New iPods reengineered to block synching with Linux

The latest iPods have a cryptographic "checksum" in their song databases that prevents third-party applications from synching with the portable music players. This means that iPods can no longer be used with operating systems where iTunes doesn't exist -- like Linux, where gtkpod and Amarok are common free tools used by iPod owners to load their players.

Notice that this has nothing to do with piracy -- this is about Apple limiting the choices available to people who buy their iPod hardware. I kept my iPod when I switched to Ubuntu Linux a year ago, and I've been using it happily with my machine ever since (though it took me a solid week to get all my DRMed Audible audiobooks out of iTunes -- I had to run two machines 24/7, playing hundreds of hours of audio through a program called AudioHijack, to remove the DRM from my collection, which had cost me thousands of dollars to build). I'd considered buying another iPod when this one started to show its age -- it's a perfectly nice player to use, provided you stay away from the DRM.

The new hardware limits the number of potential customers for Apple's products, adding engineering cost to a device in order to reduce its functionality. It's hard to understand why Apple would do this, but the most likely explanations are that Apple wants to be sure that competitors can't build their own players to load up iPods -- now that half of the major labels have gone DRM free, it's conceivable that we'd get a Rhapsody or Amazon player that automatically loaded the non-DRM tracks they sold you on your iPod (again, note that this has nothing to do with preventing piracy -- this is about preventing competition with the iTunes Store).

It won't be the first time Apple has rejigged iTunes/iPod to lock out competitors: back when Real built a DRM player for its own music that would run on an iPod, Apple threatened to sue them and engineered a firmware update to break their code (again, nothing to do with fighting piracy). This is the soul of anti-competitiveness: Real made code that iPod owners could use to get more legal use out of their iPods, Apple threatened to sue them for endangering their monopoly over delivering iPod software.

This is all par for the course, of course. Businesses have taken countermeasures to prevent competitors from interoperating with their products for decades. Apple had to break Microsoft's file-formats to give Numbers, Pages and Keynote the ability to read Office files -- they're enthusiastic participants in "adversarial compatibility." Decades ago, IBM lost a high-profile lawsuit against competitors who'd been making compatible mainframe accessories and selling them for less than IBM, wrecking IBM's business-model of selling cheap mainframes and charging a fortune for accessories. The law of the land has generally been that compatibility is legal, even if it undermines your profitability -- making a product does not create a monopoly over everything that your customers might do with that product.

That was then. Now, Apple has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on its side, which makes it illegal to "circumvent an effective means of access control" -- that is, to break DRM. I don't know if Apple will invoke the DMCA against people who break this latest measure (they threatened Real with the DMCA before) but I guarantee you that the attorneys and investors advising potential iTunes competitors are going to be very conservative about this. The upshot is that iPod owners and the public interest lose out, because competitive products that expand the utility of the iPod are less likely to come into existence, thanks to the DMCA and Apple's locking technology.

I guess my next player won't be an iPod after all.

With the release of the new range of iPods - the new Nano, the iPod Classic and the iPod Touch, we were expecting more of the same - a few tweaks here and there and everything would be fine. No so.

At the very start of the database, a couple of what appear to be SHA1 hashes have been inserted which appear to lock the iTunes database to one particular iPod and prevent any modification of the database file. If you try to do either of these, the hashes will not match and the iPod will report that it contains "0 songs" when the iTunesDB would otherwise be perfectly adequate.



  1. This is certainly in line with their other dumb move for this generation of iPods: 5G-compatible third-party docks with video-out are now broken. Jobs, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to ship products that were compatible with last-gen technology if and only if said technology had an Apple logo on it (and more to the point, an Apple lockout chip inside it). A friend tried to defend it by saying dumb customers would’ve whined to Apple if cheaper, unlicensed third-party products didn’t meet specifications. I don’t buy it for a second. Now dumb customers and smart customers alike will complain to apple WHEN, not IF, their perfectly functional docks fail because their brand new hardware thinks they owe Apple more cash.

