Thursday, July 5, 2007

Improve your iPod Experience with RockBox

If like me, you have an older generation iPod (I am the proud owner of a 2 year old 4 Gb iPod Mini), by now you are probably bored with the bland and boring minimalistic approach of Apple iPod software. Or maybe you are just tired of being tied down to iTunes. In any case, I found myself using my iPod less and less. I stopped using it for months at a time and did not really miss it.

Then one day I came across an blog post about this mp3 player firmware replacement called RockBox. I thought to myself "What the hell, I already have an old iPod that I do not use anyways... it might just be cool to try this out...."

The installation was very simple (you just download a boot loader and the compressed RockBox software, copy the .rockbox directory in your ipod, and run the bootloader), it takes about 10 seconds (if that), and if you don't like it, you can go back to Apple software by clicking and holding the "Menu" and "Select" buttons for a few seconds (the screen will blink, apple logo pops up, and BAM! you have Steve Jobs running your iPod once again).

Honestly, RockBox is the best thing that ever happened to my iPodding experience. Not only does this open source firmware add a gazillion new functions to my old iPod, it's also made using it fun again. I have to admit that I am a Linux fan. I love the beauty of the Linuxes' structured chaos. RockBox brings the familiarity of this chaos that I like to call freedom to my iPod experience. The best part: I am no longer tied to iTunes. I can just drag and drop songs and podcasts into my iPod and RockBox is in charge of organizing them. I also have more control over my audio experience. Not only do I have the equalizer that my Apple-firmware iPod never had, I have options I'd never heard of, like stereo width... (what the hell is stereo width??). It also shows the volume level in decibels, which is kind of nice.

Since RockBox is a fully customizable firmware, it could not not exist without its pluggins. And there are plugging for everything. I have pong, I have an oscilloscope,
I can even play Doom! To be honest, some of the pluggins are very useless, like the "fire" plugging that pops a flame on your screen, but you do have the ability to remove them if you don't like them... so it would not be fair if I'd complain about them.

There are a few things I you do have to get used to though. First, there are no "stable" releases of RockBox. You can download a different (sometimes improved) version of the firmware daily. This means that some things that worked in one version break in the next. I have to admit that I've experienced very few bugs though, none that would undermine my good experience with my new toy. Second, if you like Apple's minimalistic approach, you are not going to like RockBox. Like I said earlier, RockBox shares with Linux the chaotic structure, with pluggins and options galore (I have a friggin' oscilloscope in my iPod!!). Then there is the lack of consistency with the click wheel. Until you've played with RockBox for a while, you don't exactly know how to work the click-wheel, since there is very little consistency of button use from screen to screen, and no consistency whatsoever from pluggin to pluggin. Finally, if you bought songs from iTunes store, you are in for a big disappointment: RockBox does not play Apple's proprietary audio compression file type.

To wrap things up, just mention that RockBox infused new life on an iPod I paid good money for but had eventually stopped using out of boredom.

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