ways, the older method is superior. It allows you to restrict sharing to selected playlists or to require a password. Home Sharing does not. Admittedly, most people will never use these options; but they exist.

So why does iTunes 9 offer two different ways to do essentially the same thing? Because they are not identical. Home Sharing offers a critical feature missing from the old Sharing method: You can “manually transfer” media from one library to the other. To do so, just drag items from the shared library to yours. It even works for iPhone apps. Transferred items are now “yours”; you can access them even when you don’t have a connection to the shared computer. Again, accessing protected items, including iPhone apps, requires that the user be authorized for the relevant account.

Transferring media via Home Sharing is a slick new option. No doubt about it. And, as already stated, Home Sharing also supports shared streaming. Given this, why did Apple retain the old Sharing method at all? Why not just dump it? When would a user want or need to use the old method instead of Home Sharing? I don’t have a good answer. And Apple hasn’t given one either. Instead, as I’ll explain more in a moment, having both methods just seems to add confusion.

The main confusion with Home Sharing is not using it, but understanding how to set it up and, if desired, turn it off.

Turning on Home Sharing. The first step to setting up Home Sharing is to select the Home Sharing item from the Shared section of iTunes’ left-hand column. You are next prompted to provide your iTunes Store account name and password and then click “Create Home Share.” Here’s the first oddity: after doing this, the Home Sharing item disappears from the column. In fact, assuming there are currently no other connected Macs running iTunes with sharing enabled, the entire Shared section of the list vanishes. I view this as poor interface design. A new user might well assume that something has gone wrong at this point. It would be better if the Home Sharing item remained in place, perhaps with its name toggled to read “Home Sharing Active” — or something like that.

Similarly, if you have the older method of Sharing enabled, and are currently sharing with another iTunes Library, turning on Home Sharing causes the “old” shared library listing to disappear — and be replaced by the new one (compare the different icons for “Ted’s MacBook Library” in the two figures below to see what I mean). That’s already a bit confusing. It gets worse. This switch only happens if the other computer also has Home Sharing enabled. Otherwise, after you enable Home Sharing, the shared Library remains listed and connected via the older method. More confusion. At this point, a new user may mistakenly believe that the listing is actually a Home Sharing one. If he attempts to import a song from this shared library, it will fail. Indeed, I have seen several complaints in various online forums about exactly this matter.

Turn on Home SharingHome Sharing on

Turning off Home Sharing. With the Home Sharing item gone from the Shared section once you enable the feature, you may wonder how you go about turning off Home Sharing. Here’s how: Go to iTunes’ Advanced menu and select “Turn Off Home Sharing.” Surprisingly, after doing this, the Home Sharing item does not reappear in the Shared section of the column. To get it to return, you have to access the Advanced menu again and select “Turn On Home Sharing” — even though this was not needed the first time you enabled the option.

Choosing an account. Home Sharing requires that the same iTunes Store account (user name and password) be used for all sharing computers. In other words, if Joe turns on Home Sharing from his Mac, Jane needs to enter Joe’s name and password on her Mac. If, instead, Joe and Jane both turn on Home Sharing using their own account names and passwords, Home Sharing will be on for both users, and all may seem okay. But they will not see each other’s Library’s via Home Sharing. Once again, this can be confusing.

Assuming that each Mac has a separate iTunes account, does it matter which one you use to establish Home Sharing? Apparently not. But I am not 100% certain. It’s another aspect of Home Sharing that I wish Apple would clarify, but has not yet done so.

Automatic transfers. You can set up Home Sharing so that, when you purchase something from the iTunes Store, a copy automatically transfers to other iTunes Libraries with which you are Home Sharing. This works only for iTunes Store purchases, not items you import yourself (such as via a CD) — and only for purchases made after enabling Home Sharing.

It appears that, if Home Sharing is enabled but iTunes is not currently open on a shared computer, iTunes will check for and transfer new purchases the next time iTunes is launched and a sharing connection is made. However, if you turn off Home Sharing altogether, any purchases you make during this time will not automatically transfer if and when you turn Home Sharing back on.