    I have a 3G that’s served primarily as an external hard drive for the last five years or so. Unless Apple gets its act together and stops trying to be Microsoft, I’ll buy Meizu knockoffs before I shell out for a new iPod, shininess and multitouch be damned.

  2. I have stayed away from iPods for…ever, actually. Currently, I use my Palm Zire 31. It’s great, because it has all the basic hardware architecture for audio playback and I can use whatever software I can find because it’s basically a small “computer”. The player itself is completely limitless as to the formats, features and so forth as it’s all in the software.

    TCPMP is excellent for playing many formats and I love the geeky power features and control I get out of being able to anything with it.

    The only limitation is the amount of memory (in Secure Digital form) the hardware will support, which is only 1GB. I’ve pretty quickly met that limit.

    If you’re looking for something new without pouring money into an (dis)organization to use for suing children, Cowon makes some sleek, harddrive-based players with no anti-competition engineered in, and with vast format support a-la VLC.

  3. My ipod photo has been dead for a while, I’ve been waiting on the mythical touchscreen hard drive ipod, or maybe a cheap enough iphone.. but as an ubuntu user, it sounds like I should start looking elsewhere.

    (honestly, even if it gets circumvented, why buy from a company that so clearly doesn’t want me to be a customer)

    So, what’s a good replacement? something that’s ubuntu friendly and capable of navigating an 8hr audiobook that’s a single mp3 file.

  4. I currently have a Creative Zen, but it’s not great for use with Ubuntu; I’d recommend going for something which just registers as a mass storage device instead. I’ve also heard good things about Rockbox, if you really must use an iPod.

    Of course, the best solution would be for Apple to pull their heads out of their arses.

  5. Presumably finding a crack for this protection will become a prime target for coders looking for a challenge. I’m guessing most of them own ipods, and many of them run linux, or at least don’t use iTunes. Imagine the status of being the guy/girl who unshackled the world’s millions of ipods! I expect a working method within a few months, tops. Maybe a little longer depending on uptake of the 6G pods.

    The sticky part will be implementation. With the DMCA being what it is, and most of the good music players based out of the US, few of them will want to risk criminal charges by building such ipod-accessibility into their software. Perhaps unsupported ipod-cracking add-ons will start circulating? Many good music players support winamp-style extensions, and in many cases that was how ipod support was first integrated into them.

  6. You could always buy a last generation iPod. It’s what I usually do as they are somewhat cheaper and they work just the same.

  7. Apple has a long history of doing crap like this all the way from looking to legislate away the use of trash can icons by other GUIS to killing off the 3rd part mac hardware market when Jobs took the company back.

    One can only hope the iLifestyle zombies will start asking “Why?” rather then shelling out iDollars on new locked down devices or spending iHours working on hacks to work around the damage.

    For the poster with a Creative Zen…Amarok works great with my trusty old Zen 30gb. Amarok is a great app for that and for use with my kid’s iPods (which ever one she has not broke this week) as well as cool add on scripts to do remote playlist fun. Amarok…open free and takin names…support that rather than the locked down crud..yea yea im rambling on …


  8. epp_b@#2

    Amen to that, I use a Palm T|X with TCPMP, it supports 4 GB SD-card removable media and sports a 480×320 display which is perfect for widescreen viewing of movies.

    Robert X Cringley is reporting several additional new “features” showing up in the new “Classic” models:
    * VERY Slow menu switching response
    * Display of clock rather than song info when “Now Playing”
    * Inability to use existing AUTHORIZED 3rd party dock products (including Apple-advertised)
    * Audio skipping during operation
    * Slow connection to Macs and PCs
    * Inability to disable “split-screen” menus
    * Lagging and unresponsive Click Wheel
    * Camera connector not working
    * Inability to use EQ settings without skipping and distortion

    But since St. Jobs can do no wrong, this must be a brilliant Strategy (like the ROKR) to shift people over to iPod touch or something.

  9. Woah! Wait a minute!

    The only thing that is clear to me when reading the article you linked is that the format of the iTunes database on the iPod has changed.

    While it *looks* like it might be a cryptographic signature, that has not yet been confirmed.

    Have you attempted to contact Apple for comment?

