On 23rd September 2008 The Rockbox Project released their 3.0 version of their firmware.
Rockbox is a free software firmware replacement for lots of digital audio and video players. The objective is that of provide an alternative solution to the firmwares originally installed by the manufacturers.
I got interested in Rockbox mainly because as a owner of a 5th gen. 30Gb Apple’s IPod I’m not satisfied with the original firmware. What I especially dislike is that the management of the media content on the IPod is subordinate to the usage of ITunes. Of course it’s possible to transfer audio or video files using other softwares. As a matter of fact when I migrated from Windows to Linux I was forced by Apple to find an ITunes alternative given the fact that they don’t seem interested in supporting all their customers by releasing a Linux version of their software. Fortunately Amarok is a great alternative to ITunes even if I’d have preferred to stick with the Apple software if I’d had a chance. Despite this, I have always been disturbed by the impossibility to store my media files in the IPod hard drive (under a folder like hierarchy) and access them for playback. I must say that I’m not comfortable with the automatic playlist (author, album, etc..) generation system and therefore I’ve always manually created my playlists as clones of the folders in my collection.
Even if Rockbox is strongly playlist oriented it gives you the possibility to browse the folders on the IPod hard drive and and play your files.
This version of Rockbox also comes with Rockbox Utility a smooth Qt application that easily manages the firmware installation as well as other extra features like themes, fonts, games (including a port of Doom) and various applications.
Rockbox Utility can automatically download and install all the components to turn your IPod into a Rockbox player. It’s always possible to proceed with the manual installation which is well described in the manual, but the automatic version is faster and runs smoothly so I see no reason to do it yourself.
Here below a brief description of what I did.
First of all it’s important to identify the correct model of your player. For the IPod here‘s a page on the Apple website.
Once I identified my player, I opened the Rockbox Utility and selected my player model.
Once I hit the installation button R.U. began to download and install many files. The only thing that did not worked were the themes and the system informed me that they had to be manually installed later.
At this point Rockbox was installed. I manually removed the IPod from the USB port and reset it by pressing select+menu and the Rockbox interface said welcome to me.
firmware works just fine, I’ve used it for nearly one week now and on a daily usage base I encountered no problems. I haven’t tested the video playback yet though.
Despite the theme can be customised the default one is far from the elegance of the original IPod menu. However Rockbox provides lots of features and plugins and even if some of those are quite obscure it’s really nice to have a wide range of new possibilities opening for my player device.
I expect many new plugins being produced by enthusiast in the near future either in the form of cool themes or neat games and applications (Bitmap Brothers please port The Chaos Engine!!! Il pay for it!!).
One really nice thing is that Apple’s original firmware isn’t removed and Rockbox gives you the possibility to start your IPod with the original firmware just by toggle the lock button at start up.
So if you have an old media player, your warranty is expired and you plan to buy a new one, just consider trying Rockbox. I think you will be surprised of how neat is this firmware!