This automatic transfer option is off by default. How do you enable it? Not in any way that is obvious. You first have to select the Shared Library name in the Shared section. After you do, a Settings button appears in the lower right of the iTunes window, next to an Import button. Click the Settings button and you can select to enable automatic transfers for your choice of categories (Music, Movies, TV Shows, Audiobooks, and Applications). You need to do this separately for each shared library. Adding a bit more confusion, the iTunes’ Help menu offers incorrect advice, stating: “To automatically import iTunes Store items that are downloaded to a computer you’re Home Sharing with, select ‘Automatically import new purchases from [Computer Name]’ from the Advanced menu.” Not so.

If you’re still having trouble getting Home Sharing to work properly, check out this Apple article. It offers several more suggestions, including how to make sure that your firewall is not blocking a connection.

Bottom line: There’s nothing inherently wrong with Home Sharing. It’s actually a helpful worthwhile feature. However, as with several other components of iTunes 9, Apple seems to have surprisingly dropped the ball in the user interface department. Let’s hope that Apple cleans things up in a future iTunes update.

Comments

nytesky

When would a user want or need to use the old method instead of Home Sharing?

1. When people in the same home have two different iTunes accounts, they would use sharing.

2. When your iTunes library is on your notebook computer and you take it with you somewhere else, you can share your iTunes library with other people who do not share your iTunes account.

I used Home Sharing between my Mac mini which has a large external hard drive and my MacBook Air which has a very small hard drive. Through Home Sharing, I can put some of my massive music library on my MBA and take it with me on the go.

I can also share the music that is on my MBA with friends when I am out.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion as to why Apple has two different ways of sharing. The old way is to share with outside people, the new way is to share it with yourself or anyone else who shares your iTunes account.

Ted Landau

When would a user want or need to use the old method instead of Home Sharing?...

I half-way agree with you.

Even with two people in the same home with different iTunes accounts, they can still use Home Sharing by enabling it via one of the accounts on both Macs. It has no effect on which account they use for making purchases etc.

On the other hand, if you want to share with someone for streaming - without requiring that they enter your account name and password on their Mac - then the old method is better, as you say. Perhaps it would have been better still to somehow incorporate all of this into one feature (e.g., Home Sharing without account for streaming only; Home Sharing with account for streaming and transferring).

JPK

What would be even better is iPhoto home sharing. I would love to be able to move photos uploaded on my laptop to my desktop.  Especially if iPhoto sharing was as smart as iTunes sharing which recognizes what differs between the two libraries.  Photo syncing headaches would then be a thing of the past.

coaten

Agree with nytesky. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, Ted.

Either it’s on or it’s not. It’s not any more difficult than that.

Lancashire-Witch

Why not just dump it?

Maybe because - as anyone who has worked on very large applications knows - removing or disabling features can be risky or difficult (time consuming). It could be that it was easier (for Apple, not the user) to leave it in rather than risk creating problems by removing it. iTunes must have grown into one almighty chunk of code over the last few years.

I don’t have a good answer. And Apple hasn’t given one either.

It’s a possible answer - and not one that Apple is likely to endorse.

Ted Landau

Agree with nytesky. You?re making a mountain out of a molehill, Ted.

My main gripe with Home Sharing is not that two sharing methods now co-exist, but the confusion regarding the Home Sharing setup—much of which would still be there even if there was only one sharing option.

It may be a molehill…but it’s an annoying molehill to me…and an unnecessary one. The hallmark of Mac OS software has always been that things “just work” exactly the way you expect them to work. This is not in that tradition.

coaten

I respectfully disagree. I go to the Advanced menu, I enable Home Sharing. Done. It just works.

The only issue I have with Home Sharing is that with my iTunes account enabled on my daughter’s Mac, she now has carte blanche to spend at the iTunes Store. So a level of access/purchase approval would be a good thing. Or I could just trust her.

As another reason to have two levels of sharing…

I’m quite happy to have my daughter using my account on her machine but not a friend or one of my daughter’s friends having Home Sharing-level access. Two types of sharing provides two levels of security.

And this is a bad thing?

coaten

I would love to be able to move photos uploaded on my laptop to my desktop.

Same here. The enabling code can’t be hard to integrate into iPhoto. Perhaps in a near-future software udpate? We can only hope.

coaten

“Udpate”? Sorry. Update. Somebody moved my keys.  raspberry

Ted Landau

The only issue I have with Home Sharing is that with my iTunes account enabled on my daughter?s Mac, she now has carte blanche to spend at the iTunes Store.

