Apple's iPod is certainly one of the best consumer electronics products of the past 10 years. iTunes, though, not so much.

Apple's software isn't nearly as flexible as it should be, especially when collections get large. Some of the problems result from digital copyright issues, others from Apple's unwillingness to play nice with other formats and devices.

Not surprisingly, there's a cottage industry devoted to fixing some of those flaws with free or low-cost add-ons. Here are five of the best:

Tune up

I don't know about you, but my iTunes library has way too many songs called 'Track 01' or 'Track 02'. That's because when you rip songs from a CD, especially one that's second generation, the album info and art are sometimes lost. That also can happen when you buy music from a site other than iTunes. A handy utility called TuneUp can correct that.

TuneUp launches itself when iTunes does, and shows up as a vertical window alongside it. TuneUp does a number of things, but cleaning up the library is what makes it worth having. If you download the free version, TuneUp will fix up to 100 tracks and retrieve the album art for 50 songs.

Although my library had several hundred unlabelled songs, TuneUp churned through the list pretty quickly, correctly labelling scores of tunes before I ran out of free fixes. There were only a handful of titles it couldn't find in its database. It was successful in finding missing album art for many, though not all, of my unadorned songs. I have to admit that my musical tastes are fairly conventional, so maybe my collection wasn't particularly challenging for TuneUp. But other writers say the database does well with more esoteric selections as well.

A full version of the program costs $30 (£19.25); a one-year subscription goes for $20 (£12.85).

TuneUp's other functions are less impressive. You can expand your collection and share music with friends and be alerted when an artist in your library has a performance scheduled nearby. I wouldn't pay for those functions, but $20 to cleanup up hundreds of songs is a good deal.

iTunes Export

Anyone can buy a CD or a gift card on iTunes. But there's nothing like making a compilation tailored for someone you care about. Sadly, iTunes doesn't make this easy. It's awkward to export playlists you've constructed. iTunes Export makes it easy to grab a playlist you've built in iTunes and copy it and the songs themselves to a USB drive.

iTunes Export will copy playlists in formats that players other than iTunes can read as well. It's free. And it's very easy, as long as you download the GUI version. The other version works from a command line and is probably much tougher to use, though I didn't try it. When you configure it, be sure that it's looking at the iTunes XML file that's on the same drive as the music itself. Otherwise you'll export the playlist but not the songs.

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  1. Add-ons to help fix flaws in iTunes
  2. Songbird