A Touch Of Pizzazz

Add-Ons, Plug-Ins & Hacks For Your Portable Music Player

First Published: Computer Power User
Date Published: May 2004
By Kevin Savetz
We can't explain why manufacturers go to great lengths to create, build, and market portable MP3 players with killer features but then all too often bundle pathetic software. Some software does nothing more than move songs from the PC to the unit, and some is unnecessarily crippled. For example, some utilities don't let you download files from the player. For Linux and Unix users, software quality is irrelevant, as most players ship with drivers for Windows only. If companies are feeling generous, they might include Mac OS drivers. Luckily, enterprising programmers pick up where manufacturers leave off by creating add-ons. Some add features the manufacturer didn't include; others activate hidden features in a player. Many are simply drivers that let you use a player with Linux, FreeBSD, and other unsupported OSes. Here's a look at some utilities that will make your player sing. We tested these programs on various PCs, including a speedy Windows XP machine, a PIII running Red Hat, and a Mac G4. In some cases, we used emulators, such as Virtual PC. We also used a variety of portable players for testing. Many of these programs are open source, so if you have the talent and time, you can add to the software, letting your player do even more.
Blinkenlights.ch GNUpod 
3 CPUs

You love your iPod, but you love Linux, too. GNUpod (106KB download) is a collection of Perl scripts that will let you use your iPod with a PC running Linux or about any other system with Perl 5 and a FireWire port. The interface is completely textual, giving you a simple command line. Still, it does the job, importing MP3, AAC, and WAV files but not files from iTunes Music Store or Audible.com.

The scripts play nicely with iTunes, letting you move the iPod between your Linux box at home and the corporate OS at the office. It also supports smart playlists and the iPod's On-The-Go rating feature. The program is definitely for advanced users. Configuration can be easy (after you install XML::Parser and other required modules), but if your distro doesn't support HFS+, you may have to recompile the kernel or tweak your iPod's firmware. Fortunately, there's thorough documentation to guide you.

Gnomad 2
Linus Walleij
3 CPUs

Gnomad 2 (230KB) is a jukebox manager for Linux. It supports the Nomad Jukebox series, including the Zen, Zen Xtra, and Zen NX players, plus the Dell Digital Jukebox. The program's graphical interface lets you upload/download music files, manage playlists and ID3 tags, and even play the Jukebox via software control. Documentation is sparse, and you'll have to compile it yourself. But that's why you love Linux, right?

Jorg  Schuler
4  CPUs

If you prefer a graphical interface for your iPod, try gtkpod (600KB). Like GNUpod, it's a platform-independent tool that will upload songs and playlists to an iPod, but it adds a handsome GUI. You can create playlists and manage songs using drag-and-drop movements. The full-featured utility also includes volume normalization, duplicate track detection, and ID3 tag editing. An Offline mode lets you modify the music database (adding and deleting songs and tweaking playlists, for example) when there isn't an iPod connected. Your changes are incorporated the next time you connect the iPod. The app supports MP3, WAV, and AAC files, but it can't handle files from Audible.com or the iTunes Music Store. You can also download the GPL source or get a ready-to-run package, which are available for FreeBSD and several Linux distros.

iPod Support Plug-In For WinAmp
Christopher Thibault
3.5 CPUs

If you use Winamp on your Windows PC, doesn't it make sense to use the program to move files to your iPod? This plug-in (230KB) is a simple addition that lets you move MP3- and AAC-format files from Winamp (which, face it, you have running all the time anyway) to your iPod. The bare-bones utility will keep you from loading duplicate songs but will not help keep the iPod's songs organized otherwise.

iRiver iFP open-source driver
Pavel Kriz
3 CPUs

iFP (20KB) is an open-source driver for iRiver's iFP flash-based players. iRiver's official software only works with Windows and Mac OS. This driver lets you use the player with a Linux or FreeBSD system. Even if you use Windows or Mac OS, there's reason to try this driver: iRiver's official software offers virtually no playlist management and can't download MP3s from the player to the PC.

The driver is a command-line utility that lets you upload/download files and entire directories to your iFP player. (If you want a GUI, you can use Midnight Commander as a front-end.) A separate converter utility will convert REC files (audio encoded with the iFP's built-in microphone or line-in jack) to standard MP3 files. The driver can't check the iFP's battery status, and it only works with certain firmware versions. Still, it shows a lot of promise for providing an improved interface to iFP's official software.

Josh Billions
2.5 CPUs  

iVolt (107KB) is a simple application that enables a hidden feature of an iPod. Essentially, the program replaces the standard, none-too-informative battery charge icon with a voltage meter, providing a better sense of how charged your 'Pod really is. There's no documentation, just a tiny app that makes the change. iVolt requires a Mac and third-generation iPod.

