Chapter 16: Ubuntu and Your iPod
With all the talk in the previous chapter about ripping, encoding, and playing back audio files, you may be wondering whether or not you'll be able to transfer any of those files to your iPod using Linux.
Well, you will be happy to know that Ubuntu does iPods, even Nanos. You will also be happy to know that using your iPod on your Ubuntu system is quite easy. All you have to do is plug your iPod into one of your computer's USB ports, after which Ubuntu will automatically mount it and place an iPod icon on your desktop (Figure 16-1). Yes, no longer do you have to mess around with mount and unmount commands or editing system tables. Just plug in your pod, and Ubuntu will do the rest.
Although you can use your iPod in Ubuntu, you should remember that support for such devices is still rather new. Because of that, there is likely to be the occasional odd moment while working with your iPod. I have been using mine without problems, but a friend did lose all his data when he managed to freeze his system doing something bizarre. The same thing happened to me on a Mac, so I guess that's just the life of the pod. Anyway, if you do happen to lose all the data on your iPod or somehow corrupt its system, you can just use Apple's iPod Updater while in Windows to bring it back to normal and repopulate its song library from your hard disk.
If your iPod already has songs on it that you ripped using iTunes, you will be happy to know that such MP3s pose no problem. They are MP3s, after all. If, however, you have files encoded in iTunes' default AAC format, you should be aware that Linux does not have much in the way of playback support. Only XMMS, installed along with the XMMS-MP4 plugin, seems to provide an easy way for you to play such files. As for the protected AAC files you might have bought from the iTunes store—well, forget about playing those back on Linux. Nevertheless, these playback support limits shouldn't prove to be a problem—you can still add regular or protected AAC files to playlists, copy them to your hard disk, and delete them from your iPod in Linux.
For a Linux diehard, however, there is one big problem with regard to encoded audio formats (and it isn't a limitation only in Linux): iPods do not support Ogg Vorbis files. There is talk that Apple might include support in future iPods, but I wouldn't hold my breath. In the meantime, you can quite simply convert your Ogg Vorbis files to MP3 format for use on your iPod, though there will be a bit of a loss in quality. (This is understandable, considering both formats have their own, incompatible methods of compression which require the throwing out of actual music data.) Of course, if you originally encoded your audio files in FLAC format, this quality issue will be moot. You'll learn more about this in Converting Audio File Formats.
Regardless of which iPod you're talking about, all iPods have a formatted filesystem, just like your hard disk. In fact, with the exception of the Shuffle and the Nano, they actually have hard disks inside them. The filesystem format that is in place on your iPod depends on which system you originally used it on. If you first used it on a Mac, it will be in Apple's HFS+ file format. If you first used it on your Windows machine, it will be in Microsoft's FAT32 format.
Actually, in the short term, it doesn't matter which filesystem your iPod was formatted by; Ubuntu will usually mount either one, allowing you to browse through all the files on your little white beastie. If your iPod is HFS+ formatted, however, browsing and exporting tracks is just about all you will be able to dependably do, assuming your system does mount it. It is important that your iPod be FAT32 formatted if you want to really use it as you would in Windows or, ironically, Mac OS.
Determining Your iPod's Format
How do you know whether your iPod is HFS+ or FAT32 formatted? Well, as I said, it is basically a matter of knowing which system you've been using your iPod with up until now. When you first plugged your fresh, out-of-the-box iPod into your computer, it really couldn't do anything yet. At that time, your Windows or Mac system popped up some wizard asking you to run the iPod Updater tool. That tool is primarily a formatter, which formats your device in FAT32 if you're running it in Windows and HFS+ if you're running it on a Mac.
If you've been a two-OS sort of person up until now and have been happily using your iPod on both a Mac and a Winbox, then you can be sure that your iPod was formatted using FAT32, because Windows spews out chalk spittle when it tries to deal with anything that Microsoft itself didn't create. In other words, Windows can't read drives formatted by HFS+, while Mac OS can read both HFS+ and FAT32 drives. If you are using an iPod Shuffle, you can also be sure that it is FAT32 formatted, because all iPod Shuffles are—period.
Of course, if you're a prove-it-to-me kind of person, you can seek truth from facts by going to the Applications menu, selecting Accessories » Text Editor, and then opening the file /etc/mtab in the text editor to reveal the format of your iPod. Just look for a line that says something like /dev/sda2 /media/ipod or /dev/sdb2 /media/ipod and see what is listed to the right of that. If it says vfat, then you know your device is FAT32 formatted. If not, well. . . you're just going to have to change it.
Reformatting Your iPod
And how do you change your iPod from HFS+ to FAT32 format? First you're going to have to find a machine running Windows XP (preferably Service Pack 2 for more recent iPods) and a recent edition of iTunes. Once you've found your machine, you need to go to www.apple.com/ipod/download and download the most recent Windows version of the iPod Updater you can find there. Once you've downloaded and installed the updater, you will be asked if you would like to restart your machine (because the updater requires you to do so). Just say no for the time being, and plug your powered-up iPod into one of the machine's USB ports. Windows will go through one of its found-new-hardware scenarios and then ask you to restart the machine. This time you can agree to it, so go ahead.
When the machine starts up again, the iPod Updater will automatically detect that you have an iPod in a non-Microsoft format connected to the machine and ask you if want to update it. You do, so click Yes, after which the iPod Updater will appear (Figure 16-2).
Before you go any further, make sure that you have everything on that iPod backed up somewhere, because the updater is going to reformat your iPod, and that means that it is going to wipe it clean. Of course, if the iPod is sort of a backup of what you've got on your computer already, this shouldn't really be an issue. Once you are ready to roll, just click the Restore button in the Updater window, and then click Restore again in the confirmation window that appears.
When the process is complete, run iTunes to perform the final setup steps. If your iPod does not soon appear in the left pane of the iTunes window, close all your applications, restart the system, and run iTunes again. Your iPod should appear in iTunes this time around. When it does, iTunes will present you with a brief wizard that you can pretty much handle on your own. The only direction I will give here is that when you come to the wizard page that asks you if you want iTunes to automatically update your iPod with your photo and music collections, deselect the two checkboxes; doing otherwise could lead to unwanted weirdness down the line.
Once the process is done, you will have a properly configured, FAT32-formatted, and all but empty iPod that is ready for use in Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. You can even use your iPod now on all three systems interchangeably, though I would only do so if the auto-update function is disabled.
Auto-Updating Your iPod
When you enable auto-update on your iPod via iTunes, the function is set up within your iPod itself. With a FAT32-formatted iPod, you can use your iPod on a Winbox, Mac, or Linuxbox—or all of them interchangeably. If you set up your iPod to auto-update songs and playlists, however, you are leaving yourself open for trouble unless you have exactly the same music collection on your Linux, Mac, and Windows machines.
The reason for this is simple. While iTunes allows you to add files to your iPod, it does not allow you to copy files from it. The auto-update feature is thus strictly a one-way street. This means that when you hook up your auto-update–enabled iPod to an iTunes-enabled computer, iTunes will automatically add the tracks in its library to your iPod, and, more frighteningly, it will remove any tracks from your iPod that are not present in its library. I learned this the hard way when I took my wife's loaded iPod to work and plugged it into my office Winbox with its completely empty iTunes library. When I brought the little podster back home to her with nothing at all on it, what ensued wasn't pretty.
If you have an iPod that is already in FAT32 format, it is best for you to disable the auto-update function on your iPod while it is connected to your Winbox, before bringing your iPod into the Linux world. To do this in Windows, just go to the iTunes Preferences (while your iPod is connected), click the iPod tab, and then select Manually manage songs and playlists (Figure 16-3).