    Seems like that would be the reasonable thing to do before publishing a scathing artcle based on an unconfirmed claim on a blog as well read as yours is…

  10. firmware updates that slowly break old ipods? proabbly not intentional, more like shifting all testing resources over to the newest gen product, right away.

    certainly felt that way with my g3 after 8.1. it just got worse and worse until i had to switch to debian by the time OSX came out..

  11. I’m not suprised. Apple’s a pretty terrible company if you ask me. They grab anyone and everyone by the balls if they can do it. Media industry, consumers, etc.

    That’s all just business, of course. Microsoft and the other guys all do that too, BUT….

    Apple hides behind Jobs’ smiling face, and come off looking like friendly hipsters in the process to everyone in general. At least nobody generally has any false visions of decency when it comes to Microsoft.

  12. This is outrageous! Apple-alling! Seems all the success went to their (His) head.
    But don’t worry, I’m sure the nerds are going to work it out preety soon.
    Thanks in adance, geeks.
    BTW, I have a second rate -er- generation iPod, with a new battery, and it’s just fine. I mean the thing is suposed to play music, you geeks, not to be looked upon.

  13. @Adam Weiss

    Looking around the web it indeed looks like more than just the format of the iTunes database was changed. Certainly we appreciate accuracy in BB’s postings but we also enjoy hearing the latest developments quickly. There is a trade-off in how quickly something can be reported and how much time can be spent researching it. I think the editors here do an excellent job maintaining this balance.

    However, in one instance that I can think of, Cory has spent an unusual amount of time researching a promised post, namely his much anticipated and long-overdue treatise on switching to Ubuntu.

  14. I got a Sandisk e250 (note, _not_ e250R, _not_ c250) and loaded RockBox, a Free Software replacement for its firmware, and boy does it rock! The e250 comes with 2G of flash; the e260 has 4G, and both have a microSD slot that lets you add more, as well as swap libraries in and out. This seems like a better value than the iPods, now.

    Note that loading RockBox doesn’t wipe out the original firmware; you can run it either way any time. Also, when you do load it, be sure to start by switching to a different “theme”. You’ll need to download and install it. I suggest using “Sansa e200”, at least to start with.

  15. How is this any different than when the first ipods came out? It isn’t like Apple ever had a version of iTunes for Linux.

  16. I don’t know why Apple would engineer the new-gen iPods to be less open, but finding an alternative would be rough.

    Any alternative to the iPod would have to….
    • be compatible with the wide variety of accessories and options available to iPod owners
    • play mp3s as well as high-quality files
    • be compatible with Mac, Linux, and PCs equally
    • and most importantly, be able to access the world’s largest music store, iTunes.

    That ideal gadget doesn’t exist yet, I don’t believe.

  17. This school-year I’m in the Japanese Language and Culture program at Evergreen. I was thinking I should replace my old iPod. You know, get something with video and lots of storage so I can study on the go. Since I use Ubuntu, though, it now looks like Apple won’t be getting any of my back-to-school cash. I think it’s bad enough they don’t have iTunes for Linux, but this is just plain rude.

    I think Cory is only a few months overdue on that post. ;)

  18. My guess is that we’ll see this cracked within 7 days.

    It’s a quandary that has troubled me a lot as of late, though: It often seems as if Apple has the only digital consumer ecosystem on the market that “just works,” and yet its ecosystem requires hacking to make it “just work” for anything other than precisely that for which it was intended.

    To make matters worse, though, even in open alternatives, deliberate obfuscation is merely replaced with matter-of-fact density.

    And so one way or another, everything ends up needing to be hacked. I guess hacking is just a fact of life.

  19. Well, guess I wont be getting that new iPod after all. Can someone point me to a non-Creative made 3g nano-like device?

  20. Why don’t you think this is for DRM, otherwise it seems too evil, even for Apple. I think they are plugging the analog hole to be able to download and play HD video over a protected path. Think Apple HDMI cables.

    Clearly theres a method to Steve’s madness, there always is. Most of the complaints here are record company mandates. He needs to do this to get what he wants from the studios, full HD video running out an iPod.

