iTunes is pretty much part and parcel of the iPod experience. There exist alternatives to it, but I’ve not found any that are much good.
That said, the “evil” of iTunes is highly overstated. It doesn’t kill puppies, infect your computer, or send evil e-mails to your boss. It’s really quite useable and harmless, and are you seriously going to be spending enough time in it to make any real difference? I know it’s trendy to hate iTunes, but seriously, it’s just a program.
Alternatively, take the classic back and get an iPod Touch or iPad. When iOS 5 comes out in a couple of months, bingo! iTunes is no longer required; in fact, no computer is required at all if you don’t want.
If I had bought it, I would consider this, but it was given to me as a digital hand-me-down by a good friend.
I have heard horror stories, though I don’t know how much is true, about folks who loaded iTunes and it proceeded to delete anything that wasn’t purchased from iTunes market, and I don’t want to risk that.
Is that a legit concern? Or can I move my modest MP3 collection into iTunes with little to no worry?
No, that is not a legitimate concern. When it does that, it deletes songs from the ipod. You can avoid 85% of all potential problems by simply telling iTunes that YOU will manage the music. (When you let iTunes manage the music, people who like to set up all sorts of file structures and stuff don’t like how iTunes deals with that - solve the problem before it begins by just telling iTunes to shut its yap.)
Even more specifically, the problem most folks get into is that they want iTunes to reflect the (pre-existing, somehow) contents of their iPod. In other words, they loaded the iPod up with music on some other computer, and are upset when iTunes throws away all that music when they sync it with a new computer with an empty iTunes library.
The secret to a happy iTunes life is this: The library is the content.
That means the library needs to be treated with respect (backed up, transfered to the new computer when you upgrade computers, etc.). The iPad/iPod/iPhone is merely a reflection of some or all of the library into a portable form; it is inherently transient and can always be re-created by resynching with the library.
Effectively *all *the problems I’ve ever seen with iTunes “deleting data” are from people trying to reverse this relationship, usually because they used some third-party tool to let them “drag and drop music onto the iPod” trying to avoid using iTunes to do the same thing, or threw away (or lost) the iTunes library and tried to use the iPod to transfer data into a new, empty one. The latter case is what you’ve heard about: you can only use a filled iPod to transfer music into an empty library if you bought that music from iTunes. But if you maintain the library as the source, all will be well–and since that’s the only model that iTunes really allows, interface-wise, that’s why inexperienced users never seem to run into these problems that the “experts” create for themselves.
Here’s a good, free iTunes alternative I’ve had success with. CopyTrans Manager. It works with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and is iOS4 compatible. You can manage the contents of your iPhone like you would in manual mode in iTunes. You do need iTunes installed on your computer, but once you install CopyTrans, you do not need to open iTunes or otherwise deal with it. It will not erase music off your iPod. You can delete individual songs and add more songs as you like. You can even edit tags and add artwork.
It can also be a problem for people who’ve reformatted their computer (voluntarily or otherwise) and assumed that they could just copy the music off their ipod back on to the machine. It ought to work that way - but it doesn’t.
Do keep your library securely backed up, on an offsite location, ideally.
I like Sharepod. Sharepod makes your ipod drag-n-drop. It makes your ipod behave like most other mp3 players. It is the only program that I use to interact with my 80g ipod classic. Want to consider your ipod as a backup of your music? Sharepod lets you. That is, if your computer does crash taking your music library with it, Sharepod happily lets you move your library from your ipod back to your freshly restored computer.
Sharepod lets you connect your ipod to any computer without having to link your ipod to a music database on that computer. When I last used iTunes (about 3 years ago), iTunes would require you to associate your ipod with a specific computer, which meant attaching the iPod to multiple computers was a real pain (example if you wanted to attach to your work computer, your home desktop, and your laptop). Sharepod makes it easy to connect to any of your computers. Sharepod requires that the .NET library is installed on your computer.