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I'm in the market for a new portable mp3-player, and will be connecting it mostly to a Linux box, but occasionally to a Windows Vista machine as well. I'm wondering what qualities I should be looking for in a music player that suggest good out of the box Linux support. Having struggled to get my iPod to play nicely with Linux on a consistent basis, I'm hoping that I can find something that offers better native Linux support.

I've noticed a couple things in my search thus far:

  1. Ogg Vorbis support and "Linux Compatible" are highly correlated
  2. Linux Compatible is often qualified with something like "support only for data transfer"

Are these the only sorts of clues I'll be able to follow? I'd appreciate any advice on what to look for or examples of products that do it right.

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4 Answers 4

If you're not averse to installing a custom firmware I would look at the list of supported devices for RockBox. This will let you add music to your mp3 player like it's an external storage device, and has great codec support such as OggVorbis, Flac, and many others. I've used rockbox on my old iPod and it was fantastic, the navigation takes a little bit to get used to but it made my iPod a much more usable device.

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1  
I ran RockBox on my (recently dead) iPod 5g and really enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be support for any of the newer models of portable mp3 players, otherwise I would definitely be going with an iPod classic with RockBox. –  Wilduck Aug 4 '10 at 22:27
    
That would depend on your definition of "portable mp3 player" as the Sansa devices are well-supported, even the latest ones. If you're talking about Apple gear, your comment is sound. –  Broam Aug 18 '10 at 16:20

To be crass and short: Not being made by Apple.

To elaborate: Your clues are pretty much spot-on. USB Mass Storage ("Data Transfer Only") is generally all you need. Generally with Linux I throw out the vendor-supplied software and just use the utilities shipped with my distro. You can use Rhythmbox/Banshee/Amarok/etc., or you can use a file manager, or rsync, or whatever you choose, but they're ALL better than some proprietary music manager, unless you want DRM. (Don't know why you would...)

If it says it works w/ Mac OS X "data transfer only", you can reasonably assume Linux and Unix (BSD's, etc.) will also work.

The only other nice thing is Firmware Upgrades On-Device. The Sansa line can update either by unzipping an archive and dropping the files on the player or using their Sansa Updater utility.

I never needed to use the Sansa Updater when I was running stock firmware.

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As an aside, you could alway put linux on an ipod. ipodlinux.sourceforge.net/index.shtml –  Alex Larzelere Aug 19 '10 at 17:49
    
This would require someone to purchase something, then void the warranty with unsupported software (even if it is more useful). I would assume this user wants to buy something that works OOTB. –  Broam Aug 23 '10 at 18:15
    
"To be crass and short: Not being made by Apple." There is this nice place on the web for such cases: anythingbutipod.com –  landroni Mar 26 at 13:43

If the player works as a usb-disk when connected to the PC (no need for special application to transfer) then it should be working on any platform supporting usb-disks.

Ogg Vorbis support is a plus regardlles of platform, but hardly a must for any (more a question what format your music collection is in). Mp3 works just fine.

Personally don't see the point with a dedicated mp3 player, I'm using my mobilephone as mp3 player.

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Well, I have a 'dumb' phone with no prospects of upgrading. Also, I like to plug my mp3 player into my stereo while still having my phone in my pocket. –  Wilduck Aug 4 '10 at 18:06
    
Lose one, you don't lose both. Phones are expensive; my refurb Fuze was $20. –  Broam Aug 18 '10 at 16:26

The music library program Songbird has a linux branch (that they cut official support to) that supports a pretty solid amount of PMPs/Smartphones (the Windows version has the Moto Droid for sure, i believe the linux version does too). It helps in syncing both audio files on the phone with the desktop as well as playlists.

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