Since the birth of the iPod in 2001, Apple has released generation after generation of new iPods packed with exciting feature updates. The problem is that your not-so-old iPod probably feels like it's drifted into obsolescence. Sure they both still play music, but take a look at a first gen iPod next to an iPod touch and it's not hard to understand where I'm coming from. Rather than pony up for a shiny new MP3 player, consider installing the open-source MP3 player firmware Rockbox on your current player first. Rockbox just hit a new release, and it's never been easier to supercharge your MP3 player, from iPods and irivers to Archos and SanDisk players.
What You Get
First, let's take a closer look at what you get when you install Rockbox. I'm using an iPod Photo in my example, so your device may vary. Be sure to check the list of supported devices to see if your MP3 player supports Rockbox.
First, Rockbox comes with a crapload of games. Apart from Doom and Sudoku (pictured above), you can expect all the standards like solitaire and and jewels (aka, Bejeweled).
You also get applications, like a text editor Rocktext, calculator, timer, and even a metronome. Even better, Rockbox supports custom themes that look incredible. Here's a quick look at a few of my favorites:
One of the biggest features in the 3.0 release of Rockbox is the new Rockbox Utility, an automated installation tool for Rockbox that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. With the Rockbox Utility, installing Rockbox is a no-brainer.
I'm using the Windows version in the screenshots below. I haven't tried the Mac or Linux installers, but the steps are likely very similar. Here's how it works:
When you first launch the Rockbox Utility, you'll be prompted with a configuration menu. While this five-tabbed menu seems a touch daunting, the only thing most of us need to do is set the device in the first tab. Once you pick the right one, just hit OK.
I'm assuming this is the first time you've installed Rockbox on this player, so at this point just hit the Complete Installation button and let the Rockbox Utility do its work.
Now just watch as Rockbox Utility sucks down all the latest and greatest files necessary to install Rockbox on your device. As the files are downloaded, they're also automatically installed to your device—so there's really nothing you have to do. When the installation is complete, you'll see one message that looks like an error informing you that the Rockbox theme site is currently being reworked, so you'll need to install themes manually for the time being. Don't worry, though, because Rockbox is now officially installed, and all you have to do is unplug your device and start it back up. When you do, you'll boot straight into Rockbox.
As the error message above indicates, the Rockbox Utility doesn't yet streamline installation of themes. (When it does, you'll do it through the utility by simply clicking the Install Themes button in the extras tab of the Rockbox Utility.) In the meantime, here's how to install themes yourself:
First, head to the Rockbox theme gallery and follow a link to themes made specifically for your device. From there, just find and download a theme you like. When you unzip the download, you'll see a
.rockbox folder. All you have to do to install the theme is open your MP3 player as a drive inside My Computer, then drag and drop that folder to the same folder on your device that already contains a
.rockbox folder. In fact, you can copy them to whatever folder you want on your player's file system, from what I can tell. All you need to do to apply a theme is browse for the theme when you're running Rockbox and then launch the WPS file (it'll be in a folder named WPS).
Who Needs a New iPod?
As you can see, Rockbox provides a simple tool to give your drab old MP3 player stunning new looks and functionality—and I haven't even mentioned that Rockbox can play back virtually any file type you're likely to want to play. Score a big one for free, open-source software.