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alternative to itunesIf you’re looking for a bloated monstrosity that used to be lean it’s hard to beat iTunes. In the beginning iTunes primarily did one thing — playing music — and did it really well. Today iTunes plays music, movies, podcasts, manages iPods and iPhones, manages software for your iPhone and iPod touch and of course functions as a store for music, movies, TV Shows and iPhone software.

Which is great, if you want to do all those things on your work computer. I don’t.

But I do want is to play music, which brings me to Cog. This bare-bones alternative to iTunes does one thing and one thing well: play music. The UNIX philosophy states that programs should do one thing and do it well,  a sentiment I largely agree with. Cog works this way where iTunes fails.

Getting Started With Cog

alternative to itunes

Of course you need to begin by downloading Cog, and going through the usual Mac installation process. Find the Cog download here. Installing is done in the usual Mac manner, which I won’t rehash.


Then you just need to fire up the program. You’ll quickly notice that there is no library like there is in iTunes; rather, the user drags music to a playlist in order to hear it. You can do this from the Finder, or, if you prefer, from Cog’s folder drawer.

alternative to itunes

Using the drawer is easy. Hit Command+D to bring up the drawer. By default, this will show you the “Music” folder on your Mac. You can browse your music and drag folders you want to listen to the playlist to add them. This allows you to quickly make a playlist and then get back to work.

But I don’t have any music in my “Music” folder; I store all of mine on a network drive (my Boxee Boxee Beta - The Best Media Center App for Your TV Boxee Beta - The Best Media Center App for Your TV Read More box). That’s okay; the drawer folder is easy enough to change. Click “Cog” on the menu bar followed by “Preferences.” The “File Drawer” tab will allow you to set the drawer to show any folder you please.

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You’ll also notice a few other basic things to configure, including your shortcut keys and Last.FM scrobbling. Beyond this, however, Cog pretty much just plays music.

Supported Formats

Simplicity isn’t the only reason to use Cog, of course; another thing that makes it a great alternative to iTunes is that it also supports far more codecs than iTunes. Apple’s default player supports only MP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AAC (.m4a) and Apple Lossless. Cog, on the other hand, supports many different formats, including some obscure ones. Here’s the run-down from the Cog website:

  • Ogg Vorbis
  • Mp3
  • Flac
  • Musepack
  • Monkeys Audio
  • Shorten
  • Wavpack
  • AAC
  • Apple Lossless
  • Wave/AIFF
  • Video Game (nsf, gbs, gym, spc, vgm, hes, and more!)
  • Tracker (it, s3m, xm, mod)
  • m3u and pls playlists
  • Cue sheets


I find Cog refreshing compared to the likes of iTunes, which has become too large for it’s own good. I think Apple should seriously consider offering a program that simply plays music and another program for managing iPods and iPhones. This would greatly reduced the footprint of iTunes for those who just want to play music.

This is unlikely to happen, however, because Apple’s built its brand on the simplicity of managing iPods using iTunes. It’s ironic that this simplicity is directly responsible for iTunes being needlessly complicated, but such is life.

In fact, this easy-to-use program is complex enough that the MakeUseOf team even has a PDF guide explaining how to use it: The Big Book of iTunes The iTunes Guide [PDF Guide] The iTunes Guide [PDF Guide] Read More by Jackson Chung. There won’t be a big book of Cog anytime soon, because Cog is self-explanatory. That’s how I like my software to be.

Do you guys think iTunes is too big, or am I just a crazy Ubuntu type obsessed with simplicity? Could you see yourself using Cog, or does iTunes work well for you? As always, I’d love it if you let me know in the comments below but be gentle, this is my first Mac article!

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