Apple is notorious for enslaving its users to its own proprietary music library software. Given that iTunes is functional, intuitive and free, this isn't much of an issue for most users. iTunes is available to both Windows and Mac OS users, but when it comes to Linux, you'll have to use something else. In the past, iPod users were forced to boot into Windows or OS X in order to sync their Apple devices. The release of Ubuntu 10.4 aims to end all of that.
Ubuntu 10.4 Lucid Lynx introduced native support for the iPhone and iPod Touch support. Unfortunately, while this is a major step forward for Linux users, you can't delete that copy of iTunes off your machine just yet.
Syncing Your iOS Device in Ubuntu 10.4 and Later
If you are running Ubuntu 10.4, there should be nothing else you need to do in order to get support for your iOS device. However, at the time of this article, there has been a reported issue of being unable to connect your iPhone after upgrading to iOS 4.2. If you encounter this, all you need to do is upgrade your libimobiledevices package.
To do this, first add the pmcenery PPA. Open up Terminal and type in
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pmcenery/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
This will bring you to the latest version of libimobiledevices and should correct the error message: “Unable to mount iPhone_ org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.NoReply DBus error: MESSAGE DID NOT RECEIVE A REPLY (TIMEOUT MESSAGE BY BUS)”
Now, when you launch Rhythmbox, you should see your iPhone appear under Devices.
Ubuntu iPod/iPhone Advantages and Limitations
The obvious advantages of working with Rhythmbox in Ubuntu for your iPod or iPhone is that you no longer have to use iTunes for most of your syncing needs. The key word there is most. With Linux, you can add and remove songs, playlists and podcasts—and even copy media from your iPhone and save it to your computer—using Rhythmbox. Plus, there are no limitations on how many computers you can sync your iPhone to.
However, you won't have access to the iTunes store. Rhythmbox comes with Jamendo and Magnatune built-in. And as an iTunes store alternative, it has Ubuntu One, a paid music store run by Canonical.
Syncing apps and contacts is also beyond the capabilities of Ubuntu at this time. Luckily, you can get apps directly on your phone, though to back them up, you will need to plug in to iTunes. As for contacts, Ubuntu is pushing it's new Ubuntu One mobile app as a solution. However, this costs $3.99 a month.
Rhythmbox is also fairly limited in terms of podcast discovery and subscription management. Mostly, you just end up copying and pasting podcast feeds to subscribe.
The good news is that Ubuntu iPhone and iPod support isn't limited to Rhythmbox. You can use the libimobiledevices package to access your iPod or iPhone in Banshee, Clementine or any other Ubuntu music library software.
The potential is certainly there, and the success thus far is very promising. While you can't completely walk away from iTunes just yet, you can now easily manage music and podcasts in the operating system of your choice.