Occasionally a piece of software comes along that is so good at what it does that you simply refuse to look objectively at the true cost of using it – Apple’s iTunes is today’s case in point.

While I’ve never owned an iPod or iPhone, nor do I use a Mac on a day in day out basis, I have come to love iTunes and use it regularly. Easy to use; especially for podcasts, free to download and nicely organized library features make it extremely compelling whether you are syncing to an Apple device or not. And while there have been buggy versions in the past, iTunes is generally void of critical defects and albeit its a bit on the bloated side, it performs well.

So by now you must be wondering what the problem is, or specifically what the “cost” is that I referred to? iTunes despite it’s “free download”, carries a heavy price tag; and no, I’m not even talking about the potential cost of overpriced, DRM iTunes content, but instead the cost of finding yourself mired deeper and deeper into the monolithic Apple world view. Apple does not want interoperability of their software – they never have and never will. Apple needs to sell more and more hardware to sustain its business model, therefore any software they “give away” will always carry out a more calculated objective, furthering the Apple gospel and feeding a subconscious desire to buy exclusively Apple products.

Ironically it was an Apple ad campaign that challenged us all to “Think Different”, yet nothing about the Apple ecosystem supports this mantra. However with a commanding market share of portable media players and the most successful online store, the last thing Jobs and company want is for you to think differently about what music (and video) library management application your using. But do other truly free and open options exist, preferably cross platform and GPL?

Rhythmbox is a fine, free and open, solution for Linux if you are looking for a comprehensive iTunes alternative, unfortunately I do not believe it is available for OSX or Windows. Juice is a promising looking pod-catcher that I’ve just started using, it supports all major architectures and is open-source. (you can find a link in my delicious bookmarks to the right.)

If you have found a good cross-platform iTunes replacement please share your findings in the comments. Maybe we can all start the new year by bidding iTunes farewell.