Running iTunes Media on an External Drive

Since cancelling my cable account, I’ve been watching the vast majority of my television over-the-air (recorded on a TiVo), but there are some cable shows I can’t miss (e.g. Mad Men, Futurama, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Doctor Who), so I’ve been buying those from iTunes and watching them on an Apple TV. As a result, I quickly filled up my laptop’s hard drive. I bought a large external drive and moved my iTunes Media folder to it, but there were a few problems. iTunes doesn’t like being launched if the external drive isn’t attached, and if you try to sync an iPhone while the drive isn’t mounted, it’ll think that you have no music in your library and wipe the phone clean. Annoying. Here are the two changes I made to fix this:

  1. I connected my iPhone to the computer (with the external drive mounted) and unchecked the box on the summary page in iTunes that makes iTunes automatically launch when that phone is connected. Now it won’t try to sync when it won’t be able to find the media it needs, but I do have to remember to manually press the “sync” button after I plug it in.

  2. To keep myself from trying to open iTunes when the drive isn’t attached, I made a simple AppleScript application:

tell application "iTunes"
    activate
end tell

I saved the script as an application on the external drive, gave it iTunes’s icon and dragged it to my Dock in place of iTunes. If the drive is attached, it’ll speed up and then launch iTunes. If it’s not attached, the Dock won’t be able to find to app, so iTunes won’t load. The result is that I can’t ever accidentally launch iTunes without having the drive with all my files on it mounted.

This problem is likely to get worse as Apple transitions to using only flash memory in its laptops, which is much more expensive in larger storage sizes. Traditional hard drives are just getting to the point where one can fit a terabyte or two into a laptop, which is what you need if you’re going to store video. There’s continuing speculation that Apple will start an iTunes streaming service so that one doesn’t have to store one’s videos locally, but until then, this is the approach I have to use.