Today in Apple history: Apple offers ice water to Windows users in hell

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iTunes
On this day in 2003, Steve Jobs revealed his plan to bring iTunes to Windows.
Photo: Apple

October 16: Today in Apple history: iTunes Music Store comes to Windows October 16, 2003: Six months after opening the iTunes Music Store for Mac owners, Apple expands the service to cover Windows PCs as well.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs later quips that making iTunes available to Windows owners is akin to “giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell.”

iTunes on PCs

Launched exclusively on Macs earlier in the year, the iTunes Music Store sold songs for 99 cents per track. Deals with all five major record labels, as well as more than 200 indie labels, made hundreds of thousands of songs available.

“The iTunes Music Store has revolutionized the way people legally buy music online, and now it’s available to tens of millions more music lovers with iTunes for Windows,” said Jobs in a press release at the time. “While our competitors haven’t even come close to matching our first generation, we’re already releasing the second generation of the iTunes Music Store for Mac and Windows.”

By this point, Apple had sold more than 13 million songs. iTunes made legal downloads a legitimate option for a music industry struggling with piracy due to the rise of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Napster. iTunes also gave users powerful tools to manage the content they purchased.

A tough call for Steve Jobs

Making the software available to Windows PC owners ensured the continued growth of the iTunes Music Store.

However, like opening iOS to developers five years later, Jobs’ decision to port iTunes to Windows did not come overnight. In some ways, it’s easy to see what fueled his trepidation.

During the bad old days of the 1990s, Apple gradually let its unique selling points get diluted. Meanwhile, Windows piled on features, polished its rough edges and dominated the personal computing market.

iTunes and iPod: A potent combo

Now Apple had, in iTunes and the incredibly popular iPod — the music player it launched in 2001 that famously “put 1,000 songs in your pocket” — a combination of software and hardware that could coax new users into the Apple ecosystem. Allowing either product to work with Windows seemed like giving up an advantage.

Jobs correctly pointed out that both iTunes and the iPod helped drive Mac sales. His lieutenants at the time — Phil Schiller, Jon Rubinstein, Jeff Robbin and Tony Fadell — observed that, while this was true, Apple was no longer just about Macs. At one point, Jobs said letting iTunes and the iPod run on PC would happen “over my dead body.”

In the end, Jobs saw the business sense in the decision and backed down. But only after he ran the numbers. Jobs correctly saw that declining Mac sales could never outweigh the gain from increased iPod sales.

iTunes: ‘The best Windows app ever written’

Prior to iTunes for Windows, PC users had to run software made by a company called MusicMatch to use their iPods. However, Jobs insisted that if Apple was going to let its beautiful hardware run on PCs, it must control as much of the experience as possible. That meant Apple needed to port iTunes to Windows.

This wasn’t just about writing a new app. Apple also had to renegotiate with music labels to get them to go along with it. However, once they struck deals, Apple began working on iTunes for Windows.

iTunes for Windows: A killer keynote

During the software’s unveiling in a Macworld keynote on October 16, 2003, Jobs referred to it — with characteristic enthusiasm — as “the best Windows app ever written.”

You can watch Jobs’ iTunes for Windows keynote below. It offers a great look at his presentation style. Plus, it serves as a fine reminder of how Apple helped the music industry transition into the digital era.

Do you remember the arrival of iTunes on Windows? Leave your comments below.