Have an iPod? Use Windows? Get Songbird

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 15, 2009

Following up on my last article about using your iPod with Ubuntu, I decided to take a crack at what open source tools are available for those iPod owners who use Windows. As it turns out, there isn't much. While a download of Amarok for Windows is available, good luck getting it to recognize or sync with your iPod. At least I couldn't - if anyone out there has done this, please indicate as much in the comments.

 But what I did find was the latest version of Songbird, and that might just be all you need. Songbird is built on the Mozilla platform and has an extensive list of community-contributed addons. The last time I checked out Songbird, it was probably still 2007, and while interesting, it didn't strike me as particularly useful. To me, it was yet another media player, especially if you're using a modern Linux distribution. In that context, you have a multitude of extensible, customizable open source multimedia players/organizers to choose from, many of which easily integrate with an iPod. 

But on Windows, which I use more often now (more on that in the near future), Songbird is a lifesaver. For the Linux user, it's easy to take for granted Amarok, Rhythmbox, gtkpod, et al. - all without freedom-infringing DRM restrictions or tie-ins to locked music stores. But take a detour to the Windows wasteland, and that wealth of choice no longer exists. In fact, not only is there a lack of choices, you have to really search for any choice at all; there is no readily available extras or multiverse software repository to fill in all the things that Microsoft forgot to include in Windows. 

 There are many things you can do with Songbird, but I'll focus on the thing that brought me to it in the first place: the ability to easily sync and manage content on an iPod without iTunes. The first thing I noticed is that it doesn't come with iPod integration "out of the box." But taking a quick look at the add-ons web page led me to an install button for the iPod Device Support extension. Once installed, it's as simple as plugging in your iPod to a USB port and then watching it show up in your Songbird library.

Unfortunately, I ran into an annoying snag while trying to play AAC files. Looking at the documentation, unencrypted AAC files shouldn't be a problem, but I didn't realize that this assumed I already had installed QuickTime. A little searching later, and I found the QT-Lite download. While highly annoying, at least the solution wasn't too difficult to find. I'm hoping that the next version of Songbird will have an easier way of searching for and installing codecs. Free advice to Songbird devs: if you're worried about legal repercussions, take a page from your Linux distributors' playbooks and offload the care of worrisome add-ons and codecs to an offshore repository. 

Unlike iTunes, when Songbird notices that I used other software to update my iPod's database, it asks me before deleting everything I just added, thus allowing me to 'cancel' a sync and change the configuration to suit my taste. You mean I get to define what goes on *my* media playing device? What a concept - the boys in Cupertino might want to learn something from that.

And when you're finished syncing your iPod, there's much to explore, from SHOUTcast streams and last.fm integration to Twitter, wikipedia and other web services integrations. It is truly a media player and manager for the social web. 

If you're on Windows and looking for an iTunes replacement, I highly recommend Songbird. You won't want to go back.