Marking the first anniversary of iTunes Music Store, Apple has released a brand-new version of iTunes – version 4.5 – that is laden with extra features.

The free download is available from Apple's Web site for both Mac and Windows users.

This release offers a swathe of new features. These include free downloads and a single of the week; a feature called iMix that allows music fans to publish their playlists; a music videos page; movie trailers from within iTunes; radio charts from over 1,000 US radio stations; and dynamic playlists (Party Shuffle).

The application also features: CD insert printing from within the application; Wish lists; the capacity to import unprotected Windows Media Audio files; and a lossless encoder.

Import Songs
Windows users can now save to Apple's AAC format from any non-rights protected Windows Media Audio file. Mac and Windows users can choose to use the brand-new Apple Lossless encoder which provides CD quality audio but takes around half the storage space of a CD.

Apple says: "Discerning customers and audiophiles want true CD audio, and now iTunes can give you that quality with the new Apple Lossless encoder. You’ll get the full quality of uncompressed CD audio using about half the storage space. You can copy music in this format onto your iPod or iPod mini, to take perfect audio wherever you go."

The release also offers a Join Tracks feature, which lets users join two or more songs into one continuous gap-free track.

New Playlist features

Apple is offering a new Party Shuffle feature in iTunes 4.5. This creates a new dynamic playlist chosen either from a whole music library or a designated plalist. Users can review the songs that are about to play, reorder and delete them from the list, and add new songs to the mix when they wish.

The new iMix feature lets users publish playlists on Apple's music store; they can then let people know about these lists. There is a community angle here: visitors to the iTunes Music Store can rate other people's mixes "sending them up and down the charts", and the top-rated iMixes will be displayed on the album pages. These mixes are saved for a year.

Another requested feature: iTunes 4.5 supports unlimited quantities of playlists, and printing of song and album lists from within the application is supported.

iTunes Music Store rights extended

Apple has extended the digital music rights available to Music Store buyers: they can now authorize up to five computers to play music acquired from the store. Another neat feature: Mac users don't need to quit iTunes in order to use the fast user switching feature of Mac OS X 10.3, for a seamless listening experience. Some reports claim users can now enjoy unlimited CD burns of purchased tracks, with a limit of seven burns placed on some songs, though this has not yet been confirmed.

The new release also downloads the cover art for Music Store purchases. It's possible to print the cover for a whole album, along with track listings. A nifty feature: the software will create a mosaic of cover art using covers from all the different albums used in a compilation CD.

It will also print customizable playlists or library lists, or album lists with covers. It includes a selection of "iTunes designer templates", which include options for both black-and-white and colour printers. The application's capacity to archive music to DVDs has also been improved.

Many new features in-store

Apple is fully exploiting the QuickTime software within iTunes, introducing a series of new in-store features. Over 700,000 tracks are available now.

iTunes 4.5 offers a new feature to all users., When you open the application up you'll see small arrows appear besides the names of artists, song titles and albums. Clicking on that arrow will take users straight to the relevant artists page on the Store. Apple calls this feature "QuickLinks".

You can also view music videos. US users (who are authorized to acquire tracks from the Music Store) will be able to download a free anniversary track – My Hero from the Foo Fighters. It appears regular free promo downloads may be made available, as the store says the "next free single" will be released April 29.

There's quick and easy access to a huge collection of movie trailers, which can now be watched within the application, as well as through Apple's hugely popular movie trailers Web page. You can also choose to buy individual songs and full movie soundtracks using this feature.

Other new features include the capacity to save songs for purchasing later, Wish Lists, and the ability to find out what is on the playlists at 1,000 US radio stations.

System requirements

System requirements for Mac are: Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later; a 400MHz G3 processor or later; QuickTime 6.2; a minimum 128MB RAM and a high-speed Internet connection is recommended for buying and streaming music.

Windows users should meet the following criteria: Windows XP or 2000; a 500MHz Pentium class processor or better; QuickTime 6.5; 128MB RAM; the latest Windows service packs and high-speed Internet connection.