Can I use an iPod without the iTunes software?
June 16, 2006 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Can I use an iPod without the iTunes software?

Right now I just manually make folders and drag and drop MP3 files on and off my Archos Jukebox Recorder 2 as with any USB external hard drive -- and I like that. I'm not interested in syncing or organizing or making playlists or buying music or any of the other supposedly wonderful things that the iTunes software does. I primarily listen to classical music and soundtracks that I've ripped from my large CD collection, and I don't need or want to reorganize them or change what's on my player.

Would I be forced to use iTunes to copy music from my Windows PC both to and from an iPod? (And can you even copy from an iPod, or is there DRM crap that gets in the way?)

My 20 GB Archos is full, and the lure of 60 GB is tempting ... but if I can't access it the way I want, that's probably a dealkiller for me. Essentially, all I really want is a hard drive that plays any MP3s and lets me use it the way I want, not the way someone else decided I must because they can't trust me or to because they want to twist my arm to buy from their online store.
posted by pmurray63 to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No. I use my iPod with Winamp and have permanently deleted iTunes from my PC.

The Winamp iPod plugin will let you copy music from the iPod to the PC, which iTunes won't.
posted by briank at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2006

One of my siblings just got an iPod, and needed to know the same stuff. No, you don't need to use iTunes, and yes, there are programs that will let you move music to or from the iPod. The program we ended up using was SharePod, which is freeware, but there are a great many other options. You can, of course, play your mp3s with whatever media player you choose.
posted by ubersturm at 10:53 AM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Using Linux I have been using gtkpod and love it. The fact that I don't have to "sync" my library has me never using iTunes anymore.
posted by chrisroberts at 11:02 AM on June 16, 2006

I don't think you'll find iTunes as onerous as you seem to think it is. You can use iTunes more or less the way the want - You can drag any selection from the library across to the player. The only annoying part would be importing your songs - But even that is not really too bad - A one-time import of everything you have now (you don't need to make copies or change the organizational structure) and then use iTunes-LAME to import new cd's. I have been using iTunes for years as the least irritating way to deal with a boatload of audio, and I only recently got an iPod. While it is more difficult to get stuff off the player, it's not impossible, and from your description of your intended use, it doesn't seem like you'll be doing that very often anyway.

All that being said why don't you look into one of the other large-capacity media players from Archos - They offer a 100Gig model, although I can't find any notes on battery life.
posted by mzurer at 11:02 AM on June 16, 2006

I use EphPod. If you try it out, use the 2.75 version, not 2.77.
posted by purephase at 11:20 AM on June 16, 2006

I must admit, I'm a lot puzzled at the iTunes hate. I'm not a fan of the bloat it has endured, but Smart Playlists and the fact that I never have to think about my music collection at all make up for it. I don't want to have to work to listen to music...and iTunes doesn't make me. Win!

That said, yep, LOTS of people use the above mentioned software for the iPod. There's a billion and one hacks out there, and more accesories than you can possibly imagine. I dont' think you'll be sad to own one.
posted by griffey at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2006

To be clear, you don't need to use iTunes to manage music on your iPod, but you do have to use something to write the files to appropriate locations and update the music database stored on the hard disk. You can't just treat it as a hard disk from the point of view of adding and removing music.

You might be able to use a third party firmware that would work the way you want, but then it's not going to have the standard iPod UI, which is at least part of what you are paying for.
posted by Good Brain at 11:36 AM on June 16, 2006

Response by poster: I'd be happy to stick with Archos, mzurer, but I don't see anything bigger than 30 GB on their website. They seem to have joined the rush to make really small players that only hold a few GBs. I understand the appeal, but that's not what I want; I want to have a large quantity of my music available so that I can listen to whatever I'm in the mood for.

There are other, more obscure players out there that appear to do what I want (the 60 GB iAudio X5 appears interesting), but I'm wary of dropping that much money on portable electronics without much feedback from other users. Toshiba's Gigabeat looked interesting, but you MUST use their crappy software (even its fans agree), and it converts your MP3s to their format. I really hate how the music industry is destroying the utility of these devices...

Part of my objection to iTunes is that, from what I understand, part of it is always running in the background and sucking up RAM and processing power -- which I hate. It also seemed quite sluggish. When I'm at my PC, I use Winamp because it's comparatively lean and quick.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:36 AM on June 16, 2006

Woah! Stop the presses.

Yes, you can use an iPod without iTunes, and it will function like a normal flash drive. Utilities like EphPod are work-arounds with the funny iPod firmware, but to really make the thing function like a flash drive/file browser/mp3 player, you need to use an alternative firmware.

You're looking for the firmware called Rockbox. It's updated daily and I think it works quite well.... I've been using it on my Nano for a few months now.

Installation instructions are here.