    This also explains why AppleTV was released as HDMI only.

  21. > This also explains why AppleTV was released as HDMI only.

    try again, the aTV has component outputs as well (analog)

  22. This may not be a totally useless feature. I can see a very nice advantage to this checksum: It detects and eliminates corruption in the song files.

    I had a hard drive based iPod a year ago that had this problem: songs would refuse to play, or would be partially cut off, because of data corruption in the song file. This method would either repair or at least detect these sorts of problems.

    I’m not saying that this may have been an anti-competitive move (it may have been partially motivated by that), I’m just taking issue with the idea that this “reduces functionality”. It in facts supplies functionality that I would have appreciated in my old iPod Mini.

    –Zach Pruckowski (sorry, no Boing Boing account)

  23. Does this mean that 3rd party programs that allow you to liberate music you loaded onto your iPod back to your hard drive no longer work either?

    I understand there are some piracy concerns with being allowed to remove music, but it is one of the most irritating iPod features to me, and one that I enjoy having a 3rd party program to circumvent. It is my music that I ripped off my CDs. If I own the albums and I own the iPod, I should be allowed to pull them on or off at will, and not have to keep hard drive backups.

  24. The purpose of a checksum is to ensure data integrity. They’re used all the time… they’re like a little signature that you can use to tell when even one bit of your data has changed. They are very useful in preventing database corruption.

    The purpose of a checksum is not “to block synching with Linux,” in other words. They have a valid and well-known purpose that any engineer would attest to. Absent evidence to the contrary, I have to assume that that is the same reason they’re being used here.

    Apple has no legal or moral obligation to ensure that unsupported devices and software will continue to work with their products. Their only obligation is to not go ridiculously out of their way to *block* those unauthorized third parties– either through technical or through legal means.

    Enough with the panic, already. Apple is allowed to update their products.

  25. I think I am like most Apple customers, I buy an iProduct and use it as intended not because I don’t know how to use them in other environments but because I appreciate the ease of use. I don’t want to waste what precious spare time I have Googling the nuances of Linux/BSD/Windows just to get some songs on my iPod when I know I can do it lickety-split elsewhere.

    It’s sad to see Apple resort to these tactics instead of just relying on the strength of their products in the market. Then again, that is the kind of naivete that our capitalist system crushes with absolute and devastating efficiency.

  26. Not to be a huge apologist, because I agree that this sucks, but…

    I have to imagine that this is the kind of thing that will be broken or worked around in under 90 days. Apple seems to have a pretty good history of doing things that require a hack, and then not covering up the hack (cite: Apple TV; the iPhone, though of course they could at any time), because they’re contractually obligated to do things by content providers (like the network and ATT above).

    What are the chances that the labels bullied Apple into this? It doesn’t make a lot of sense for apple, if only because, (and this is common consensus) apple’s real money in this game is on the iPod hardware, not in iTunes sales (not that they mind the later, but the iTunes store seems the best way to sell iPods)…

  27. @Tycho

    I’m not going to keep belaboring this point, so it’s going to be my last post.

    Checksumming is not something to be “broken” or “worked around.” It’s a *feature* that amarok etc are going to have to *implement*.

    This is a hugely, hugely important difference. This is not DRM or anything like it. It’s one of the many valid uses of encryption technology— it’s the same principle as a digital signature. And the key is just sitting there in iTunes for anyone to copy.

    Cory would have a lot more impact if he paid attention to these nuances, instead of being the boy who cries wolf.

  28. My take on this was a bit different when I read it. Apple changed the format of a file that they consider an internal detail of their iPod implementation. Certain 3rd party tools depend on the reverse-engineering job that they had done on that file. They’re now broken pending an update of that reverse engineering job.

    It doesn’t smell like any more of an attempt to lock people out than the original decision to use a proprietary database format did. This just looks like a hash, so it should not be a much more difficult matter to figure out what’s being hashed and update the 3rd party code to hash the same value and insert the hash the same way Apple does. After all, the database format had to be reverse engineered in the first place.