Maybe I’m missing something. But I thought entering an account for Home Sharing was independent of the account used for purchases. Is this not so?

Marcus Guerrero

What would be even better is iPhoto home sharing. I would love to be able to move photos uploaded on my laptop to my desktop.

Maybe I may be misunderstanding you but you can already copy photos from one Mac to another when sharing iPhoto Libaries. Can you be a little more specific?

Lancashire-Witch

Ted says -

It may be a molehill?but it?s an annoying molehill to me?and an unnecessary one. The hallmark of Mac OS software has always been that things ?just work? exactly the way you expect them to work. This is not in that tradition.

Unnecessary from a user perspective; but this software is many years old and, like Topsy, “it just grew”.  So the Apple designers and programmers may have little choice. As some point, with continual development, the end result is not what one would like - it doesn’t just work as you would expect. When I worked in IT for a living it was called “scope creep”.

I hope Apple are working on a new version (not another update) that just works as we have come to expect things to work.

MacinScott

While I agree that iTunes Home Sharing has a few kinks to work out, it is a decent first step in solving several issues that complicate homes with multiple Macs.

Perhaps at some point Apple will create a true home media server that serves up content to all Apple devices in the home—ipods, iphones, Macs and ?tv. And maybe Apple will rename iTunes iMedia because that’s what it’s evolved into.

Here are a few other items that should be addressed in iTunes:

1. “Explicit” should be a tag that can be assigned to existing content ripped from CDs, otherwise it’s useless as a Parental Control feature.

2. iTunes should sell Clean versions of Explicit tracks for a minimal up-charge (say .49).

3. iTunes should add sub-genres. Ever have the problem including content in Smart Playlists when the genre is generic like “Soundtrack” or “Holiday”? Songs on Soundtracks most certainly fit in a music genre category as well, and I’ve even run into problems creating a Christmas playlist and accidentally including Halloween or New Year’s Eve tracks. I can fix manually but would prefer iTunes was smarter. How great would it be if all of your Rock songs were also categorized further into “Classic Rock”, “Metal”, etc.

4. Allow multiple user’s (on one Mac) to use Home Sharing to copy Purchased content to each iTunes library. It may already work but I have yet to test.

5. Allow ?tv to display ratings by User(s) (drop down to select in Ratings column), “Guest” and even as “Average Rating”. Guest ratings would be unlocked for anyone to rate, whereas User ratings would be optionally password protected.

6. I had the idea of “iTunes Bookmarking” and Apple eventually came out with iTunes tagging which is basically the same thing. Now it looke like the feature may come to the iPhone and iPod Touch along with an FM tuner before long, so I’ll still list it on a feature wish list.

7. iTunes should offer bundles for audio and video for $2.29 (slightly more than the music video and only $1.00 more than most singles) to spur sales.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s suggestions!

MacinScott

Forgot one more…

8. Playlist Generator. Not the same as Genius Mix, rather allows you to download playlists from iTunes (or iMixes) provided you have the tracks already in your library. So, if the playlist you liked in iTunes had 20 tracks but you only had 15 in your library, it would create the playlist for you and offer to “Complete your playlist by purchasing missing songs”. More than Genius. One thing—needs to work with unpurchased tracks as well.

Desmond Fuller

Disagree with you completely.  The old way was broken when you have a family with all Macs and iphone/itouch devices.

Home Sharing allows us a place to have a central repository of everything and to grab what we want for our laptops.  Music and Apps that were never backed up are now on the central iMac as well.

MacinScott

I think this is it

9. The Smart Playlist feature should have “AND” and “OR” options when you add additional variables. Many software programs such as Extensis Portfolio offer this feature and it allows you to pinpoint your desired results much more accurately. Currently, you can’t create a playlist that has one set of criteria OR another. For example, you can’t make the following Smart Playlist without a conflict:
“Genre is Rock” and “Rating is greater than 3 stars”
OR
“Genre is Hip-Hop/Rap” and “Rating is greater than 3 stars”

iphonzie

9. The Smart Playlist feature should have ?AND? and ?OR? options when you add additional variables.

Actually this is already there in iTunes 9 - use the “?” button.

