Linux

Goodbye Apple iPod, hello Sandisk Fuze

Jack Wallen describes his recent migration from the ever-frustrating world of the Linux-unfriendly iPod to the more Linux-friendly Sandisk Fuze.

Over the weekend my frustrations with using an iPod with Linux came to a boil and I wound up forsaking my trusted 30 gig video iPod and purchasing a 4 (yes, four) gig Sandisk Fuze. And I couldn't be happier.

It took me a long time to figure out that my particular iPod had the infamous "Raid bug." This bug only affects certain (seemingly random) iPods and causes HAL (hardware abstraction layer) to not be able to detect the device. Oddly enough the randomness is even more random because it will randomly be able to detect the device at times. But when it can not detect the device (or only "sort of detects the device"), it can cause any number of issues. I have experienced many of these issues first hand. And this last "issue" caused nearly 4,000 songs to have the song titles translated into binary. So instead of seing "Blue" by the Birthday Massacre, I see "01000010 01101100 01110101 01100101." And I'm sure you can do the binary math and know that a title like "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" translates to "01010000 01110010 01100101 01101100 01110101 01100100 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01000001 01100110 01110100 01100101 01110010 01101110 01101111 01101111 01101110 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01100001 00100000 01000110 01100001 01110101 01101110" which, albeit extreme nerd fun, is just not that peachy on a small device like an iPod.

So couple that with all of the other little "bugs" that even Rockbox couldn't resolve, and I decided it was time to give another MP3 device a try. I had read what seemed like an infinite amount of reviews of Sandisk MP3s and found that Linux users had the best luck with its products. In fact, Sandisk actually states support for Linux for the Fuze on their Web site, So I opted for that model.

Naturally, after all of my dealings with the "so-called user-friendliest" iPod, I was skeptical that any MP3 device could work flawlessly with Linux. So I plugged it in and it was immediately recognized. I went the old-school approach and manually mounted the drive and fired up Amarok. I quickly configured Amarok to see the device and clicked the connect button. To my surprise it connected without a hitch.

Inside the device were a few directories, one of which was called "Music." Of course, I couldn't configure Amarok to download music to that directory. Now I should say this: I could use the simple drag-and-drop method of adding music to this device. However, I have a music collection that currently eats up 40+ gigs and is over 8,000 songs. I am not going to use a file browser to deal with that many files. Besides, my collection is neatly stored in Amarok which is far superior to that of iTunes when it comes to collecting music.

So I go about adding music and discover the first of two issues. One is a known issue with Amarok and is being presently addressed: cover art. Amarok gets cover art from Amazon.com. Recently Amazon made changes to the API so the Amarok developers have to make a change to keep this feature working. They promise it will be in the 1.4.9 release. The other issue: Playlists. Currently I have yet to find a means to add a playlist to the device without using Windows Media Player. Of course I'm not going to use WMP so, until I find a way, I will not have playlists on my Fuze.

One other setback was finding the Fuze doesn't support the m4a format. No problem. I use open source remember? Whip up a simple script that relies on faad and lame to convert all m4a files to MP3 files and all is well. Here's the script:

#!/bin/bash

for i in *.m4a; do

echo "Converting: ${i%.m4a}.mp3"

faad -o - "$i" | lame - "${i%.m4a}.mp3"

done

Just copy that script (I named it "script") into /usr/bin and give it executable permissions. Now change into the directory you want to convert and issue the command script.

So after a few hours I have the device full (and am ready to start collecting micro sd cards to fill with music as well) and am ready to rock.

The device umounts easily from Linux and the Fuze's interface is a pleasure to use.

So I have to question this: Why is it that a company can claim to have the most user-friendly portable music device, yet a card-carrying nerd like me has nothing but trouble? And yet a company like Sandisk who makes no bold claims, can put out a product that is infinitely easier to use and more reliable to boot?

Now I do still have, and use, my iPhone. I do love my iPhone. But as for iPods? I will never purchase another again. Not when there are plenty of other offerings that will work, seamlessly, across platforms (yes, I did plug it into a Windows XP machine as well as an OS X machine - no problem on any of them).

And what will I do with my iPod? I'm waiting for the battery life issue to be fixed in Rockbox. Once that is done I will wipe the iPod of all of it's music, install the latest Rockbox, and drag and drop music onto that device and pretend it's not an iPod.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

19 comments
learn4ever
learn4ever

4 years later, how's that working out for you? Pretty sure I know the answer ;^)

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I had a Sansa 240 which was OK as it used Windows Explorer, but the user interface had much to be desired. My son presented me with a Zune for Father's Day, it was nice but you had to use MS's interface application and it really stunk IMO. After two weeks the Zune broke, thankfully and my son exchanged for the Fuze. What a difference, it's great and I can use Windows Explorer or what ever directory application I want. Again it's my opinion but Jack's dead on about the Fuze being more appropriate, especially when multiple uses are anticipated. I almost forgot an important issue for us road warriors, the Zune will not work with Audible.com where as the Fuze happily will. How dumb is that of MS.

