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Apple's iPod comes to Linux

Windows users have recently been given access to the popular Macintosh music player, iPod, and now Linux users may soon be able to take a bite out of Apple Computer's gadget.

Windows users have recently been given access to the popular Macintosh music player, iPod, and now Linux users may soon be able to take a bite out of Apple Computer's gadget.

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Last week, tex9, a small software-development company in San Francisco, began beta testing an iPod plug-in for its xtunes music player software, which is itself a Linux clone of Apple's iTunes. The plug-in will, tex9 promises, allow drag-and-drop access to iPod, which holds up to 10GB of music.

Tex9 did not announce when it expects the software to be out of the testing stage. When it's released, it will be sold for a "minimal" charge, while xtunes will remain free. This pricing strategy has been followed by a number of open-source developers, notably Ximian, which gives away its Evolution e-mail software but sells a connector allowing it to communicate with Microsoft Exchange servers.

"The price of the xtunes iPod plug-in is minimal, but the proceeds will allow us to continue to make quality free and commercial Unix software," the company said in a statement.

Apple released the iPod last October, and the device immediately made an impact on users, with its sleek shirt-pocket design and large song capacity. The device was intended for Mac users, both as a lure to the platform and as a reinforcement to Apple's strategy of positioning the Mac as the hub of a digital lifestyle.

Ever since, developers have been working on opening iPod up to other platforms. Several solutions have now begun to appear for Windows users, notably XPlay from Mediafour and a new version of MacOpener from DataViz.

The iPod is essentially a portable hard drive, and most connector software allows it to be accessed as such, as well as enabling song transfer directly from a music program. Tex9 has not yet released details of how its plug-in will work.

Linux users--like Windows users--will face more than simple software hurdles. The iPod connects to a PC via FireWire, which is omnipresent on Macs but has been shunned on the PC platform in favor of the emerging--and license-free--USB 2.0. As a result, users who want to use the iPod on a non-Mac computer will also need to buy a FireWire controller if they don't already have one. Sony's Vaio line is one of the few to include FireWire, using the i.Link brand name.

Users keen to try tex9's plug-in may face yet another challenge, since the company recommends installing the latest Linux kernel, or core. This can be a daunting procedure for the less technically adept. Tex9 recommends the 2.4.19 kernel, while the latest distributions generally use the 2.4.18 version. Linux users running slightly older distributions, such as SuSE Linux version 7.3, may be running kernel version 2.4.10 or earlier.

Toshiba is releasing an iPod-like device aimed at PC users. The Gigabeat MEG50JS is slightly larger than the iPod and contains a removable PC card hard drive. The gadget connects to a PC via USB 2.0, which is slightly faster than FireWire, but since it cannot charge through the connection, it uses a separate power cable.

ZDNet U.K.'s Matthew Broersma reported from London.