About a year ago, I started toying with the idea of getting an MP3 player: I’d recently taken up jogging (and I’m still doing it, a year later), and jogging is really boring. But after toying with the idea for a while, I gave it up, because none of the available players seemed to have a convincing set of features for the price I wanted. Fortunately, however, I won an iPod yesterday at a holiday party at work, and a free iPod definitely scores well on both features and price.

To be honest, my experience so far has been a bit mixed. For now, I’m putting off getting it to work under Linux: I’m controlling it via Apple’s iTunes software on Windows. Installing the software was reasonably straightforward, but there were a few glitches, like the time when the iPod installer wanted me to reboot my computer while the iTunes installer (which had been started by the iPod installer) was merrily chugging away. And once I had all that installed, I then downloaded a software upgrade for the iPod itself; after I’d done that, I wondered if that upgrade was solely for the purpose of preventing me from buying songs from Real Networks. Which I certainly have philosophical obejctions to, though it won’t make a practical difference since I don’t plan to buy songs in non-CD formats from anybody…

The software itself mostly works well, but there are some strange glitches. When I first put in a CD, it happily (and fairly quickly) converted the contents into MP3s. But then I ejected the CD and put in another one, and it refused to acknowledge that I’d changed CDs. I went through all the menus, and I can’t figure out what I should have done: there doesn’t seem to be a “look at the damn CD drive” option anywhere. So, for now, I’m exiting iTunes and reentering it every time I change CDs.

Also, I initially told iTunes not to automatically sync my hard drive with the iPod: my hard drive actually has less space than the iPod (it’s only a 20GB iPod, but it’s a two-year-old laptop with most of the disk space devoted to Linux), and I certainly want to be able to delete music from the laptop without deleting them from the iPod. The software has an option to let you manage the synchronization manually, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work; so I gave up and turned on automatic synchronization. (Which still seems not to be completely automatic: it turns on when I either start iTunes or plug in the iPod, but not after I’ve just ripped a CD.) Very strange.

And then today it was only managing to rip CDs at about 1-1.5x, instead of the 4-5x that I got yesterday! I have no idea what’s up with that, but it’s really annoying – it’s bad enough to have to ever boot Windows on this machine, but to be stuck in Windows when I’d much rather be using Linux just sucks.

My iPod isn’t just a normal iPod, either, it’s a U2 Special Edition one. Woo-hoo. So it’s a less attractive black and red, has signatures on the back, and comes with a $50 coupon (valid only for 120 days) on a $150 music purchase that I have no desire to make. I’m not actively against U2 – if it, say, came preloaded with U2 music, then I wouldn’t actually delete it, and I still have a few of their CDs that I bought in high school – but I can’t say that I appreciate being turned into an ad for the band.

All grumbling aside, I do think I’ll like it a lot. It’s nice and small; it’s denser than I expected, but is still quite light enough that I should be able to jog with it fine. The user interface for the machine itself looks pretty good. I’ll have to go out and buy a carrying case, and maybe a remote for it. And maybe a 4-pin to 6-pin firewire connector – my laptop only has USB1 and 4-pin firewire, while the iPod prefers USB2 or 6-pin firewire, though the speed of the USB1 connection hasn’t been a problem for now, given that ripping the CDs is by far the limiting stage involved in getting music into the machine.

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