There is a new iTunes. It's the newest iTunes ever.
iTunes has long held the record for being perhaps the worst piece of software with an Apple logo on it. First it got bloated, then it got slow, then it got more bloated still, as function after function was tacked on this single piece of software: jukebox, video player, music store, app store, book store, device sync, digital hub, etc., etc., etc. If there is a piece of software that would run like shit on a supercomputer, it'd be iTunes. Well, iTunes 11 is designed to fix all of that.
And it is better than the older iTunes in precisely three ways.
1. It is much faster.
The cruft of the iTunes bloat that's accumulated over the last decade or so has been mostly cleaned out, at least judging by the way it moves. Even on a test machine with a library containing over 170GB of music, the new iTunes is actually responsive! Even the new iPhone connection tools are faster. This, unquestionably, is the very best thing about the new iTunes.
But: This doesn't seem to apply to the Music Store or App Store sections of iTunes, which can still take just a liiiiiittle too long to load.
2. The new design is clean and shiny.
The whole things looks and feels brighter, particularly combined with the fact that iTunes is responsive now. It does cool, modern-looking things, like splitting apart when you click on an album to reveal the track list and player controls. More stuff is tucked out of the way, so the whole claustrophobic feeling of the old iTunes is greatly alleviated. Also, making playlists and moving stuff to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod is much less annoying. And the popover "up next" queue is a godsend.
But: The core iTunes problem, that it tries to do too much — jukebox, party DJ, app syncing, multiple storefronts — remains, though the redesign alleviates a lot of the stress points. Also, good lord, the new iTunes icon is even more disgusting that the last one.
3. It is cloudier.
It's like Apple discovered the cloud: Through iCloud, everything you've ever bought on iTunes or have on iTunes Match shows up magically, as if it's residing on your machine.
But: At its core, this is still totally the iTunes we've had forever. This isn't a fundamental rethink of iTunes as a cloud-based streaming service, the way that Spotify and Netflix are. You still buy songs and videos discretely, to own or rent; they just show up in more places, the way you'd expect them to from an Internet service that exists in 2012.
In the end, this is a much better iTunes, the iTunes we should've had years ago. But it's still iTunes in a world where we have Hulu and Rdio; a world in which I don't keep any music on my machine so it was hard to test it. And maybe that's all it needs to be right now — a better iTunes. But for how much longer are we going to need an iTunes that simply sucks less?