Music rescue, part II

Although there are clearly unethical reasons for copying music directly from an iPod to a computer, there are legitimate ones, as well. As I explained just over a year ago:

If you’ve got an iPod, you know how easy it is to get your music onto it and to keep it in sync with your music collection. But you may have also discovered that Apple has made it difficult to get music from your iPod to your Mac. The reasons behind this are understandable: Apple doesn’t want people using iPods as “music mules” to illicitly copy tunes between computers. The problem is that, like many policies made necessary by the actions of a few bad apples (no pun intended), this design makes it difficult for those who have legitimate reasons to get music off of their iPods. As my Playlist colleague Christopher Breen wrote last week, it’s quite possible that someone in search of such functionality is just trying to get their own, legal, music back. For example, if your hard drive suddenly bites the dust and you didn’t have the foresight to back it up, you’ll need to restore your entire Music Library. If you can’t do it using your iPod, this means re-ripping all of your music from your CDs (a process that took me several months). Even worse, if you’ve got a good number of tracks from the iTunes Music Store, getting those back won’t be easy—Apple’s official policy is that you should have backed up.

Another situation—one in which I’ve found myself on several occasions—where there’s a legitimate reason for such copying is if your music is on your desktop Mac, but you’re on the road with your iPod and laptop; if you want to copy some of your iPod’s music onto your laptop and listen to it from there, you need a way to do so.

Unfortunately, there’s no “official” way of performing such a task. So it’s in this context that I’ve frequently recommended Senuti (   ), which provides an easy-to-use, iTunes-like interface for transferring your music from your iPod to your computer. In fact, Macworld liked Senuti so much that we named it as one of our 2005 Eddy Award winners.

However, a couple weeks ago, my colleague Jonathan Seff showed me a new alternative to Senuti that takes a different, but similarly easy, approach: iPodDisk 1.3 (   ). Whereas Senuti runs as a standard application—one that closely resembles iTunes itself—iPodDisk is basically invisible: It simply “mounts” your iPod in the Finder, where it shows up just like any other FireWire or USB hard drive. (Your iPod must have disk use enabled, via its preferences dialog in iTunes, for iPodDisk to work. In fact, what you actually see in the Finder are two versions of your iPod—one that looks like an iPod, and one that looks like a network volume; the latter is the iPodDisk version.)

iPodDisk mounts your iPod in the Finder

Of course, if you’ve ever looked inside your iPod in the Finder, you know that not only can you not browse your music collection on it, but you can’t even see your music files. (If you’ve read up on the topic, you know that your music is actually in a number of invisible folders, with cryptic file names that make them nearly impossible to work with.) The magic of iPodDisk is that its Finder volume presents your iPod’s audio (and video) content in a way that makes it easy to browse:

Your iPod, seen through iPodDisk

You see folders for Albums, Artists, Genres, and Playlists; opening one of these folders displays your iPod’s contents in the appropriate file/folder hierarchy. For example, the Genres folder displays a folder for each genre you have in iTunes; within each genre folder are folders for each artist in that genre; within each artist folder are albums by that artist; and within each album folder are the tracks on that album.

iPodDisk genres

iPodDisk genre browsing

You can also use the Search field in Finder windows to quickly find particular tracks, artists, albums, etc.

To copy music from your iPod to your hard drive, you use the Finder’s familiar drag-and-drop, just as you would with any other file. When you’re finished, ejecting iPodDisk’s iPod volume quits iPodDisk; you can then eject your iPod itself.

Note that iPodDisk works only if your iPod is not linked to the iTunes Library on the computer on which you’re working. This makes sense, since you wouldn’t need to use iPodDisk if you were on that computer—you would already have direct access to the original music files on your hard drive. (In fact, when I tried to use iPodDisk with an iPod linked to computer on which I was working, I had trouble ejecting the iPod at all—OS X claimed that the iPod was “in use” even though iPodDisk hadn’t mounted the iPod.)

A more significant drawback is that I haven’t been successful in getting iPodDisk to work with the iPod shuffle; Senuti, on the other hand, works just fine.

That drawback aside, iPodDisk is an excellent tool for getting your music off your iPod and has earned a place on my hard drive—right next to Senuti. I still prefer Senuti for some things; for example, Senuti lets you browse like iTunes and even lets you listen to tracks. But iPodDisk’s Finder-like drag-and-drop interface is perfect when you know exactly what you’re looking for.

iPodDisk works with Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) and later.

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