    Hell, maybe I’ll see if I have one of these files myself and give it a crack. I’ll be astonished if this withstands a few hours’ effort from someone who isn’t afraid of hash primitives :)

  29. This is such a great discussion. The only thing missing is follow-ups and/or rebuttals from Mr. Doctorow. C’mon, Cory, don’t let us down!

    Anyone care to comment on YESNO’s statements re: checksumming vs. DRM? PLease? We’re not all tech-savvy enough to interpret this stuff. Cory? Anybody?

    I love Apple products and I’m a shareholder, but I don’t like squeeze tactics on the part of software and hardware manufacturers, either. And I’d love there to be more alternative products out there, preferably ones that don’t involve time-consuming work-arounds, as Tehrab mentions.

    PS: I still hate Microsft products more than just about anything else I can think of. Ugh. Such a misery to use. I’ll never own a PC.

  30. I’m in China, so I can’t participate fully.

    Checksumming is NOT just being used to verify data integrity — if that were all, then the iPod wouldn’t report zero tracks if the checksums failed to match. The sum could be calculated using an easily-derived salt. In this case, the checksum is being calculated using a secret shared between the device and iTunes, in order to prevent clients that don’t share that secret from loading music onto the iPod.

    IOW — it would be simpler and cheaper to have implemented an integrity-assurance checksum. This is not that kind of checksum.

  31. I sold my iPod recently and picked up a Nokia n800, with two 2 8GB SDHC cards (for a total of 16GB storage). It´s a bit overkill if all you wanted was the functionality of the iPod Touch, as it runs linux and can do almost anything that a P3 laptop can do, including VOIP, native youtube, or a great mapper that hooks up to a bluetooth GPS unit. Plus, it is possible to use bluetooth headphones for music, or a bluetooth dail-up connection with your cell phone for areas that don´t have wifi. There are a few really cool music players like kagu and canola that will find all of the music that you have on your device (canola finds pics and video too). And almost everything available for this is FOSS.

    In short, it´s way more flexible.

  32. To jump on the bandwagon:

    Apple has been force-feeding people new hardware for years. Every generation of iPod has broken older accessories, in some fashion. It’s not about the music–it’s about the money.

  33. ::sigh::

    I bought an iPod about 2 years ago specifically because of its compatibility. Because of its ubiquity, I figured it’d be best supported.

    I’m pretty bummed that I won’t be able to get the nextgen highcapacity ipod when it comes out.

    I really like my iPod, but I’m not switching to windows just so i can use it… i don’t even know how to admin a windows box anymore, it’s been so long. lol. woot, geekcred. =P

  34. I’d just like to comment on the “Apple had to break Microsoft’s file-formats to give Numbers, Pages and Keynote the ability to read Office files — they’re enthusiastic participants in “adversarial compatibility.”” part.

    They had to do no such thing. When Jobs returned to Apple he negotiated a new deal with MS. This to stop the numerous lawsuites between them (Quicktime vs wmf being the biggest). This was the 150 Million non voting shares deal. A part of that deal was access to the microsoft source code. The deal was for 10 years, it has since lapsed. But the information on the file format hasn’t really changed the last couple of years, and thats why they can read and write MS files.

  35. We’re still not clear on this, but it seems that if this is a lock-out, it isn’t limiting to just Linux users. Our product runs on Windows, OSX, or Linux and adds extra functionality to iPods (it’s not meant to replace iTunes) by allowing users to connect their iPods to any computer and download their podcasts without having to install any software.

    Obviously out tech will never ship loaded on iPods as it does with iRiver, Cowan, and soon Coby, but we’ve always felt that giving the owner of an iPod the choice to use myPodder, iTunes, or both (they do work together) was a good thing. After all, the podcast content is free. I guess Apple has a different point of view.

    Russell S. Holliman
    Founder, CEO
    Podcast Ready, Inc.

  36. I have loaded the OpenSource Rockbox firmware on my iPod. It plays FLAC, ogg, wavpack, ALAC[!], & mp3 (amongst other file types). You can always revert back to Apple, if you need to. You should look into it.

    Of course it works with Linux.

