Now Linux users can be iPodders too

A San Francisco developer has begun beta-testing the first software designed to let Linux users access Apple's popular music device

Windows users have recently been given access to the popular Macintosh music player, iPod, and now Linux users may soon be able to take a bite out of Apple's gadget too.

Last week Tex9, a small software development firm in San Francisco, began beta-testing an iPod plug-in for its xTunes music player software, which is itself a Linux clone of Apple's iTunes. The plug-in will, Tex9 promises, allow drag-and-drop access to iPod, which holds up to 10GB of music.

Tex9 did not announce when it expects the software to be out of the testing stage. When it is released, it will be sold for a "minimal" charge, while xTunes itself will remain free. This pricing strategy has been followed by a number of open-source developers, notably Ximian, which gives away its Evolution email software but sells a connector allowing it to communicate with Microsoft Exchange servers.

"The price of the xtunes iPod plug-in is minimal but the proceeds will allow us to continue to make quality free and commercial UNIX software," the company said in a statement.

Apple released iPod last October and the device immediately made an impact on users, with its sleek shirt-pocket design and large song capacity. (Read a review of iPod.) The device was intended for Mac users, both as a lure to the platform and as a reinforcement to Apple's strategy of positioning the Mac as the hub of a digital lifestyle.

Ever since, developers have been working on opening iPod up to other platforms. Several solutions have now begun to appear for Windows users, notably XPlay from MediaFour and a new version of MacOpener from DataViz.

IPod is essentially a portable hard drive, and most connector software allows it to be accessed as such, as well as enabling song transfer directly from a music program. Tex9 has not yet released details of how its plug-in will work.

Linux users -- like Windows users -- will face more than simple software hurdles. IPod connects to a PC via FireWire, which is ubiquitous on Macs but has been shunned on the PC platform in favour of the emerging -- and licence-free -- USB 2.0. As a result, users who want to use iPod on a non-Mac computer will also need to buy a FireWire controller if they don't already have one. Sony's Vaio line is one of the few to include FireWire, using the brand name.

Users keen to try Tex9's plug-in may face yet another challenge, since the firm recommends installing the latest Linux kernel, or core. This can be a daunting procedure for the less technically adept. Tex9 recommends the 2.4.19 kernel, while the latest distributions generally use the 2.4.18 version. Those running slightly older distributions, such as SuSE Linux version 7.3, may be running kernel version 2.4.10 or earlier.

Toshiba is releasing an iPod lookalike aimed at PC users; the Gigabeat MEG50JS is slightly larger than the iPod and contains a removable PC Card hard drive. The device connects to a PC via USB 2.0, which is slightly faster than FireWire, but since it cannot charge through the connection, it uses a separate power cable.

The 5GB iPod sells for £349 inc. VAT, and the 10GB model sells for £429 inc. VAT.

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