Best iPod-compatible iTunes alternatives

CNET's Donald Bell rounds up his favorite iPod-compatible software alternatives to Apple's iTunes jukebox.

iTunes logo crossed out

For better or worse, buying an iPod also means committing to Apple's iTunes software. Apple's seamless combination of hardware, software, and online store has made it many fans, but for some folks, the iTunes way of doing things feels unbearably confining.

If you love your iPod, but can't stand being tied to iTunes, there are some compelling and capable Mac and PC iTunes alternatives that can sync with your iPod. Depending on your iPod model, you'll probably still need to keep iTunes around for firmware updates, video purchases, games, and some advanced features (calendar syncing, for instance), but there's no reason you can't sync your music and podcasts using a different program.

Each of the following media jukeboxes has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. This list isn't meant to be comprehensive (by all means, add your own suggestions in the comments section), I'm just taking an opportunity to highlight my personal favorites. Also, every application listed here is free, so there's no reason not to try them all and see what sticks.

Screen shot of Media Monkey.
Media Monkey is a control freak's dream come true.

Media Monkey
http://www.mediamonkey.com/
(Download Media Monkey from Download.com)

Ideal user: File hoarders, control freaks, meticulous taggers, boutique format users (FLAC, Ogg), people with messy collections.

    Pros
  • Ideal for large, scattered collections
  • Advanced tagging features and auto tagging
  • Supports iPhone 3G and iPod Touch 2G
  • Copy songs from iPod to computer
  • Album art lookup
  • Skinnable
  • Podcast catcher
  • Plug-ins
  • Generate HTML reports
    Cons
  • Overwhelming for nontech users
  • Doesn't manage videos
  • No Mac version
  • Folder monitoring requires upgrade to Gold ($20)

Screen shot of SharePod.
Like Floola, SharePod launches directly from your iPod and offers utilitarian control over managing and backing up your iPod's tunes.

SharePod
http://www.getsharepod.com/
(Download SharePod from Download.com)

Ideal user: Anyone lacking administrative rights on a work or loaner computer who wants a basic way to manage and backup their iPod without installing an application.

    Pros
  • Launches directly from your iPod
  • iPhone and iPod Touch compatibility
  • Copy songs from iPod to computer
  • Advanced tagging capabilities
  • Basic video management
  • Exports iPod contents to iTunes (including ratings and playlists)
  • Drag-and-drop operation
  • Friendly GUI for the technologically timid
  • Backs up and restores your entire iPod
    Cons
  • Windows only
  • No podcast management
  • No CD ripping or burning
  • No photo import
  • Too basic for demanding users

Screen shot of Winamp.
Ten years of development has made Winamp an impressive iTunes adversary.

Winamp
http://www.winamp.com/
(Download Winamp from Download.com)

Ideal user: Perfect for people who crave lots of features and flexibility from their jukebox. Especially good for Internet radio fans.

    Pros
  • Tons of integrated streaming radio channels (shoutCast, AOL, CBS)
  • Multiple folder monitoring
  • Flash video support
  • Multiple language support
  • Auto-tagging function for cleaning up your music collection
  • Ability to stream music collection remotely
  • Skins and plug-ins
  • Copies media from iPod to computer
  • Visualizer
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Podcast lookup and catcher
  • Song recommendations
  • Album art lookup
    Cons
  • You'll need to upgrade to Winamp Pro ($20) for speedy and flexible ripping, burning, and encoding
  • Overwhelming layout (not everyone wants to fiddle with skins)
  • Deep features may confuse some users
  • No photo management
  • No Mac version

Screen shot of Songbird.
Songbird's clean interface integrates free music downloads from around the Web, as well as local concert listings.

Songbird
http://getsongbird.com/
(Download Songbird from Download.com)

Ideal user: Music addicts, hipsters, concertgoers, file hoarders, people who often jump between Mac and PC.

    Pros
  • Mac/PC compatible
  • Free music downloads integrated and continually refreshed from Hype Machine
  • Attractive GUI (also skinnable)
  • Plug-in support (Flickr, Last.fm, Lyrics, etc.)
  • Integrated Shoutcast Internet radio
  • Built-in Web browser
  • Concert listings
  • Attractive GUI
    Cons
  • No multifolder monitor, yet (February '09)
  • No CD ripping or burning
  • No video or photo management
  • Doesn't support iPhone, Touch, or 4G Nano
  • No Podcasts

Screen shot of Floola.
Floola launches directly from your iPod and works with Mac, PC and Linux.

Floola
http://www.floola.com
(Download Floola from Download.com)

Ideal user: Nomads, the Internet cafe crowd, anyone working on a computer without admin rights for installing applications.

    Pros
  • Mac/PC/Linux compatible
  • Launches from iPod
  • Manages videos, photos
  • Converts videos from Web
  • Copy songs from iPod to computer
  • Last.fm scrobble support
  • Converts music formats on the fly
  • Drag and drop operation
  • Podcast catcher with auto-delete management
  • Multifolder synchronization
    Cons
  • Doesn't support latest iPod Touch or iPhone
  • Not the prettiest thing to look at
  • No CD ripping or burning
  • Solicits donations every time you close the application

 

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