Windows is Dead (almost). Long Live Free & Open Source Software, i.e. Ubuntu

Finally.

My wife’s PC was the last bastion of proprietary software hell remaining in our home (and we have quite a few PCs). 2 days ago, Helen explained that she’d been having a nightmare with Windows. You’d start to login and immediately it would log you out again! Nice. And there was no easy way to prevent it. “Safe Mode” did the same thing. Very helpful – not. Googling threw up a lot of people with the same experience and some rather dodgy sounding workarounds to rectify the situation.

Helen has had a dual boot setup for a while, has been getting used to the nuances of Ubuntu and the Gnome desktop and is now fairly comfortable with it. So, rather than trying to fix an inherently broken OS we decided to make the switch. There was one caveat however; iTunes. Her work is a franchised music therapy business for elderly and disabled residential care homes. She uses a big iPod and iTunes to manage her many playlists etc., and all the music is in Apple’s lossless proprietary format. (I know, but I didn’t have an opportunity to suggest an alternative at the time…)

To make the move to Ubuntu as painless as possible I bought some more RAM and a 320GB HDD from Scan Computers to give her some more space and also just in case I ended up needing to do a fresh Windows install for a dual-boot setup. But my plan was to first of all attempt to use VirtualBox for the iTunes requirement. Unfortunately Wine didn’t seem like a viable option at this time.

After what seems like far too much effort, the iTunes Library is now hosted on our home server so it can be backed up easily. A VirtualBox (the closed source PUEL edition for USB passthrough) VM is running a fresh new install of XP and only iTunes, and it connects via a Samba share (Windows is configured to re-connect the network drive (Z:) on startup) to the music library.

The iTunes library was a complete PITA to move. There are lots of how tos and such like on the web but when it boils down to it, you need to check, very carefully, the structure in the iTunes Library.xml file so it matches the new location of the music itself. What didn’t help me was discovering, after several failed attempts, that iTunes at some stage in the past, had decided to create two complete “Compilation” and “Podcasts” directory structures, each with mostly different content, but some of it overlapping.

Essentially, the process is something like this:

  • Backup the whole library!
  • Create the new library location and copy in the data
  • Delete the *.itl files from the root of the iTunes library
  • Examine the iTunes Library.xml file and use a good editor/comparison tool to alter all the paths so they point to the correct locations in your new library structure
  • Fire up iTunes, edit the Music Library location to where the new one lives
  • Under the File menu (IIRC) you choose “import library” and point it at your modified iTunes Library.xml file
  • Cross your fingers, toes and anything else ;-)

Judicious use of that great comparison tool Meld and my eyeballs meant that finally I managed to restructure the library so it was consistent and not duplicated. I think that had it not been like this, my experience would not have been so bad or so lengthy, but iTunes will leave always a very nasty taste in my mouth. Also, had Windows not completely barfed (again) I would have been able to use the already installed iTunes app and move the library using it’s own built in tools (as this is apparently possible according to the interweb).

Probably the next step will be to introduce Helen to Songbird (or similar) and see if we can migrate the library, playlists and music across to that. I’ll do some playing on my own before suggesting it though. Small steps to catchy monkey I think.

VirtualBox 3.02 seems to be really good though. The USB pass through and auto-filtering is just brilliant (so Ubuntu doesn’t alert when you plug in the iPod when the VM is running; it goes straight through to the Windows VM). It does seem to take quite a long time for the whole Windows/iTunes thing to settle down after I’ve plugged the iPod in but it might be just because it’s a big 120G iPod anyway… But it isn’t a major issue.

So, although Windows isn’t completely dead in our household, it is certainly on its very last legs. And good riddance to it to.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments

  • Sai says:

    Hey,
    The other way to work with itunes on Linux is to run itunes on Wine. They have some really good reviews.

  • Tim says:

    My wife went the other way. She was running Ubuntu, but couldn’t easily do video-messaging with her family in Turkey, nor access her online training or run her practice driving-licence tests. So she pleaded for Windows and hasn’t looked back. Ubuntu is good, no doubt, but it had some serious limitations. Even Ubuntu on a laptop had to go in the end to be replaced with PuppyLinux due to sluggish performance. Still, all that said, good luck to you.

  • I’ve been told that Banshee has really good iPod support. Or at least used to have, since it’s said that Apple killed support for everything else than iTunes:

  • David Gerard says:

    iTunes doesn’t run very well in Wine – though testers and bug reports are always welcome! Running it on a virtual XP will of course work.

  • [...] Windows is Dead (almost). Long Live Free & Open Source Software, i.e. Ubuntu VirtualBox 3.02 seems to be really good though. The USB pass through and auto-filtering is just brilliant (so Ubuntu doesn’t alert when you plug in the iPod when the VM is running; it goes straight through to the Windows VM). It does seem to take quite a long time for the whole Windows/iTunes thing to settle down after I’ve plugged the iPod in but it might be just because it’s a big 120G iPod anyway… But it isn’t a major issue. [...]

  • Steven says:

    Nice article!
    Having had a similar run-in with iTunes a few years ago, I feel your pain. We had quite a lot of music wrapped up in that nightmareish application and the only way to free it all – in every sense – was to burn the tracks to CD, then rip them back in in a DRM-free format. It took me days, but the songs are now sat on my main Linux machine alongside all the nicely DRM-free tracks I download from Amazon using their excellent, Linux-friendly download software.
    We’ve now got just the one MS PC in our home – the one my wife and kids use – while I’ve got three desktops and a laptop all running Linux (3x CrunchBang, 1x whatever interests me at the time).
    I really enjoy your blog – keep up the good work.
    Kind regards.

    • Alan Lord says:

      Many thanks for the compliments Steven, I’m glad you enjoy my ramblings.

      My kids have been on Ubuntu for well over a year now – they switch between this and school’s Winblows with ease.

      We have discovered a small problem with the VirtualBox solution that I will need to rectify: CD Ripping is not yet working and looks like a known problem. So I think I’ll use a shared directory between VBox and Ubuntu and Helen can rip using Ubuntu and then import into iTunes that way. Songbird is shaping up nicely but there are a couple of missing features that she would miss so I will hang on a while.

      Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>