Jukebox Commander
Mike Whelan
3.5 CPUs

Jukebox Commander (4.7MB) is another choice for users of the Creative Nomad Jukebox, LX100/200, and Nomad MuVo and II series players. The program, which works with Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP, provides a drag-and-drop interface for moving music (MP3, WMA, and WAV) and data files to and from your player. You can search and sort your music collection, edit ID3 tags, and play music directly from the player. Other handy features let you automatically generate playlists based on an artist or genre, get an HTML-formatted list of the files on the Nomad, and set the player's clock.

Linux on iPod
Bernard Leach
3 CPUs

This may sound silly or incredibly cool: You can install Linux on your iPod. Linux on iPod (about 600MB) is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it involves building the kernel on your PC using a cross-compiler, overwriting the iPod's firmware with Linux, and installing user tools manually.

The iPod kernel is based on uClinux (www.uclinux.org), a derivative of the Linux 2.0 kernel intended for embedded systems. uClinux is designed specifically for microcontrollers without MMUs (memory management units). The distro lacks support for the iPod's battery status and power management, and it doesn't support FireWire for some iPod versions. It can monitor the buttons and play sound, and (perhaps best of all) a future version will include a GUI.

For now, you can run most apps that run on the uClinux Linux distro, with the exception of software that requires a floating point unit or the Nmap function. Ironically, the app can't yet play MP3s in real-time, so installing it means your music is jittery with pauses in songs, making tunes pretty much unlistenable.

Axel Wernicke
3.5 CPUs  

myPod (2.4MB) is another GUI for iPod music management, but it's implemented in Java. As such, it works on Windows and Linux. You can use it to create, edit, and synchronize playlists, edit ID3 tags, and sort song clips. The program works with both Mac- and PC-formatted iPods, but it doesn't offer volume normalization and some other features that gtkpod does. Overall, it's still a good-looking (and free) alternative to iTunes.

Nomad II Linux Driver
Gabriel Gomiz
3.5 CPUs  

This command-line tool will let your Linux box interface with the MP3 player. The software supports the Nomad II, IIc, and II MG players, and lets you upload/download files, see memory usage, and set the unit's clock, owner name, and FM tuner presets. The program (86KB) can also automatically rename files for better readability, work with internal and external memory, and includes an interactive mode that lets you talk to the player much like using an FTP site with a text interface. A related utility, NVF Tools (nvftools.sourceforge.net) converts Nomad Voice Format files (which are audio files recorded on the Nomad) to standard file formats.

Red Chair Software Explorer Series
Notmad,  Anapod, Riorad, and Dudebox Explorer
$15 to $35
Red Chair Software
4.5 CPUs

This set of Windows apps from Red Chair Software blows away the software most MP3 players bundle. The set (about 1MB each) includes Notmad Explorer for the Creative Nomad, MuVo, and Jukebox series players; Anapod Explorer for the iPod; Riorad Explorer for the Rio, Riot, Chiba, Cali, Eigen, and Karma players; and Dudebox Explorer for the Dell Digital Jukebox.

With the appropriate app, your player appears as a device in My Computer. You then move files and playlists to and from the player. The app can even load your player with random tunes for some variety. You can also view and manage files using Windows Explorer. One totally unnecessary but cool feature lets you access your player from any Web browser, and for some players, even play streaming audio from its files. Most program versions support MP3, WAV, and AudioMorph files. Ogg Vorbis is supported in compatible players, and Anapod (the iPod version) supports files from the iTunes Music store--the only third-party program we've found that can do so. The programs, which work with Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, have free trial versions available.

Cesar Miquel, Keith Clayton, and Bruce Tenison
3 CPUs  

If you have an older Diamond Rio 500 player, which isn't compatible with the rioutil software, don't pout. This software will work with the player. rio500 (165KB) will let you load music on your player using Linux or BSD. The app also works with the player's internal memory and SmartMedia memory cards of 64MB or less. (A bug that's apparently gone unresolved for more than two years prevents the app's use with 128MB cards.)

Nathan Hjelm
3 CPUs 

rioutil is software that lets your Linux/BSD/Mac OS computer interface with many models of the Rio music player. The app supports the Rio 600, 800, 900, S-series, Riot, Fuse, Chiba, Cali, and Nike psa[play. The command-line utility (340KB) can upload and download songs to the Rio's internal or external memory, write new firmware, delete tracks, and more. A future version will let you change the splash screen that appears when you turn on the Rio.

The Little App Factory iPodRip 
The Little App Factory
3.5 CPUs

iTunes lets you move songs to your iPod but doesn't let you copy them back to a Mac. iPodRip (550KB) lets the iPod export any file, however. It's the perfect tool if your computer's hard drive full of MP3s dies an unexpected death. The program also lets you play songs directly from the iPod so you can hear them on the Mac's speakers. The program is a one-trick pony, but it's a good trick.

Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.

Articles by Kevin Savetz