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Some time ago, last year in fact (how time flies) my friend Marky Jones sold me his second hand iPod for a steal. While I’ve really enjoyed listening to podcasts and jazz I often found the software interface a little awkward. The need to synchronise music using iTunes was quite annoying all I really wanted was to treat the iPod like a USB disk and manage the music myself. The scenario really came to a head when I moved to Ubuntu as there’s no iTunes for Linux.

Instead there are many superior options. At the moment I’m trialling the RockBox firmware for the iPod. I’m almost sold on it. I did the install last weekend and it took about 30 mins, which seems OK to me as I’m a nub at this stuff. My only problem was forgetting to cleanly unmount the iPod before removing it from the USB port. Once I’d corrected that little nugget all was fine.

The RockBox interface is much simplier than the default Apple firmware. To navigate music on the device I use an easily recognisable explorer-like interface. To manage the files on the device I can use a terminal or Nautilus (the file explorer) … drag/drop, copy/paste it’s all very familiar.

Importantly, RockBox will play Ogg Vorbis encoded music files (unlike the default firmware). Ogg is an open encoding format, meaning it can be implemented and improved upon by anybody. This is not the case with mp3, which is closed and requires licensing before an encoder can be published.

However, there are gremlins in the machine. There are no stable iPod releases of RockBox. I am using a nightly build and suffer from intermittent freezes (perhaps 3 or 4 per day). These are sometimes accompanied by a terse error message proclaiming “data abort” and a hex address. Like any good community member, I’m about to hit the RockBox bug tracker and forum to see if this is known about.

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