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Software makers expand iPod capabilities

On display at next week's Macworld Expo will be a program that lets the iPod connect to a Windows-based PC and another that allows contacts to be stored on the device.

Although Apple Computer has deliberately not opened the iPod to outside software developers, several enterprising companies are nonetheless finding ways to augment the pocket-size MP3 player.

Such innovations will be on display at next week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, including a program that lets the iPod connect to a Windows-based PC and another program that allows contacts and other data to be stored on the iPod.

Apple may well release its own method of allowing the iPod to work with Windows-based PCs, but software maker Mediafour is hoping to beat it to the punch with Xplay, which is currently available for free in test form. The tiny West Des Moines, Iowa-based company hopes to have a final version ready in February.

Mediafour representatives plan to meet with the press at Macworld in an effort to get the word out that PC owners can go ahead and buy an iPod and know there will be a way to make the device speak Windows.

"It's real," a Mediafour representative said. "It's not vaporware."

Xplay requires iPod owners to have a PC that features a FireWire port and works with the Windows 98 Second Edition, 2000, Me or XP operating systems.

Apple left open the possibility of making the iPod compatible with Windows when it introduced the $399 music player in October, but has not yet announced any plans to do so. Of course, Apple CEO Steve Jobs could always make his own iPod news during his keynote speech Monday.

Meanwhile, ProVue Development, maker of a database program called Panorama, has come up with a way to make text-based information available on the iPod. The software works by storing the data as a tiny MP3 file. For example, it sorts contacts into categories that appear under the artist menu of the iPod. It then stores the name of a contact as an album and the phone number or e-mail address as the song title.

James Rea, president of the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company, said he read about Mac owners adding text to their iPod on the enthusiast site Macintouch and realized he could use his database software to automate the task.

"It seems like we've hit a nerve," Rea said, adding that the company's Web site has been bombarded since it posted its plans for the Panorama iPod Organizer software late this week. ProVue plans to introduce the software later this month for $19.95.

The software does not require any tinkering with the iPod itself, Provue said, and text information will take up a trivial amount of the iPod's memory. According to the company, storing 1,000 contacts will use less than 0.1 percent of an iPod's hard drive.

ProVue was one of the first software developers for the Mac, introducing its OverVue database shortly after the introduction of the Mac in 1984.