For your example, set the top All/Any popup to “Any”, add a “?” group with “All” for “Genre is Rock” and “Rating is greater than 3 stars”, then add another “?” group with “All” for “Genre is Hip-Hop/Rap” and “Rating is greater than 3 stars”

You can nest these groupings 5 levels deep if desired.

iphonzie

As for Library Sharing vs. Home Sharing, I use and love both. At the office, several of us share our libraries and play each others’ music from our own desks. At home, Home Sharing has finally allowed us to properly maintain our family media server (Mac mini) with all of the content on our individual notebooks (iBook, PowerBook, MacBook and MacBook Pro), while keeping only the subset we want on each of our personal machines and synced from there to our iPhones / iPods.

I can see where the nomenclature can be confusing to a novice, and where Apple isn’t totally clear and accurate in communicating the usage and benefits of the two sharing methods, but I wouldn’t want them to be merged, as that would create further muddying of what are actually two very different features.

MacinScott

Actually this is already there in iTunes 9 - use the ??? button.

Thanks, just when I think I have iTunes all figured out. Took a bit of playing to get to work. Had to use the “...” before each rule and change the top Statement to be “Match ANY of the following rules”.

Thanks again!

Erin

I have thousands of songs organized in playlists by mood.  I have classical, house music, dj’s, classic rock, you name it.  What is absolutely retarded about this is that it just gives me a huge jumble of songs from the shared computer, with no playlists.  Home sharing is absolutely USELESS to me this way.  I have to fish one song at a time.  Am I supposed to spend 6 months recreating the same damn playlists on the other machine?  Am I missing something or is Apple being stupid and lazy?

Lancashire-Witch

Am I missing something or is Apple being stupid and lazy?

Yes - you’re missing something. Those little arrows that look like this ?, when you click on them.

Lancashire-Witch

Now I know symbols from the Character Viewer can’t be inserted in a comment!

mj941

Hi,
  I am missing the import/setting buttons toolbar on when I choose a computer to share with. Any ideas on how to get these button back?

Dan

Great article. I’m an experienced user and found getting all this to work surprisingly tricky and not at all in the “it just works” tradition that brought us to Apple in the first place. It’s frustrating also that if I rip a CD on one machine it won’t automatically appear in our main iTunes database on another machine. (It’s also frustrating that iTunes 9 is for some reason distorting output so that music is base-heavy, muffled and sometimes sounds like it’s being played while a fan is going.)

Joe Fox

How do I enabled the sharing of playlists within home sharing? The libraries have transferred nicely but the playlist are not been transferred. Help!!!!

ralston6000

This will enable Home Sharing. Different than regular sharing

1. with OS X Preferences, Sharing, File Sharing turned OFF on BOTH computers
2. with iTunes Preferences, Sharing, ?Share my library on my local network? turned OFF on BOTH computers.

3. Turn OFF Home Sharing on BOTH computers (this is NOT done in Preferences; instead, go here: Advanced, Home Sharing)

4. Make sure BOTH machines are authorized for BOTH iTunes accounts (Store, Authorize Computer)?i.e., if each has its own iTunes account

5. You do NOT have to be logged into the same account on both computers; each computer may stay logged into the iTunes store under its own login.

6. NOW turn Home Sharing back on (Advanced, Home Sharing) on each computer, but use ONE account to log into Home Sharing on both (or all) computers

7. DON?T WORRY, this does not ?flip? the login ID for a particular computer?s iTunes Store connection to the ID being used for Home Sharing

8. On each computer now you should see a ?Home? icon with the shared library in the left-hand sidebar

9. Open the shared library and drag and drop as desired

Make sure BOTH machines are authorized for BOTH iTunes accounts (Store, Authorize Computer)?i.e., if each has its own iTunes account
3.

You do NOT have to be logged into the same account on both computers; each computer may stay logged into the iTunes store under its own login
4.

For sanity’s sake on this part, check to make sure of this?i.e., that each machine is logged into the store with its own store account (Store, View My Account, check to see ID is correct)
5.

NOW turn Home Sharing back on (Advanced, Home Sharing) on each computer, but use ONE account to log into Home Sharing on both (or all) computers
6. DON’T WORRY, this does not “flip” the login ID for a particular computer’s iTunes Store connection to the ID being used for Home Sharing
7. On each computer now you should see a “Home” icon with the shared library in the left-hand sidebar
8. Open the shared library and drag and drop as desired

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