I have two MP3 players, a 1st generation Ipod Nano and a Creative Sansa 250. I have issues with the software on both of them, and last week I installed Rockbox on the Sansa to experiment. It’s going on the Ipod this weekend, because Rockbox completely rocks. I could go on and on about how much better it is in terms of features, but it really came down to several key things: 1) Bookmarks. The thing automatically creates bookmarks for whatever you were doing when you turn the power off, and it keeps a library of them for you. You’ll never lose your place in an audiobook again. Apple’s had like what, 5 years to figure this out and still has a crummy, botched bookmark implementation? 2) File formats. Rockbox plays all the formats you’d expect, instead of being stuck with only a handful that Apple and Creative choose to support. Lossless audio for the win folks. 3) You can configure it to speak the user interface. No need to look at it, just scroll around as you drive and it will tell you where you just clicked/navigated etc.
The rest of the cool stuff – editable playlists, skins, games, utilities, a true browsable file system – they’re all just gravy. Rockbox is free, has a great little installer, a huge support community, and tons of mods. If you have a player which Rockbox supports, it’s definitely worth considering. One downside to be clear on – if you install this on an Ipod, you can’t use Itunes to manage the device anymore, it becomes a mountable volume on your computer and you copy files over. There are other media library software that will do this for you (things like Mediamonkey for example) but it also means losing access to the music store integration and so on. Not that you should have been buying music with DRM baked into it to begin with… but that’s a post for another day.