You'll also need the latest build at the bottom of this page.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:42 AM on June 16, 2006

They have a 100 gig media player that may be overengineered for audio only, but it plays mp3s. You'd just be paying for features you're not going to use to get the capacity.
posted by mzurer at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2006

it's not just itunes, even if you use elphpod you'd still be stuck with the itunes/ipod organisational system if you stay with the apple firmware, and you may find that the ipod method of only being able to select by unhelpfully broad categories that produce oversized awkward lists of mostly junk that you have to scroll through is really annoying if coming from a nested-folders-with-categories-as-well kind of selection system.

I'm switching to rockbox for my ipod for this reason. I've had it for ages, really tried to love it, but I still don't like how long it takes to find and select a song. (eg if you select by artist, the list is spammed with zillions of artists with just one song, that you have to scroll through, from compilation albums that only have one song per artist. If you choose by album, the list is spammed by all the albums with only one song attached, due to having lots of songs where you just like the one song and don't want/have the entire album on the ipod. Genre, similar problem, and so on, it's a mess of unnecessary scrolling once you've got a large amoung of music.

So if you're coming from something like Archos, Rockbox definitely seems the way to go.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2006

How does Rockbox cure that problem, harlequin? I'm trying to imagine another way of getting to your songs other than by scrolling through lists.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:08 PM on June 16, 2006

Yeah, iTunes is good software. It does what it does very well. There is no "arm twisting" - you'll see an ad for the music store when you first plug your iPod in, but that's about it.

Down with irrational iTunes hatred!
posted by Bud Dickman at 2:39 PM on June 16, 2006

Say you have 256 items to choose from, think of the extremes (neither ipod or rockbox is this extreme, but this is an example) - at one end, you can have a sorted list of 256 items, requiring an average of 128 clicks to select the desired item. At the other extreme, you could have folders, nested four folders deep, with four items (or folders) in each folder, requiring an average of 11 clicks to select the desired item.

If you're sitting at a desk, it hardly matters - either method will be pretty much equivalent, and both require a (different kind) of organisational effort to have already been applied to your music. But if you're cycling and can't look at the screen, or it's awkward/annoying to take the player out of your pocket every time you want to make a change, then the list becomes unuseable - it can't be memorised because the items change position whenever new items are added. The folder tree categories, however, never change, so you learn to navigate them blind just by using the device normally. And because the folder structure can map your own mental categorisation, the tree can be highly intuitive.

The ultimate system IMO is both systems working in harmony (ie if they added full nested folder support to the ipod's existing system), that way people could use it whichever way they prefer, or a powerful best of both worlds. I haven't seen the latest rockbox, so I'm not sure if it tries for that best of both worlds respect. But given a choice between the extremes, I prefer nested folders, and that's the direction from which rockbox came, while itunes came from the sort-list-by-X route. Since poster came from Archos, nested folders is probably how his music is already organised and how he's used to selecting it.

posted by -harlequin- at 4:29 PM on June 16, 2006

Disclaimer: I recently bought myself a mac and I'm warming to the interface, so my opinion might be a little biased...

I think you should definately buy an iPod. I've had a few different mp3 players in my time, but in the end, the iPod interface just works! You've gotta admit, if there is one thing apple does well, it is interface and hardware design. I think if you bought one of the new 60gig ipods you'd love it, plus ALL the accessories these days are for the ipod...

As for using iTunes, you definately don't have to use it. My vote for an alternative is Winamp, and since you say you use it anyway, it seems like an obvious choice for you. But, yeah, unless you replace the firmware, you can't just drag-and-drop using windows explorer, you have to use some sort of software.

Having said that, I'd say 'give iTunes a go'... It's not really as bloatware as you think it is and I think you'd probably find it does most of what you need it to do... Smart Playlists, Album Art are all nice features as well, plus, as with everything with apple, it just seems to work (no hassles)!

Oh my goodness, I turning into a mac fanboi! Damn you macbook, what are you doing to me? :)
posted by ranglin at 4:54 PM on June 16, 2006

-harlequin-, can you give an example of a nesting scheme that would be at all usable and different from the iPod system? Preferably extensible to thousands of entries, not hundreds? I am genuinely curious and only 10% snarkious.
posted by mzurer at 5:27 PM on June 16, 2006

Sooo, nesting folders are not possible in windows iTunes? On my mac I seem to be able to nest as many folders as I want in playlists. Seems easy enough to rip it into iTunes then drag and drop to the playlist folder you want.... Am I missing something (besides the hate)?
posted by pointilist at 5:36 PM on June 16, 2006

The issue here is that iTunes enforces a perhaps uncomfortable organizational hierarchy, where the software gets to decide how things are organized, and the user only gets to choose from a few simple schemes (artist/title/etc). If all of your music is perfectly tagged and you're keeping 100% of it on your iPod at all times, this is a pretty useful way to go. It's also useful if you get your digital music from ITMS or rip whole CDs right into iTunes.

