Rotting Fruit In My Car

I recently have acquired an ipod classic (80gb) for use with the head unit in my car. Up until now, I had been my Rockbox powered Clip+ through an aux jack. And while this works decently well, it was kind of a pain to navigate to different songs/albums while driving due to the small screen size of the Clip+. I also have a Clip Zip with Rockbox installed but, while it does have a slightly larger screen and more storage, it hasn’t been very stable for me. Especially when using a microSD card with it whereas the Clip+ has been rock solid.

So yeah, I now have a crApple product in my possession. :(

The main reason I wanted the ipod was that the head unit in my car is ipod compatible, meaning you can plug it in and control it with the head unit. Plus, using the Clip+ through the aux jack on my stereo meant having a cord hanging off the front of it. And while I could mostly tuck the cord out of the way, it still got in the way at times. This particular stereo has a cable out of the back that you plug the ipod into, which I have run to my glovebox. Everything is out of the way this way and since it’s controlled via the stereo, you don’t need to actually mess with the device. Also, the ipod will charge as it’s plugged in, I had no such option with the Clip+.

So, the first couple of days, I used the device as is to get a feel of how well it worked with the default firmware. I did notice that there is a Rockbox port for this ipod although, it is classified as “unusable/unstable”. Still, being the freedom loving geek that I am, I wanted to give it a spin anyway. So, I set about getting it installed. As there isn’t a proper Rockbox bootloader for this device, it uses EmCORE to load Rockbox on it. Following the install directions, I was able to get it installed fairly easily.

I will say that Rockbox on this ipod is pretty fantastic, certainly a huge step up from the original apple firmware, even with it being “unstable”. Suddenly, this became the (almost) perfect portable music player, great hardware running great firmware. So, after tossing a handful of tunes on it, I took it out to the car to see how it fared. And, unsurprisingly, it did a good job although it now lost the ability to be controlled via the head unit. Of course though, I was expecting this. I imagine that there is some proprietary api there that allows for the ipod to be controlled remotely that isn’t in Rockbox. But, for a couple of days, I gave this a spin.

With the ipod plugged in, it would play tunes via the car stereo just fine, and keep charged. I did re-run the cable for it so that I could reach the device from the drivers seat. I loaded the DriveBox theme which really helped with visibility. Overall, this was very usable and a decent experience. But, it did miss the main reason I wanted the ipod in the first place, controllable via the head unit.

So, I fired up a virtualbox install of XP, installed itunes (which is my most hated piece of software on the planet) and set about restoring the ipod with apple firmware. And crap, it would start to restore the firmware but, I could never get it complete. It’d stop halfway and that’d be it. I fired up win7 virtualbox install and tried there as well but it ended up with the same result. Crap. Now the ipod was soft-bricked. I attempted to get Rockbox back on it so that it was usable again and it was having issues installing as well. After many hours, and taking some risks on permanently bricking it (not going into details but, at one point, the ipod video 80gb mbr got flashed onto my device, which actually helped get Rockbox back on it…) I still had a mostly dead device.

Frustration and self-pity set in for messing with it in the first place, should have just left it alone. After kicking myself in the ass for a bit, I did some more interweb searching to see if I could get it restored.

I had a feeling that trying to do the restore through virtualbox was the issue. I damn near called a buddy of mine who runs OSX to see if I could bring it over and try the restore on his mac. (certainly didn’t want to do that, the last thing a Linux geek wants to do is call a non-Linux geek for help…) But first, I decided to mess with the virtualbox USB settings again. I had previously tried setting some USB filters in the VM settings however, the filters had been setup fairly detailed. Somewhere I read that setting up a basic filter would help. So, I added a new USB filter with only the Vendor ID of 05ac filled in. Also, I enabled the USB 2.0 Controller as it wasn’t enabled previously.

screenshot VB settings

This time, when I attempted the restore, it worked. w00t! Now I had the crappy, restrictive crApple firmware back in place. :) :/

So, now it’s time to get music on the device. Certainly not as easy than it was with Rockbox which is just a drag and drop operation to get tunes on there. There are a few different options for syncing a i-device on Linux. Considering I run KDE, I’ve got Amarok installed so that has been my first choice. Syncing music over to the device has been fairly painless with Amarok, it’ll covert files as needed, you can create playlists on the device, edit tags, etc. Works nicely. One thing that Amarok will not do for me is scrobble my plays to my GNUFM install. But, there is an easy solution for that as well. QTScrobbler works great for scrobbling plays from both Rockbox powered devices and iTuneDB based devices. And, it’ll scrobble to last.fm, libre.fm, and custom locations. Perfect!

So, in the end, convenience (and safety to be honest) won out over device liberation. And yet, that’s what freedom gives you, sometimes, you just have to choose what works best for the application. ;)


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