IPod users are raving about a plug-in that makes the Winamp digital jukebox a better way to manage the iPod than Apple's iTunes.
The plug-in, called ml_iPod, allows iPod users to bypass iTunes and manage music collections in Winamp instead. The iPod is supposed to work with iTunes only. A new version of the software was released Monday.
ustin Frankel, creator of Winamp and the open-source peer-to-peer software Gnutella, initially developed ml_iPod, but programming was taken over by Will Fisher, a computer science student in the U.K.
Fisher and other developers programmed a slew of features, including the ability to synch multiple iPods with Winamp, create smart playlists and -- the most useful option -- the ability to copy songs from an iPod onto a hard drive.
"A lot of the feedback I get is people thanking me for freeing them from iTunes," said Fisher. "It shows the dissatisfaction people have with iTunes."
Apple Computer did not respond to several requests for comment.
To prevent iPod users from easily copying vast libraries of songs from computer to computer, Apple forbids tracks from being moved off the iPod -- songs can only be put onto the iPod. In addition, each iPod is associated with a single copy of iTunes. The association can be changed, but only if all songs on the iPod are erased.
Someone who keeps music on her computer at work could fill up her iPod with tracks, take it home and copy the songs onto a home computer using ml_iPod plugin and Winamp.
"I firmly believe you should have the right to transfer your music with any application you like and if this requires software which circumvents DRM (digital rights management), then I don't believe this is ethically wrong," Fisher said. "I trust our users to use this freedom responsibly and to not steal music."
For songs purchased at the iTunes Music Store, which are copy protected by Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme, ml_iPod users must download an application from the Hymn project, which unlocks the copy protection. Then the ml_iPod plug-in must be configured to run the hymn.exe file when it encounters protected files, Fisher explained.
The ml_iPod plug-in has been downloaded half a million times. By comparison, EphPod, a free utility that offers similar functionality, has been downloaded 43,000 times from Download.com.
The plug-in works with all varieties of the iPod, but some users have trouble getting the software to work with the iPod Shuffle. Fisher said there are plans to make the plug-in available for other digital music players.
ITunes for Windows is an approximately 21-MB download. By contrast, Winamp is 4.7 MB and the plug-in only takes up 130 KB of space.
"ITunes takes up a lot of resources on the computer. Winamp is a lot faster," Fisher said. "Indeed, a lot of our users are still using Windows 98, which iTunes doesn't work on."
Feedback about the plug-in is generally enthusiastic.
"Everything is a breeze and the interface is even easier to use than iTunes," wrote Doug Sheffer on a Winamp message board.
"Using it with third-gen iPod and Windows ME," wrote Brian Cape in the Winamp forum. "Absolutely superb, no problems at all. Congratulations and thanks -- I thought I was going to have to upgrade my PC to XP in order to use the iPod." http://www.wired.com...html?tw=rss.TOP