How to Hack an iPod

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Here's how democracy works in the digital age. Just before Apple unveiled the iPod last October, the Internet rumor mill was rife with speculation that the device would be some kind of personal organizer--Steve Jobs' answer to the Palm Pilot. The iPod turned out to be a palm-size music player with a five-gigabyte hard drive (a 10-GB version was released two weeks ago). But now, six months later, that original speculation doesn't seem too wrong. That's because Apple's hard-core users quickly figured out how to hack the device and write new software for it. It's as if they told Jobs, Very nice, Steve, but what we needed was an organizer, and we've decided to turn the iPod into one.

The upshot is that last week I used my iPod for half a dozen more things than it was intended for. I read my horoscope, skimmed the latest news and sports headlines, sent little memos to myself, checked my appointment calendar and uploaded my entire address book. I also cranked up the tunes, although not in the way Apple planned. The iPod's original restrictions--that you can share music with only one Mac and that you can't use it with a Windows PC--have been totally blown away.


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Not that anyone should junk their Palm just yet. You can't enter text directly onto an iPod, for one thing; you have to do it via the computer. That said, the iPod's design beats Palm's hands down when it comes to reading text; with the trackwheel you can scroll through any document with one hand. And the iPod's gargantuan disc space, which dwarfs the eight megabytes of most handhelds, can hold just about anything--as CompUSA found out when an iPod owner walked in, hooked his device up to one of the store's Macs and downloaded the entire Microsoft Office suite.

Assuming you want your free iPod extras to be a little more legal, here's a handy shopping list. First, go to www.apple.com/ipod, and make sure you have version 1.1 of the iPod software. This will let you export your address book from programs like Palm Desktop and Microsoft Entourage. Check out iPoding.com or iPodhacks.com for other address-book formats. Then go to VersionTracker.com, and search for iPod (specify Mac OS 9 or OS X) to see which of the following goodies are available for your machine.

Want a datebook? Check out K-Lendar, which will list all your appointments, by day and start time, under the "artists" category of your iPod. For a notepad, try Podtext. Need a news fix with your music? Pod News has an abbreviated choice of headlines and horoscopes, updated from the Web every time you recharge your iPod. PodNotes also has headlines and, amazingly, downloadable driving directions from any location.

To get around Apple's built-in restrictions and share music with different Macs, try PodMaster or Free File SynX. If you're using a PC, get EphPod (at www.ephpod.com). Be warned: you may need to install a special FireWire (or IEEE 1394) port to connect to the iPod.

Although Apple frowns on music-download hacks, it is delighted with the Palm-style stuff. The wildly popular address-book software has already been adopted, and similar programs may soon become part of the official iPod canon. The people wanted a digital organizer, and bit by bit, the people are getting one. Isn't democracy beautiful?

Pod-hacking ideas for Chris? E-mail him at cdt@well.com