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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.

As Chris pointed out, “Those bad apples intent on stealing music will find a way to do it with or without my help.” So for those poor souls trying to legitimately rescue their music, I’m happy to recommend the excellent—and free— Senuti 0.23 (   ) to do the job.

Senuti isn’t the only utility out there that will help you get music from your iPod to your computer, by any means, but it just might be the easiest one to use. You simply connect your iPod to your computer and launch Senuti to get an iTunes-like window listing the contents of your iPod, including all songs and playlists. (If iTunes launches and asks if you want to link the iPod to this computer, you should decline—doing so will delete all the music on your iPod that’s not on your computer, the opposite of what you really want to do.) Like iTunes, you can choose which columns of track information are visible, but you can also view detailed information about each track via an inspector window.

Senuti main window

Senuti information window

If you just want to transfer individual tracks from your iPod to your computer, you select them and then click the Copy button (the big arrow pointing down, as in “download”); they’re quickly downloaded to the location you select in Senuti’s preferences dialog. (Senuti can also automatically add the tracks to your iTunes Library, and even to a particular playlist in your Library, if you’ve enabled these options; if not, you’ll need to add them manually later.) Senuti even has a live search filter that works just like the one in iTunes—start to type the name of a track, artist, or album, and the list of tracks will be narrowed down as you type. This is useful for grabbing all the tracks from a particular artist or album.

Another nice touch is Senuti’s “Hide Songs in iTunes” option, which hides any songs already in your iTunes Library. The resulting list contains only those songs present on your iPod but missing from iTunes on the current computer. I found this option useful for figuring out which of my music I hadn’t yet transferred from my Power Mac to my Mac mini. (Note that you can also see the iTunes status of each track at any time—those already in your iTunes Library have a small quarter note next to them.)

If you’re trying to restore your music collection after a hard drive crash or reformat, or if you’re transferring your music collection to another of your own computers—seriously, no stealing music—Senuti offers two other useful features. To restore your entire Library in one fell swoop, simply launch iTunes and then drag the Library icon in Senuti into iTunes’ Source list (the sidebar on the left that shows playlists, iPods, etc.). Similarly, if you want to restore your playlists, you can drag any playlist icon from Senuti into iTunes’ Source list. (Although if you had your iPod preferences set up not to copy all playlists, this feature won’t be as useful.)

Despite its simplicity, Senuti also has an informative Help system that I highly recommend you read before using, as it explains how to best approach various types of restores, as well as how to avoid some possible iTunes/iPod interactions that could wipe out your iPod—a tragedy if you’re really just trying to get your own music back onto your empty hard drive.

I’ve found Senuti to work almost flawlessly at its intended purpose. I’ve only encountered two minor glitches, neither of which are show-stoppers. The first is that I haven’t been able to get the artwork feature—which is supposed to show artwork for tracks that provide it—to actually show art. But then again, when would I ever need this feature while restoring songs? The second is that although you can sort by any column—Song Name, Artist, Album, Genre, etc.—when viewing your iPod’s Library or playlists, just as you can in iTunes, this feature doesn’t work on filtered search results.

If you have a legitimate need to get music off your iPod, you have a legitimate need for Senuti.

[End Note: For those who are convinced that applications such as Senuti are mainly used to steal music, let me offer you a couple other examples of legitimate uses. I was one of the lucky few who—thanks to the fancy shopping of Mac Publishing’s Rick LePage—got hold of an iPod shuffle the day they were announced at last month’s Macworld Expo. Unfortunately, the computer with all of my music on it was at home on my desk; my laptop was devoid of tunes. But I did have my standard iPod. I used Senuti to copy a batch of tunes from my iPod to my laptop, then synced them to my new iPod shuffle. And Chris Breen has used Senuti to consolidate the (legal, of course) music from his various computers onto a single“master” computer—he synced his iPod with one of his computers, disconnected it, connected it to the master computer, and then used Senuti to pull all the songs off of the iPod. He then re-synced the iPod with another computer and repeated the process. He could have networked his computers together and used File Sharing, but Senuti made the process simple.]

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