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iPod Nano 5th generation - problems with Linux

I got a nice new ipod Nano for Christmas. Before asking "Santa" I had already researched what support was available in Linux for the iPod and was satisfied I would be able to sync with Rhythmbox on Ubuntu Linux (Ubunutu Netbook Remix), which is my current default music player.

Unfortunately it turns out my research was a bit out-of-date as unknown to me Apple released a new 5th Generation Nano which is the one I have got for Christmas. I believe this was released in Autumn 2009 and the only supported software is iTunes version 9 on Windows or Mac. I believe the iPod classic 5th generation works with gtkpod, but not for the Nano.

I can plug the Nano into a Linux computer and it is detected and loaded as a removal drive. The problem is that Apple have changed the format of the music index file which is an SQL database file. So whilst the music transfers to the device unless the sql database is updated it displays on the iPod Nano as having 0 music files.

With new hardware it doesn't usually take too long for support to be added to Linux, but most distributions release on a 6 monthly cycle and the last was in October. Hopefully support will be available by the April release.

There were two other possibilities that I tried. The first was using iTunes under Crossover WINE, but that does not work on version 9 of iTunes which is required to sync with the latest Apple IPod Nano. The other is to run Windows under a virtual machine (eg. Virtualbox), but as this needs a Windows licence and a high-spec machine this is not something I'm going to be able to run on my Linux based netbook.

I've researched a bit more since and I believe that work is already in progress for gtkpod and is available through the latest git repositories, which sounds promising. I occasionally run beta software, but would avoid running from the in-progress daily snapshots on a production machine. I may give it a go in this case, but at the moment I'm just syncing using Windows (although the OS crashed on the first attempt reminding me why I choose Linux). Hopefully this will make it into the production releases in the near futures.

I believe that the real responsibility should like with Apple who should have ensured that support was available for all operating systems. This could have been done through providing an open specification to the Linux community, by contributing directly to an open source project or by creating their own version of iTunes for Linux. I'm sure that a company the size of Apple should be able to do any of these without too much of an impact on their bank balance and potentially with an increase in iPOD sales.

In fact I think that Apple are missing out on a great opportunity. If they provided iTunes for Linux they could potentially capture new customers that would otherwise go elsewhere for music downloads such as Amazon MP3 downloads which include Linux download software. Amazon.co.uk provides the ability to download DRM free MP3 files direct to a Linux machine (although support for 64bit Ubuntu Linux is not straight-forward).

As for most distros the MP3 codecs need to be downloaded separately then it would be an easy alternative for Linux users to download an iTunes binary instead. Although the software will most likely be proprietary there are many Linux users (including myself) that believe that the combination of free software and proprietary can benefit both the community software and commercial companies. I have bought music downloads from iTunes in the past when I used Windows regularly, but now always go to companies that support Linux as well including Amazon MP3 downloads

I will be following the support of Ipod Nano 5G in future. You can follow my status updates on either the PenguinTutor facebook page, or on PenguinTutor twitter.


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