Once upon a time, the only way to add songs and other multimedia to your iPod or iPhone was through iTunes. But now, a number of contenders have entered the ring to challenge iTunes' claim to the music library throne. One of the most interesting alternatives to iTunes to emerge recently is Rhythmbox. Rhythmbox has been the default music library for Ubuntu for years, but only since Ubuntu 10.4, Lucid Lynx, has this popular Linux distribution supported iPhone and iPod syncing natively.
So, should you stick with iTunes? Or can you get everything you need for your iPod using Rhythmbox in Linux? This review will help you answer that question.
User Interface – Winner: iTunes
iTunes looks very nice. Everything that Apple looks nice. Apple pioneered the spotlight, the artist browser and practically every other UI element you'll see in an iTunes alternative software. And they still do it best. Rhythmbox, on the other hand, has practically everything iTunes has—but it just doesn't look quite as slick. In fact, placed side-by-side, Rhythmbox looks like an off-brand version of iTunes. Which, when it comes to the user interface, it is.
Device Compatibility – Winner: iTunes
Obviously, iTunes is going to win here. iTunes is the official software for the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad and it's going to work best for these devices. The Ubuntu alternatives, on the other hand, are occasionally a step behind when Apple updates the iOS platform. For example, Ubuntu 10.4 wasn't ready for iOS 4.2 when it first came out, though this compatibility issue has since been fixed.
Music Store – Winner: Tie
iTunes is the original music store, and it still remains appealing for its absolutely vast selection of music, movies, podcasts, TV episodes and more. But many come away from iTunes with a bad taste in their mouthes, either from the high prices, short samples or their revenue sharing policy with artists.
Ubuntu's pre-installed version of Rhythmbox seems to speak directly to all of the arguments against iTunes except one: selection. The Ubuntu One music store is a paid music service just like iTunes, but it's pickin's are decidedly slimmer. It's prices are comparable. But what really opens the door in Rhythmbox is the support for other music stores, like Jamendo and Magnatune. These are more artist-friendly music stores, with lots of free content and more equitable profit sharing with musicians. Rhythmbox also supports Amazon MP3, which has a great selection and competitive prices.
App Store – Winner: iTunes
This one is easy. Rhythmbox doesn't support syncing, browsing or purchasing of apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Sorry.
Access to Data – Winner: Rhythmbox
Apple has always been a bit funny about what they let you do with your phone or iPod, even though you paid for it and you own it. For example, you cannot use iTunes to copy MP3s, podcasts other multimedia from your iPod or iPhone to your computer. Furthermore, you cannot sync an iPhone to more than one iTunes library. This can be a massive pain, especially if you have more than one computer—which many of us do, particularly if you have a work computer and a home computer.
Rhythmbox is decidedly less picky. You can copy songs to and from your iPhone or iPod without any fuss. And at no point does Rhythmbox ask you to authorize your iPhone. And unlike with iTunes, synching your iPhone to a new computer with Rhythmbox won't erase all of your data.
Rhythmbox doesn't do it all. There are some big, big gaps in its capabilities that are going to matter most to iOS device users. But for basic management of songs and podcasts, it does the trick. It may not be a good idea to delete iTunes and uninstall Windows or OS X just yet, but for day-to-day iPod syncing, Rhythmbox will take care of you.