However, if you (as I do) have a 1GB iPod and want to drop in a few dozen mp3s at a time, organized in a precise way (e.g. 1 folder representing a whole album and 1 folder representing a few miscellaneus mp3s that don't belong to a single album), and you don't want to have to use that sonofabitch iTunes to get your files on, the "plain" interface (like Rockbox) is ideal. You grab your files from your HD, drag them onto the removable drive (iPod) in the configuration that you want, and you're done. Using the file browser in Rockbox is just like browsing those directories on your desktop.

If I download 3 or 4 mp3s from my friend's website, and they don't have any ID3 information, and want to easily locate and listen to those mp3s on my iPod in addition to a few whole ripped CDs, if I've got iTunes, I have to add these things to my "library" and give them "artist" and "album" names, and that's just a PITA.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:12 PM on June 16, 2006


Nesting scales better, actually. Ipod lists (album, genre, etc) is kind of like having all your computer functions as individual icons on your desktop. Nested folders is like drop-down menus with submenus. Plenty of people prefer a desktop full of icons. Plenty prefer a menu tree. But the more items you add, the less useable an album list becomes, and the more desireable a deeper nested system becomes.

One of my players (30gb) uses an old version of rockbox with thousands of files. I find the nesting scheme is extremely useable, I find things on it easier than on my ipod (even though the ipod has vastly less music in it), because the lists aren't as cuttered, and they're more organised via nesting. It would take too long to describe my nesting system here because it maps my mind - it copies how I think of music - the music is simply where I would expect to find it, rather than something I have to look up.

In other words, you would find my categories slightly less useable, because my system was custom designed for my mind, not yours :)

Roughly, the organisation system is whatever best suits the music - it's not uniform, it adapts to the situation. In some areas, which deal with special-purpose music, it's quite technical, and completely segregated from general purpose music so it doesn't contaminate the list when I'm using shuffle-mode. In other areas, which deal with music that I don't care about artist or album, just that it was prominent music from a certain period in my life, the organisation pays little heed to artist/genre/album, emphasising the things important to me instead. In other areas, it's very similar to the ipod lists, but usually broken down into a few extra categories to keep the list length manageable (eg a "soundtracks" category that has the appropriate subsection of albums in it, rather than just one overcluttered Albums category that has everything. More to the point, the Albums folder isn't spammed with albums-with-only-one-song-attached-because-I-only-like-one-song-on-the-album.

A fair amount of this you can do by spending time making vast amounts of nested playlists, but there are drawbacks (though also some advantages) to that route.

posted by -harlequin- at 7:57 PM on June 16, 2006

Nesting scales better, actually. Ipod lists (album, genre, etc) is kind of like having all your computer functions as individual icons on your desktop.

The iPod's scroll wheel kind of solves this problem in a much more elegant way. As long as you can remember the first you letters of the artist's name it probably takes the same amount of time to find something, and you don't have to learn (or create and maintain) a hierarchy.

If you choose by album, the list is spammed by all the albums with only one song attached

If you only have one song from an album ripped it makes a lot of sense to blank out the album field.

posted by cillit bang at 8:09 PM on June 16, 2006

"The iPod's scroll wheel kind of solves this problem in a much more elegant way."

No - the scroll wheel makes it worse by making it even harder to operate those large lists blind or while in your pocket. Which for me is the vast majority of real-world operations. If I'm at my desk, I can play music from the computer. If I'm not at my desk, pulling out an mp3 player and scrolling through lists on a tiny screen is inconvenient, annoying, and frequently dangerous.

"If you only have one song from an album ripped it makes a lot of sense to blank out the album field."

Again, this doesn't really help me, because I often have the full album on a larger storage device, and the ipod (with less storage) operates a subset - I don't want to have to individually edit the tags of tracks each time I drop them onto the ipod, I just want to be able to drop them on the ipod so I can listen to them.

posted by -harlequin- at 9:14 PM on June 16, 2006

OK, "dangerous"? I'm going to have to ask you to explain that as well.

But let me get your objection to the iPod interface straight.

You think it should have an interface that lets you navigate it by a memorised series of clicks, without looking at the screen? Or rather, you'd be happier with that interface?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:53 AM on June 17, 2006

My favorite Windows-based non-iTunes iPod manager is Anapod Explorer from Redchair Software. It manages music on the iPod...that is, unlike WinAmp and iTunes, it the only thing it does with music on your hard drive is move it to the iPod in a completely iTunes compliant manner (it allows you to copy music from the iPod to the hard drive as well). It allows you to create playlists right on the iPod.

The thing I would miss most about iTunes is Smart Playlists, which I think are extremely well done in iTunes. Anapod allows "morphlists," but they can only take three criteria and have other limitations compared to iTunes Smart Playlists.

I'm thinking about Rockbox, though...
posted by lhauser at 10:17 AM on June 17, 2006

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