ROCKbox is open source firmware that can be dual-booted (at least with my 5th generation iPod) with the original iPod system so you don’t have to erase all your music by overwriting and re-transferring all your things. And it works on many mp3 players, not just Apple. Rockbox for the 5G iPod does not manage videos, podcasts, and lacks a few minor things that Apple firmware has. However, there is much to get excited about with Rockbox: it comes with plenty of games, themes, even a gameboy emulator if you have roms.

rockbox.JPGIt supports ogg vorbis, flac, and other uncommon codecs in addition to the usual mp3, m4a, etc. There are extra themes and much to explore. It took a little while to get familiar with the controls and to understand how things worked. Unlike linux, it was very easy to get things installed. I didn’t have to use any command line or input advanced parameters to get anything to work right away. Installation is the easy part. If you learn quick, you may not need any help afterwards. I’d suggest that everyone else look at the manual. The buttons and menu structures are handled differently than the default iPod software. The WPS (While Playing Screen) can display other tags that don’t show up normally in iTunes. I always like to see what year an album is, who the composer is, and as much as I can read from the id3 tags. Ratings and play count are supported (haven’t checked), but to me they seem less useful without some kind of way interact and communicate with a PC media player with a music library (For dynamic playlist for instance).

Another benefit of trying rockbox is that it can be used with or without iTunes. It is meant to be a replacement of the original firmware, but it can create an alternate database so you can navigate by artist, album, composer, year, and others without ditching iTunes altogether. But if you are trying to avoid iTunes, then this is the best solution outside of using computer-based software to manage your iPod library. Rockbox sits right in your mp3 player, so all you have to do is store music files on your iPod (in any folder structure) and treat it like an external drive and the Rockbox database can be updated accordingly.

The few drawbacks I noticed:
– playlist from the standard firmware are not read from Rockbox, so you need to convert to m3u play lists somehow.
– Rockbox playlists display the filename instead of song title from id3 tag.
– battery life may decrease (probably dependent on themes, games, and other usage)
– can’t show lyrics on Now Playing screen (I think you can view the unsyncedlyrics tag though)

The fixes for these things are either outdated or not fully functional. In addition to correcting the above problems, I’d like to see:
– play count and ratings that are importable/compatible with a media player (preferably iTunes, foobar2k, MusikCube, MediaMonkey, anything; so they would be imported from a media player, and they could be written- exported- to the music player as well)
– ignore The for Artists and “A to Z” (requires editing tagnavi.config, but I’m haven’t looked into it)
– Readable comments tags for WPS

– Lag/minor skipping (they have trouble with excessive album art, but I have none)
– sometime have to press select beforehand in order to scroll
– database unaccessible (won’t show files) when updating database

There are a few minor bugs but if I’m not mistaken, current development builds are updated more often than daily. So far, I’m still using the default firmware to track my play counts, rate music, view lyrics and such. At the rate of updates, I should be looking forward to using rockbox exclusively and you should too.