  37. i’m posting on behalf of a blind friend of mine who was hoping to be able to use open source software to access his iPod. Since Apple do not provide any access software for iPods this is a further blow to the visually impaired.

  38. I’m not sure this was a move to lock out other syncing software. The new iPod Touch (and soon the iPhone) can download music over the air from the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. My guess – and it’s just a guess, as I’m not technically proficient enough to dig into it – is that the new iTunes DB format has changed to allow integrity between libraries as some sort of “this is an authorized device” two-way check. I could be wrong, but I don’t see why Apple would care enough about third-party software solutions to try to lock them out from syncing in software; even if you buy DRM-free MP3s from another service, it’s not like you can’t import them into iTunes.

    So I’d guess it is the byproduct of DRM, but not anything specifically malicious against non-iTunes users. Apple doesn’t have any business need to maintain DB formats; they just have to make sure their software works with their hardware.

  39. It may be worse than it appears (to quote a famous blogger). Aledgedly, the new iPods also have encrypted firmware making Linux and Rockbox difficult or impossible. Although it may just be that the completely new hardware just requires a completely new port of the Rockbox and ipodlinux projects.

    There’s a lot riding on 3rd parties being able to build sync utilities. It’s going to be very interesting watching to see if this is easy or hard over the next few weeks.

  40. I feel a disturbance, as if a million BiongBoingers’ apple-erections simultaneously wilted. (slide whistle sound)

  41. I have a Cowon X5 which sounds better than an iPod and when you plug it in to a computer it shows up as just a generic usb drive. I think all Cowon players are the same. It’s great, on any system, mac, linux or pc, I just plug it in and can copy any files, mp3 or anything at all really to and from the player. At work I often use it to give songs to friends, or get songs from them. There’s no sync feature however, so you need to organize your music in folders yourself.

  42. This sort of behaviour is the reason I don’t own either an ipod or a mac.

    About a year and a half ago I started a job where I could ride the bus downtown and back every day.

    Since I seemed to be the only one on the bus that didn’t have tunes I wavered and went to Best Buy with the intention of maybe buying an ipod. While I was there I got to look at several different mp3 players. I finally choose an Insignia NS-DV4G which is a 4GB mp3/video player that also has an FM radio. This player was about $149 when I bought it and can be found for $119 now if you look around enough.

    I have been very happy with it. It has a USB2 port on it and both KDE and Gnome recognize it as a USB stick when I plug it in. I just drag and drop files to it whenever I want to change my music. I also listen to podcasts and watch video podcasts on it.

    It has a little 2 inch screen that is ok for video podcasts but is a little small for watching a movie. (although you can)

    Three other features I really like are a microSD slot, 2 headphone plugs so a friend can just plug in and listen to a song with you, and that it came with a nice “fitted” clear vinyl cover to protect the unit.

    The one thing that is sub-optimum is that I have to downsize video to play on it.

    Unfortunately the software that comes with the player is Windows only. They tell you the size that the video should be changed to, to fit right so I am sure that it is possible to resize it with mplayer or some other Linux software. In my case I was too lazy to figure that out so I just created a small Windows 2000 pro VMWare machine that I fire up when I want to convert a few videos. (I haven’t had a Windows pc in years but I did have an old copy of 2000pro still sitting in the back of the closet.)

    The sound quality of this player is ok with the included (cheap) earbuds. In my case I purchased a nice pair of $120 noise blocking earbuds. The higher quality ear buds make a huge difference in the sound of the music, especially on a noisy bus.

    I have been very happy with this player. I use it almost every day. I am also really glad I bought a player that had an FM radio built in. No matter how much music you own, sometimes you want to listen to something different.

  43. I live in Japan and think you should all be impressed by that. The preceding comment is only slightly more pointless than anyone complaining that something else doesn’t work in Linux. Virtually nothing does, without hours of fiddling. That’s its appeal.

    Rather than whining, I am shocked the Linux community isn’t elated by this new piece of counterculture cred, as well as something else to crack in order to open a tenth of its features, claim success, and say the other stuff is just for idiots anyway.

