Practical Technology

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An open alternative for Palm Pre iTunes users


Apple will tell you that iTunes 8.2.1 fixes bugs and, in particular, improves interoperability with iPhones and iPod Touches running iPhone 3.0 Software. But, it really it only has one ‘feature:’ It blocks the Palm Pre’s iTunes compatibility. KDE thinks there’s another way.

But, just to get this out of the way, I’m now running iTunes 8.2.1 on my Windows PCs and Macs, including both a Tiger and a Leopard Mac OS X system. If there’s anything noteworthy about the new iTunes on any of these systems, I haven’t seen it yet. It certainly doesn’t seem to have mattered in the least to my 1st generation iPod Touches or my Apple TV.

As far as I can tell, the only thing it really does is prevent Palm Pre’s from talking to iTunes. I’m not a Pre fan, but if I were a Pre user I certainly would want iTunes compatibility. Or, at least, something that works like iTunes. Apple, however, isn’t going to let me have it.

Indeed, as Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris told BusinessWeek about the new iTunes release: “It also disables devices falsely pretending to be iPods, including the Palm Pre. As we’ve said before, newer versions of Apple’s iTunes software may no longer provide syncing functionality with unsupported digital media players.”

Those are fighting words! If Palm tries to work their way around this, they can count on Apple, at the least, keeping the Pre iTunes free with yet another ‘update.’ At the worse, they could have the ‘pleasure’ of facing Apple in court. And, in any case, their users aren’t going to be happy with on-again/off-again iTunes support.

This is no surprise really. Apple has always been about controlling everything in its user experience. In Steve Jobs’ ideal world, we’d all be running Macs, listening to music on iPods, and watching television on Apple TVs. There’s no room here for Apple compatible devices.

There is another way. KDE, a popular Linux desktop environment, developers are encouraging Pre to abandon trying to work with uncooperative Apple and use KDE’s Amarok 2 media player instead. They’re quite serious.

Bart Cerneels, aka Stecchino, a KDE developer, wrote on his blog, “We can quickly add support for the Palm Pre, or any other player, providing there is a way to access the database and we have documentation of the data-format. We already have iPod and MTP support and the same system is used to implement audio CD as a collection. iPhone OS 3.0 is being worked on as well as UMS (generic USB device) and OBEX (many cellphones).”

He continued, “We promise not to change our application to prevent users to use Amarok with your device. Not only do we care about our users, we are not a competitor to you or have any ulterior motives. Amarok is already fully supported on all flavors of Linux and we have beta releases on Windows and Mac OSX which just need a bit of polishing and stabilization.”

Much as I like iTunes, you have to admit, especially if you’re Palm or any other phone or hand-held device maker, that the Amarok offer should be taken seriously. After all, you’re in the business of selling full-featured devices, not playing software catch-up. Wouldn’t you rather have an open platform that would just work for your customers without worries? I know I would.

Thinks about it folks.