Taking Back My iPod Part 2: Great News! Try GreatNews


So how easy is it to install Rockbox?

A lot easier than it used to be, which was never that difficult anyway. Simply go to rockbox.org and download the installer for your iPod version and run it.

Wait! That’s not the end of it. There’s other stuff too.

The Rockbox utility is pretty much foolproof and will walk you through the install itself and picking any themes you want to install for the user interface and choosing what games you want to install too, if any. Personally I gave the games a miss I was only interested in using my iPod as an iPod but the installer holds your hand and does everything for you.

Once installed if you switch on your iPod it will boot into Rockbox very, very quickly, if you want to boot into the Apple firmware then switch it on and slide the hold button to the on position and it will boot Apple for you. Rather slowly as usual.

Another thing you’ll notice now is that whenever you use the Safe Removal tool in Windows to disconnect the USB device, it will be ready for removal really quickly whereas it used to take a very long time before. Obviously iTunes is not synching the database any more and like I said, your iPod is essentially a hard drive with a UI and a headphone socket so you can now remove it really quickly.

In fact the only thing I’m currently still using iTunes and the Apple firmware for is videos. I deleted everything out of iTunes apart from 4 films that I keep on there for the kids when we’re on holiday to play throught the TV out lead.

Rockbox does support video but not the standard iPod format which is a weird one anyway. It claims to play several formats including mpgs but some of the ones I tried didn’t work, but I haven’t looked into the video side of rockbox too much yet because I rarely use the facility anyway, but I will look into it at some point.

Once you’re up and running you can play around with the themes and pick out one you like, then you can customise it further still by changing things like the font type and the font size and changing various colours like the font and the background.

There are tons of settings you can alter and you can do it all live in the interface very easily. If you want to get a bit more technical you can edit the config files using the built in text editor which works surprisingly well given the limited input options of the iPod. I edited the Now Playing screen as by default it showed the Next Track in the album or Playlist, and when I increased the font size this didn’t quite fit on the screen and half the text was missing so I just removed the lines from the config file that configured the Next Track option and it stopped showing.

So it’s time to go full circle then and look at the reason I was using iTunes in the first place and what my alternatives are now for Podcasts.

Podcasts, and in particular my own podcast were the reason I used iTunes, but now that I had taken back my iPod how was I going to get podcasts from the Internet and on to my iPod quickly and easily and without missing any?

The final solution would have to satisfy these criteria

(1) It would have to check the rss feeds so I wouldn’t have to go to each site to download episodes.
(2) It would have to run portably so I could copy it to my iPod and run it on any PC I was using.

There were three main contenders here
• Mozilla Thunderbird Portable
• Juice Portable
• GreatNews

The Thunderbird E-mail has a portable version and will act as an rss reader but it is primarily an email client. It did work when I tried it, but the main problem was that it wouldn’t tell me which rss feeds had new episodes until I clicked on them all and that was annoying.

Next up was juice which I have used for a long time in the past and which works very we’ll, and it now has a portable version in Beta. When I tried it, it did the job. The trouble is, Juice goes right ahead and downloads all new episodes which I didn’t always want, and it puts episodes from each feed into a separate folder which made it slightly annoying when playing them back on my iPod.

Step right up GreatNews then which I had never heard of before doing a Google search for portable rss readers. GreatNews has a very similar interface to most rss readers bu it works better than Thunderbird in this instance. It’s very fast, very lightweight, and unlike Thunderbird it shows which feeds have got new episodes straight away so you click on the feed in the left pane, and then in the right pane  select the mp3 file and save it to your podcast folder. Very easy, very portable and very simple. Like all good readers it supports importing opml files with all your feeds in and when you add a new feed it will check your clipboard to see if you have one copied there, and if you do it will paste it in for you.

Overall then I like the ease with which my iPod works now, I love not being bound to iTunes and its limitations and sluggishness, and I like not having to keep a media library just so I can sync with it. I’ve taken back my iPod, so, Great News. Try Rockbox and GreatNews.

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