  44. Kyle, that’s entertaining and all, but absolutely, 100 percent wrong — as you’d know, if you’d tried Linux lately.

    Getting an iPod to work under Ubuntu requires:

    1. Plugging the iPod in

    2. Opening Amarok, the music player

    3. Clicking “Synch.”

    But by all means, don’t let facts interfere with your dismissal of other peoples’ concerns.

  45. Jesus, people. There’s no real cryptography involved, because any keys used could be easily recovered. A computer is a state machine. The only way the iPod could become truly locked is if you had to send your library file to the iPod through Apple-owned servers to sign it with their private key. I haven’t seen anything saying this is the case, as it’d make itunes sync require internet access.

    And of course, as others said, there are valid reasons to have a db checksum. Apple doesn’t provide a public API, much less is obligated to document internal implementation details. Regardless, it’ll be reversed in a few days.

    Anyway, linux linux yeah yeah. I wish I had back all the time I’ve spent fighting with Linux machines over the past decade… before I gave up on Desktop Linux and just got a Mac.

  46. I had a nano that I won at a conference. That gave out after about a year or so and I got a Cowon D2. I like it a lot more. It plays mp3 and ogg and video. All on on a really nice touch screen. It also has an external SD memory slot. Works the same in Linux and Windows. I don’t know about Mac, but most Cowon devices work with Mac as well.

  47. Cory I’m a big fan and I’m solidly on the side of free and open. In fact I’m so idealistic (and want to fight the man so bad) that I’m studying IP law in the hopes of being able to make a difference.

    Having said all that: what is with this hardon you have for painting Apple as public enemy #1 lately? With all the hoopla about them charging an extra 99¢ to convert an iTunes song into a ringtone, I don’t see anyone pointing out that this is still cheaper than every other carrier’s ringtones … or that theirs is the only direct-to-handset download service that doesn’t charge a premium per track over their regular internet download rates. And what about the line in the sand they’ve drawn on video download pricing?

    To be sure, Apple is a business and not a charity. But among tech firms of their size and influence I can’t think of any whose policies are more consumer-friendly.

  48. Cory: Not anymore! Hah!

    And I’m with Woolie. I do a Linux install at least once a year to see if it’s usable yet. It’s not, unless all you do is browse the web, read email, and type in Open Office (okay, okay, or host THE INTERNET).

    The last time I found that it was still a mess (video drivers–Not too keen on a 19″ monitor running at 640×480), I got a Mac. It works. In a world where the other options are Vista and Linux, that’s unfortunately saying a lot.

  49. It will just be a matter of time before the developers figure out how to make the Linux apps work with the new-gen iPods.

    Kyle, I think a Mac suits you well. Your Linux problems are most certainly due to IO errors.

  50. Now I’m at a total loss. Ever since I stepped on my Creative ZVM I’ve been shopping for a replacement. I was never all that impressed with the sound quality of the Zen – but the ample HD space made up for it. I started thinking about going iPod (having avoided it like some trendy plague thus far) because I heard it would play lossless (FLAC if you Rockboxed it)… but now even that seems distant. Everything else out there (even native FLAC or APE players) seem to have puny storage space or equally diminutive battery life.

    The other arrow in the heart of buying one of these new iPod classics is what this dude had to say about the “tinny” sound quality. (with juicy graphs)


  51. For those looking for an alternative, you might check out Lots of good info there. I’m personally using a Samsung T9 with USB Mass storage firmware on Linux (see FAQ at top of T9 forum at above link for info on how to install it – otherwise, it will only work with Windows / MPT). It’s well made, feels good in the hand, sounds good, battery lasts a long time, plays decent looking video, and has an FM tuner. Highly recommended.

  52. Add another one for Rockbox. I haven’t ever used iTunes, and I never will. Unless Apple block loading the alternative firmware, there’s always going to be that workaround.

    Next time I’ll get a Cowon player, though (I had one last time) – the sound’s way better out of the box. Also, despite the fact it looks more expensive for the storage size, you save a pile on not buying accessories – it burns me that I’d have to pay $150 for a huge line-out+charger that allows me to play sounds through my stero – Cowons have that and FM radio by default.

