Being the owner of an iPod Nano, I was kept from switching to Linux for a long time because there’s no Linux version of iTunes. Then I discovered that the Linux community has worked hard on some good alternatives, and today we’re going to take a look at some of them.

Click on a screenshot to enlarge it.


Banshee screenshot 
Banshee is a music player for the GNOME desktop. Although it looks good, the music library looks somewhat chaotic to me. When you play a song, Banshee connects to the Internet to find related artists and it displays some general song statistics. The player can do basic iPod managing tasks such as adding/removing songs and changing ID3 tags, but it doesn’t support artwork or the “Skip when shuffling” option. Strange, because it displays the artwork associated with a song while playing it. Another bummer is that you can’t put podcasts on your iPod with Banshee even though it has podcast functionality built right into it. Overall, I think it’s a decent music player but it’s not advanced enough to fit the needs of an advanced iPod user.


Amarok screenshot 
Amarok is probably the most popular KDE media players available. It is divided into five parts: Context, Collection, Playlists, Files, Magnatune and Devices. On the Context tab you can see some statistics, enter labels for the track that’s currently playing, and add other music by the same artist to the playing queue. The developers of Amarok have developed an algorithm to automatically calculate ratings for the songs you play. It is based on a number of statistics such as the number of times you’ve played the song and the number of times you listened to the song in its entirety. Neat! On the Collection tab you can browse your song database. Amarok’s media library is shown in Tree View mode by default, which makes it easy to find a particular song. On the Playlists tab you’ll find exactly what you’d expect to find there: playlists. Besides that, all your radio streams and podcasts are being kept here. Amarok has basic podcast functionality, but my experiences with that have been rather negative. On the Devices tab, you can connect to and interact with your iPod, other MP3 players and even USB pen-drives. If you want to send a track to your player, you have to right-click it and select Transfer to Media Device. Amarok will then send the track to the transfer queue. When you’re done selecting songs, right-click the queue and click on the Start Transfer option to send them to your iPod.


gtkpod screenshot 

gtkpod looks like a very simple tool, but don’t be fooled by the way it looks though because it’s a powerful tool. It can do nearly everything that iTunes can: changing artwork, editing ID3 tags, setting the “Skip when shuffling” flag, batch editing and so on. Its major drawbacks? It has no built-in player, no integration, no search and you have to click “Save changes” before it actually writes the changes you made to your iPod. Conclusion: gtkpod is not user-friendly enough for everyday use but if you need to use more advanced features such as “Skip when shuffling”, this is definitely a program you should keep in mind.


Floola screenshot 

Unlike most programs we’ve tested, Floola can be used on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. The developer claims that it’s also compatible with Windows Vista, but I haven’t tested this. Floola has got almost every feature that advanced iPod users need. Podcast support is present, the “Skip when shuffling” feature is implemented, and you can even enter lyrics for every song. Although it isn’t much of a music player, it allows you to play songs off of your iPod. Floola is 100% portable, which means that you can just copy its executable to your iPod and use it on nearly any computer. This program has great potential, but it’s still dealing with all kinds of bugs. For example: Floola failed to fetch updates for my podcast feeds, clicking ‘Edit Smart Playlist’ didn’t do anything and if you leave the album tag empty, Floola will change it to ‘UNKNOWN’. But then again, developing a cross-platform iPod manager must be very hard to do.


YamiPod screenshot 
YamiPod too is available for all major platforms. Similar to Floola, it doesn’t have to be installed so it’s considered to be portable. However, YamiPod insisted that I’d copy a certain library to the /lib folder on my computer and you might not want to do that on someone else’s computer. Its interface looks a lot like Floola but it lacks some features that Floola has. It claims to have podcast functionality, but that looks rather complicated. YamiPod and Floola seem to have more in common than just the interface. Its smart playlist editing feature doesn’t work either and the album tag is also set to ‘UNKNOWN’ if you leave it empty. What’s more important though is that YamiPod can’t add songs to your iPod. If you’re not planning to use it to rip the songs on your iPod to your hard disk, this tool is rather useless.


gPodder screenshot 

First of all: gPodder is not your average iPod manager. It’ll only take care of your podcasts, but I have to say it does the job very well. If you want to, you can instruct gPodder to download all new episodes. The synchronization process works as if you were using iTunes. Everything associated with a podcast (album art and shownotes) are transferred to your iPod along with the podcast itself. It just works. One thing that needs to be worked on is cleanup. You can’t delete separate podcasts on your iPod unless you use a tool like gtkpod. gPodder will allow you to delete all podcasts, but then you’ll have to re-transfer the podcasts you still need to your device.

There’s not really one tool that can do everything you need to manage your iPod. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I prefer gPodder for managing my podcasts while I use gtkpod for adding music to my iPod and editing my library. If you’re not sure which program to pick, download all of them and see what fits your needs best.

  Banshee Amarok gtkpod Floola YamiPod gPodder
Basic information             
Tested version  0.12.1 1.4.5 0.99.8 b39 1.0.2 0.9.1
Website  link link link link link link
Player functionality             
Music playback  yes yes yes(9) yes yes(8) yes(9)
Search  yes yes no(3) yes no(3) no
Podcasts  yes yes no yes no yes
Radio  yes yes no no no no
Playlists  yes yes yes yes(6) yes no
Smart playlists  yes yes yes yes(5) yes(5) no integration  yes yes no yes yes no
Artist recommendations  yes no no no no no
CD burning  yes no no no no no
iPod management             
Adding/removing songs  yes yes yes yes remove only no
Adding/removing songs (DRM)  remove only yes remove only remove only remove only no
ID3 tag editing  yes yes yes yes yes no
Batch ID3 tag editing  yes yes yes no no no
Artwork editing  no yes(4) yes no no no
Playlists  no yes yes yes(6) yes no
Smart playlists  no no yes yes(5) yes(5) no
Podcast support(2) no yes no yes no yes
Audiobook support  no no no no no no
Video support  no no no yes no yes
“Skip when shuffling” setting  no no yes yes no no

(1) In most cases, you can run KDE programs under GNOME. However, keep in mind that if you do this, it will take longer to load the program. This is due to the fact that the KDE libraries aren’t loaded by default when you log in to GNOME. This is also the case if you’re trying to run GNOME programs in KDE.
(2) Refers to writing podcasts to your iPod. Reading them should work with any program that can read regular music files.
(3) Only basic artist/album/genre filtering is implemented.
(4) You can set the album art on album level only, which means that you can’t set a different cover for each track.
(5) It can detect and read smart playlists, but for some reason the edit function doesn’t work. You can’t create smart playlists either.
(6) Floola failed to create a new playlist for some reason.
(7) Floola is written in REALbasic, so it uses its own libraries. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether you use GNOME or KDE because the libraries have to be loaded either way.
(8) A certain library is required for that, see the included readme for instructions.
(9) It doesn’t have an embedded player, but it can launch an external program to play the file.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Pieter De Decker who is the developer of the free USBsyncer and iPodCALsync!