javalexlan
javalexlan

I have been using my Sansa for several months in SUSE practically without issues, I guess the major problem is that in some case I didn't retrieve the album artwork but you can easily add a picture of it (album art.jpg)correctly scaled (I use 105x105 px), in the location of your album songs and "voila"

rkampen
rkampen

why not go the whole way and dump mp3 proprietary format and go with ogg vorbis - free and better performance for a given bandwidth.

marthill
marthill

I'm wondering why you assume Apple's much publicised user- friendliness would extend to wiping the factory installed iPod OS and installing Linux? Am I missing something here? -Mart

seanferd
seanferd

Sansa c240. The UI is a bit... je ne sais quoi. Limited? That XP was required for file transfer, and WMP required for any further functionality, such as playlists, was a bit disappointing at the time I first used the c240, but not so much now that I have a decent XP machine with USB 2.0.

jlwallen
jlwallen

it's going to take me a while - but i eventually do want to migrate everything over to the ogg vorbis format.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I read the article to mean that the author had been using the iPod's native firmware. In most cases, it "just works" with osX and Windows but don't choose one fo the two popular OS in the school yard and ... He also mentioned that the bug effecting his music was a bug within the Apple firmware on that model of iPods where they randomly decide that all your music is going to be titled in binary instead of human readable text. (sidenote; my wife's iPod likes to display one song but play a different one from time to time.) I believe the outcome of the article was that he'd purchases an OS non-biased music player which works flawlessly with any OS platform he happens to be using rather than demanding he use one of two which may not suite all his other needs outside of feeding the iPod music. Rockbox was mentioned as a way to salvage the iPod hardware with usable firmware rather than discard it, waste the amount paid for it and contribute more waste in the form of the heavy metals used in it's components. I could be wrong though..

jlwallen
jlwallen

i didn't wipe the apple OS. i did install the Rockbox firmware but that doesn't wipe out the apple firmware.

lefty.crupps
lefty.crupps

Does the Fuze play OGG Vorbis files? That would be so great.

jlwallen
jlwallen

as usual NS - you are dead on.

marthill
marthill

Fair enough, however, I think it is a stretch to expect the user-friendliness of the old generation Apple iPod to extend to hacking Linux onto the device? I would have thought you'd find it much more interesting to hack your iPhone or an iPod Touch which are Apple's obvious future direction in the iPod range. 500MBs of OS X with its delectable BSD unix underpinnings and Mach microkernal and lots of Open Source goodness throughout and a desktop-class set of object-oriented frameworks with strong ties to Linux etc. -Mart

jlwallen
jlwallen

my fuze works, so far, with Linux, XP, and OS X. now it doesn't work with iTunes but, to be honest, who cares. and i just discovered the amazon mp3 store and they have a downloader tool for Linux. so, it's a no brainer!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I wasn't paying close attention to the settings when I setup a player last time but I think Amarok should be able to convert the media format as songs are added to the sync list. You can keep your music in a nice high quality format then have it downgraded too each player's perference. That may save you storing duplicate libraries. Sidenote, I was using a T5 when the iPod hit the market. I used to giggle to myself every time some shocked person asked; "but why don't you have an iPod?" - well, because that would be a huge functional and hardware downgrade from what I have now. I do the same thing now though; "why do you still not have an iPod?" - Well, because my device plays all the media types plus a whole lot more; does your iPod Touch or iPhone run nmap perchance? does it allow you to dualboot? oh, but it has upmteen gigs of storage and multitouch - garsh, my loss. ;) hehe.. yeah, your way ahead of most players with the Palm and an 8 gig SD is a whole lot of space too work with. The innopocket aluminium case was always the first aftermarket purchase I made; with my T5, it paid for itself in the first week by keeping the screen from shattering on the subway platform.

a_fairb
a_fairb

All my music is ogg which works great on my palm tungsten with Aeroplayer. My wife's music is mp3 for her thumbdrive player. If sandisk support ogg then I won't have to keep mp3 and ogg copies of all the music we both like. She might even learn to upload it herself through Amarok!

seanferd
seanferd

That would be great. I've a Sandisk something-or-other, but it only works with WinXP. Which was really annoying at first because I had no XP machine. Actually, the Sandisk interface on my model could have used a little work, but it wasn't bad. If the current model works with Linux and will play ogg and flac in the future, I just might have to upgrade.

jlwallen
jlwallen

in an upcoming firmware update ogg vorbis and FLAC will both be supported in the Fuze. i just test the most recent update but ogg support isn't in there. hopefully it'll come soon.

jlwallen
jlwallen

iPod is busy locking out Linux from any connection to the devices. recently a lot of developers had to jump through a lot of hoops to get linux to connect to the new gen iPods. and iPhones? the only way to sync an iPhone in any way on Linux is to have a jail broken phone and then sync it wirelessly. honestly the rockbox firmware is far better than the Apple firmware with exception to battery life. but that is only because the Rockbox devs can't get any information on how the software communicates and uses the battery. oh and just try to get an iPod that has been formatted in with the apple filesystem to communicate to Linux. you can mount it but read-only.