    The only advantage the iPod has is that their interface design is nice – I do like that touch wheel.

    As for the Linux dissers, Ubuntu is solid as a rock on my Toshie laptop, wireless lan, iPod synching (via Amarok or Exaile) and all. I’m a Windows admin, but I wouldn’t use anything other than Linux at home.

    @guts (last commenter) – the Cowon D2 and A2s play FLAC natively. The former has up to 4GB of flash storage (I hope that improves!), while A2 has up to 30GB HDD storage. The sound is excellent from these devices, and I thorougly recommend them.

  53. The point wasn’t that it was unbreakable — the point was that now it’s potentially illegal under the DMCA to interface with an iPod, because you have to break the hash to load your own music onto it. Given that Apple has already used the DMCA to threaten competitors who interfaced with the iPod without permission, and now that it has built a stronger case for a DMCA suit, what do you think that competitors’ legal departments and investors will say when someone proposes making alternative iPod software — say, something that loads the DRM-free Universal tracks from Amazon straight onto your iPod?

  54. It’s also worth noting that the use of regular file to the ipod touch and iphone have ALSO been disabled.

    Between that and the new arms race on cryptography for managing your OWN legally purchased content, I’ve decided to forgo Ipods entirely.

    As an earlier poster noted, is a great site. They’re a bit biased towards the Iriver and Cowon brands but it’s not hard to see why – the sound quality from them is incredible compared to ipods – especially the new ipod “classic”s.

    I’m going with the Cowon D2 for four main reasons:

    it’s kept the mass storage mode of operation unlike the newest apple ipods

    it supports an incredible number of audio and video codecs – including FLAC and Ogg

    it has incredible battery life that will allow me to use it well past the usual lifetime of lithium batteries

    it allows you to use 8 GB memory cards to extend the internal storage – effectively allowing for an infinite extention of storage if you want to have dedicated cards for different purposes.

    Enough about my choice – go check the above site out and pick your own ipod replacement. Enjoy freedom for a change!


  55. The only ameliorating thing about the DMCA is that the internet is a big place. But anyway, maybe I’m just too cynical, but you can’t fault them for lockout. No one in a dominant market position has much incentive for building open hardware platforms.

    I mean, I served my time in RMS’s army. But I guess nowadays I’ll buy a locked device if the quality is good enough.. it just becomes a line in a comparison matrix. I can always switch if something really fundamentally better comes along. Would Apple push their luck to that point? Who knows. Maybe if no one makes devices that are competitive enough.

  56. iPod Rocks, but the firmware doesn’t… So What, change the firmware, et voilà.

    —> (the one i use)
    —> (another one more geeky-linux-like)

  57. Using sandisk sansa e280 with rockbox firmware (a free software)… better than an iPod. It’s really a nice solution and you don’t waste money for a non-supporting company trying to limit the freedom of their uers.

  58. iPods are inferior to most other brand MP3 players anyway.

    If people would just buy a better product (i.e. just about anything that’s NOT an iPod) none of this would be an issue in the first place.

    I don’t understand why anyone would still be spending good money on something that obviously sucks. The iPods have far too many drawbacks compared to other user replaceable battery, no FM, no recording, iTunes, no drag and drop interface, no compatibility with music subscription services, and inferior sound quality…and all at a higher price.

    Why is anyone still buying them in the first place?

  59. #64 posted by Anonymous , September 20, 2007 6:57 AM

    iPod Rocks, but the firmware doesn’t… So What, change the firmware, et voilà.

    —> (the one i use)
    —> (another one more geeky-linux-like)

    As of today, you can’t use Roxbox or iPodLinux on the 6th generation IPod (Classic). Anyone made something that does work yet? I am sooo tired of iTunes and the Apple Firmware.. shoulda bout something else :(

  60. Wow, I didn’t know Apple were this monopoly orientated!
    I was thinking about getting an iPhone, but I guess that might be a bad idea since it looks like when you buy one apple produce you need to purchase one of their computers too.

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