Rockbox open jukebox firmware looking for student hackers to "spend Google's money"

Bryan sez, "Rockbox, the open source jukebox firmware project has been accepted as a mentoring organization to this year's Google Summer of Code. We're looking for students to come along and help us spend Google's money and move the project along for all our users. So if you're a university student with a passion for improving your iPod, or sanitising your Sansa, then please by all means get in touch, and submit an application! One of the ideas we've put forward this year is the 'Rockbox as an application' which would allow it to run on some devices without the need to completely replace the parent firmware. This could mean Rockbox on the iPhone or the Playstation Portable!" Link (Thanks, Bryan!)


  1. I case it isn’t obvious, Rockbox is fantastic. It’s the only operating system I know of that’s designed to run specifically on portables – all portables. It’s the beam of light leading us out of the dark ages of a proprietary OS for each brand name gadget.

    It’s the platform that has the potential to turn the computer hardware in each of our portable devices in to an actual, usable computer.

    For example, I have an old iPod color, which was fun enough to listen to music on, but that’s all it could do. With Rockbox on there, I can listen to more formats of music, record audio in mp3, wav, or aiff, skin the UI, play NES games, read ebooks, take notes, play Doom, and even watch full-speed, full screen video (on a pre-video iPod!).

    And as cool as all these little features and gadgets are, the coolest thing is that I could buy a different brand of mp3 player and still run the same shit on it, with the same interface.

  2. Zikzak, it sound all good. Are there any negitives that you have encountered with the Ipod using this os?

  3. I’ve been a Rockbox user since it first became viable for my old Archos Jukebox. I’ve used it religiously on various Archos hardware over the years, and recently bought an iPod Classic (the new one) and have to say that it might be a nice piece of eye candy, but compared to a device running Rockbox its simply retarded. Rockbox does a great job of letting you create playlists, where the iPod just sucks at it. Yes I know all about the “on the go” stuff, but try reordering your playlist. Hell, try queueing up a song to play next even though you have a bunch of other songs queued up….

    Poll any 10 iPod users and ask how they use their iPods and I’d bet at least 9 use it mostly on shuffle mode, or they play entire albums, both of which are relatively passive listening. Poll any 10 Rockbox users and I’d guess almost all will say they create playlists on the fly, and with great precision, changing what they’ll hear next based on the mood created by the last song. Try doing that on an iPod…

    Unfortunately Rockbox doesn’t yet (and might not ever) run on the new iPod Classics though. Leave it to Apple to intentionally make things more difficult for a project trying to add functionality to their products.

  4. Jeff, on PortalPlayer targets (iPods, Sansas, and a few others) the major missing functionality is a native USB mode, though you can easily dual-boot to transfer files or sync to iTunes or what have you.

    You can’t play DRM’d tunes, either, but that’s something impossible to implement, really.

    Rockbox runs on quite a few targets with more in the works; check out the main page for the full listing of Rockbox targets :)

  5. Rockbox has been one of the best damn open source projects I’ve ever followed. I for one welcome our new Swedish overlords. :)

    The sheer amount of stuff you can do with Rockbox is simply mind boggling. On-the-fly playlists, games, a huge list of supported codecs (nearly 20 and counting!), and MPEG-2 video playback retrofitted onto players that don’t even PLAY video on their OF are just icing on a sweet, sweet cake. I now refuse to buy any DAP unless I get to see the Rockbox logo splash across its screen.

  6. Rockbox is indeed a wonderful thing and I’ve also used it since my first Archos mp3 player. No original OS can match it for features. I especially like bookmarks, gapless playback, mid-song autoresume, the ability to delete files, and most of all, the ability to browse the actual file system structure. ( I swear I don’t understand how people find anything on a normal Ipod)

    Unfortunately, I think there are no players still in production which are supported. (though many, Sansa C series in particular, remain in channels and plenty more are available used) Granted, support for new players is ongoing but you can’t really expect to use rockbox on newer & widely available hardware.

    It would be fantastic if they could make a deal with some hardware vendor to make new players that are actually designed for rockbox.

