I've been using Rockbox, which is an open source replacement firmware for various MP3 players, for some time and really like it. My Apple iPod Video was a treat to myself, somewhere to put my large-ish music collection so I could enjoy it on the go. After a while though it seemed to get slow, it lost its shine a little. It was time to give it a fresh lease of life with some open source firmware that would bring new features (including the ability to play OGG format files), more customisation, and easier file transfer. Rockbox is available for many MP3 players and older iPods.
Installing new firmware onto an MP3 device sounds like it might be a difficult task, one that could be disaster prone and if it went wrong could render the device unusable. This isn't the case at all with Rockbox, an important thing to note about it is that it installs alongside the existing firmware on the device, it does not delete it. You can revert to the original firmware any time you chose, you can also remove Rockbox easily. The developers have also created a user friendly installer application that will guide you through installing Rockbox on your device and it will also let you chose the additional features you would like to include as well. If you get stuck you'll find a manual specifically written for your device on the site with full instructions, an impressive documentation effort.
One of my favourite features of Rockbox is actually one of its simplest. You can transfer music onto it by just plugging device into your computer and copying the files over. As easy as that, no messing around with only being able to use certain programs to put music on the device, just a simple file copy. Once on the device Rockbox will take care of extracting the information it needs and putting it in its database. This is the way music transfer should have been on the iPod from the start. You can manage your device fully from Linux too, no more need for the occasional use of iTunes and its huge updates. The one thing Rockbox will not do though is play tracks that have DRM protection on them. So now would be a good time to switch to a music store that will sell you a nice straightforward MP3.
There are lots of new features that Rockbox will bring to your device too. You can customise the user experience with various themes, many are already available and you can create your own using the instructions on the Rockbox site. Video playback is supported, and seems to work really well. Helpfully the Rockbox developers have included full instructions on how to encode video to use on your device (if it supports video playback) at: http://www.rockbox.org/wiki/PluginMpegplayer. Want to use your device as a dictaphone? If you have the right microphone you can use the recording functionality. You can search for a track if you only remember part of the name, and if it is in OGG format, don't worry, Rockbox has just brought support for this open format to your device. If you have sight-related accessibility needs you might find the ability to have the track names and system prompts read out to you really useful.
Rockbox can be extended through plugins and
many of these are available on the site these can be added through the installer [whoops]. These take the form of various utilities, games and demos. The games tend to be old favourites which are good fun. The game play can be taken further though, you can play the first-person shoot 'em up game Doom and enjoy some retro-gaming with Rockboy which emulates a Nintendo Gameboy. A file browser is provided you can browse and in some case open any other files you might be story on the device such as text files or certain types of image files, which might be useful if you also use your device as an external disc drive. Not all of the plugins are easy to use though, I found the text editor a bit of a challenge to use with the iPod's scroll wheel.
Using Rockbox has been fun, and I think I will continue to use it. It isn't perfect, it has crashed on me a couple of times, but generally it has been really good, I have found that a reset of the device has always sorted out any problems (so it is worth memorising how to do a reset, for example on my iPod Video you move the hold switch from off to on, then back to off and then hold down the centre and 'menu' buttons). You should also check that installing Rockbox won't invalidate your warranty (see the RockBox FAQs). That said though, I think it has brought a new lease of life to my iPod and enabled it to be used in new ways. Sadly it doesn't work on newer iPods, as changes to the newer products have meant that you need iTunes, which is still not available for Linux. So it is unlikely I'll be buying Apple hardware again, and when my iPod breaks I'll be replacing it with another make, but for now I'll be making the most of it with Rockbox.