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Evaluating alternative iPod management software

Yesterday SimpleHelp.net posted 10 Alternatives to iTunes for managing your iPod. (They have since been dugg and their website is down. Bummer. You can still see the guts of the article from the Google cache.)

At my work location iTunes is verboten, so I’m all for exploring other ways to manage my iPod, or at least to play the tunes off of it while I’m at work. Here are my basic requirements:

  • It needs to run smoothly. (Duh.)
  • It needs to be Windows-based. (No Macs or Linux boxes here.)
  • It needs to support the AAC audio format. I’ve got a bunch of .m4c files on my iPod.
  • It shouldn’t be a system hog.

Nice to have’s would include portability, support for Last.FM and the ability to copy songs off the iPod back to the PC.

There are 5 alternatives on the SimpleHelp site that are available for the Windows platform. Here are my reviews of them:

Floola

This was the first one, and at first glance was a strong contender. It has support for Last.FM, is portable, and has a pretty nice UI. Once I got it installed, though, I found some issues. Even though it appears to support proxy servers, I never could get it to talk to Last.FM. Secondly, the thing was a system hog – regularly freezing up for 30 – 60 seconds at a time when I tried to do anything. No thanks. And then the kicker: no support for AAC. Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs -> Uninstall.

MediaMonkey

Gave this one a try next. The install was quick, the software came up quickly, and it immediately recognized my iPod. Off to a good start! Didn’t seem to hog the system too much. Tried to play an AAC file… no joy. Skipped three albums in the playlist before it got to one that was .mp3 format. So much for that. Uninstall.

Songbird

When I downloaded this one, it warned me that it was just a developer’s version, that there isn’t an official release of Songbird yet. Well, I’m brave, so I gave it a try. This is definitely the slickest one yet – good graphics all the way around (icons, skins, etc). This one is built on the Mozilla browser platform, so it has way more overhead than a player really should – about 60 MB installed. Then I had to install a plugin to get it to recognize my iPod. Once I got the plugin installed, it found the iPod fine, but then I had to wait for it to load the library. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

It must have taken Songbird about 45 minutes to load the library information from my 25 GB media library. Still, if that was a one-time startup thing, I can live with it. And it appears that it is – though who knows if it’ll have to do a full library re-scan when I change something? No telling. I was about sold on Songbird until I actually started playing music from it. AAC support? Yep. But as I played the songs, it hiccuped my audio on a fairly regular basis – every 15 seconds or so. This wasn’t due to CPU spiking – I had plenty of free CPU left – so there must be some inefficiency in the program itself. Uninstall.

SharePod

The UI on this one appears to be a lot more barebones than some of the other contenders. The sorting options are bad; you can sort only by one field at a time (artist, album, etc), but then it doesn’t sort below that. For instance, I can sort by artist to get all of U2 grouped together… but then there’s no guarantee that the U2 albums will be grouped together. Given that I’m a guy who likes to listen to a whole album at a time, this is no good for me. Still, I should give it a try, right?

So I gave it a whirl with some .mp3-formatted files. The sound was OK, the playback controls simple but marginally adequate. Then I went to AAC. It won’t play AAC. Not only that, it doesn’t give you an error, or skip the tracks, or anything – it just sits there on the file and acts like it wants to play it, but it won’t play it. Unacceptable. Uninstall. Wait, don’t have to uninstall – this one is totally portable. Thank God for small mercies.

YamiPod

I left this one for last because it wasn’t new to me – I’ve been running YamiPod for a few years now, but only for the ability to be able to pull files back off the iPod onto the PC. I’m not real find of the UI, but it works, which is way more than I can say for some of these I’ve evaluated.

I haven’t actually tried to play anything back on it until just now. So let’s give it a try.

Amazing. It won’t play any of the files. What’s going on? Controls seem unresponsive, it’s not playing anything back. Well phooey on that. At least it’s portable, and it’ll copy files off the iPod neatly. I’ll keep it around just for that.

Winamp
Winamp hasn’t been allowed on my office network computers for at least 5 years.

Conclusions:

Each of these alternative players has their strong and weak points, but when it comes down do it, none of them were good enough for me to use as a regular player. I will keep waiting for the Windows version of Amarok; right now it’s Linux-only, but there’s a Windows version coming, and Dan swears that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Until then, I’ll keep using Foobar2000. It doesn’t manage my iPod; I have to point it to the Control directory of the iPod and then have it just search for files. But it plays consistently, manages playlists nicely, and has a Last.FM plugin. So, it’s a keeper. And I guess I’ll keep using iTunes at home. It’s a resource hog sometimes, but it does what it needs to.

One Comment

  1. I can’t say I like sliced bread all that much, but Amarok on Linux is my player of choice by a long, long, long shot.

    And I’ve tried Songbird before, as well, though they seem to be struggling at actually getting a usable build to market.

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