  7. @jeff: I’m really thinking about it, but I can’t think of any downsides, things that I liked from the iPod firmware that don’t exist in Rockbox. It can’t play DRM, as mentioned before, but I don’t fuck around with DRM files as a rule anyway.

    It was a slight challenge to get it on in the first place, but it’s a low-risk operation, and I think they’ve made it easier since. The worst that can happen if you screw up really bad is you have to connect your iPod to iTunes and reset it. Make sure you have your music backed up.

  8. Jeff @#3, there *was* a big downside that existed on PortalPlayer targets (like the iPod) for a long time: the battery life was drastically reduced, to perhaps 1/2 of that seen with the native firmware. Because this bug was longstanding, a lot of webpages and google hits on the net refer to it: but *it is history*. Any build from the last month or so has solved it for good on the iPod, and largely solved it on other PP targets: I now see battery lifespans *better* than that achieved with the original firmware (12hrs on my two-year-old iPod Video).

    Also, because Rockbox is largely a reverse-engineering effort, there are some unavoiable downsides. Ignoring the no-DRM thing (oh, what a tragic loss), there are two substantial downsides. Firstly, the only well-supported players are generally old enough that they’re no longer being made. Currently *all* supported players are no longer being made; e.g. currently-on-sale iPods won’t work with it thanks to Apple starting to engage in encryption games to prevent firmware replacement. Secondly, specialized one-player hardware is unlikely to be supported, especially if it’s not documented well. For instance, the iPod Video’s (annoying) piezoelectric clicker doesn’t click, its dock protocol is hardly supported at all and its Broadcom video chip isn’t supported, so actually playing videos in Rockbox on the iPod is out of the question unless you like jerk-o-vision. These problems are all profoundly uninteresting as far as I’m concerned.

    But in every other domain — openness/hackability, variety of supported codecs, configurability, documentation, blind-friendliness, ease of uploading from random strange OSes, variety of silly games, even sound quality — Rockbox beats every supported device firmware I’ve seen into the ground and leaves it a barely recognisable heap, and because it acts similarly on virtually every player it runs on, jumping to a new (supported) player is generally easy, as the user interface stays pretty much the same. It’s skinnable enough that it’s pretty easy to come up with a user interface that outdoes the iPod for sheer flashiness, and several such have already been produced. (I’ve had people on the train ask me how they could get their iPod’s UIs looking like mine…)

    It’s a project *well* worth supporting.

  9. I saw mention of a RockBox app for running on devices without replacing the firmware. I assume that this refers to devices such as PocketPCs and PALMs? SmartPhones and the like?

    I use a HP iPAQ 4150 as my mediaplayer. In my opinion, a far better solution than an iPod. The only area iPod wins at is capacity. But really- do you need 30g of music everywhere you go? I’ve got a 512 and a 1g SD card that both get swapped between my camera and iPAQ and between the two I’ve never not had enough music to entertain myself. True, they aren’t at the best of bitrates- but that’s mostly so that I can squeeze a few more pictures from my camera on there in a jam.

    The point being, to the RockBox crew that might read this, please continue on the standalone program concept. There is a market out there for it. Take a look at media software for the PPC- PocketPlayer and PocketMusic seem to be the top o’ the heap for PPC players. PocketMusic doesn’t have support and development seems to have halted. PocketPlayer beats PMusic- quite configurable accepts plugins and skins but still leaves a bit to be desired.

  10. I like Rockbox but I wonder how long it will be around once native Flac or Ogg support starts really appearing on devices? The only reason I installed it on my 5.5G iPod is for that reason, but if iTunes would play it natively, I would switch back. Already Sansa, Cowon, etc support Flac on most of their players and I would almost rather use one of those instead of an iPod.

    The weird thing about open source to me is that I do not know a single person who is a close friend of mine who uses (or sometimes has even heard of…) Flac or Ogg. They care about the music, and are looking for the quickest and easiest way to play it, even if that means using the iTMS, iTunes and an iPod.

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