Floola, the portable iTunes replacement

Floola is one of the few, if only, portable music players that not only works with your iPods, it will work from your iPod, too.

There are a lot of music jukeboxes out there that aren't iTunes but still work with iPods. Freeware Floola for Windows, Mac, and Linux is one of the few, if only, portable music players that not only works with your iPod, it will work from your iPod, too. The program's fully compatible with your desktop iTunes installation, but can be run from the iPod itself.

Floola, the portable, iPod-based jukebox.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

The features it offers are comprehensive and robust, including music, video, note-taking, and photo support. The latest version, released today, includes bidirectional Google Calendar synchronization. Don't let the simple interface fool you, there's an incredible amount that you can do with Floola, which the publisher states is compatible with Windows 98 and newer, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and newer, and any GTK2 Linux distro.

It apparently can work on all iPods except for the Touch, although newer iPods--basically from the 5G on--will almost certainly require you to find the 16-digit fwid on both Windows and Macs. There are somewhat vague instructions on the Floola FAQ. Once you've retrieved it, close Floola and re-open it while holding down the CTRL and ALT keys and the menu that appears should walk you through the process.

Floola's latest feature is Google calendar synchronization.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Floola doesn't play very well with non-Apple jukeboxes and might require you to reformat or ''repair'' your iPod, but once you've got it going it's worth exploring. Album art, lyrics, playlists, podcasts, and Last.fm scrobbling are all supported from Floola. The context menu available from any given track will tell you which playlists the track is in, as well as giving you the option to add it to another one. Note that although album art is supported, there is no baked-in art discovery feature.

The Edit Song feature not only lets you change the track information, but adjust the track's specific volume, discover the real location of the track in Apple's labyrinthine iPod architecture, and instantly change a track from Song to Audiobook. The Song menu in the menubar contains options for drag-and-dropping folders, copying songs from your iPod to your desktop, and downloading tracks from the Web. This feature is quite cool: it lets you download a video, and then rip out the audio track to save as a new song or just load the video onto your iPod. Keyboard jockeys have hot-key commands for all these features.

The Song Edit window speaks volumes about the track.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

The music management allows you to still sync with iTunes by using the CTRL+SHIFT+S hot key to pull up a customizable list of folders to synchronize. The option is also available from the Manage tab on the menubar. If you've been stuck using iTunes, it's hard to deny the appeal of finally getting to pick and choose which folders get synced. There is a separate photo sync feature, so you don't have to worry about syncing photos and music at the same time.

One of the essential things that Floola does, of course, is preclude the need for a desktop synchronization program. Since it runs from a self-contained EXE file that can live on your iPod, and it weighs in at a paltry 23MB for the Windows version, one of the key concerns with jukeboxes has been effectively eliminated.

Other support features include Snarl for Windows and Growl for Mac, built-in format conversion, and duplicated and lost song finder. In testing the format converter, I found it to work about half the time. Other imperfections in Floola include not being able to change many settings from their respective menubar options. For things like Last.fm, users must go through the Preferences or Advanced menu, which live under Tools on the menubar.

Buy from Amazon.com from within Floola.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

There's iPod safe ejection support, as the program will remind you when you close it down: hold down shift when closing to eject. Although not being able to eject while running Floola is frustrating because it discourages multi-iPod support, it reinforces that this is meant to be a portable jukebox that lives on your iPod.

The concept of a well-rounded jukebox that's both portable and player-specific is an interesting solution to the desktop juke question. I really like the idea of eliminating the hassle of syncing and instead just pointing to the folders you want copied over, and it's hard to dislike the built-in download and convert features. However, Floola's lackluster album art support doesn't do it any favors, and the persistent bugginess in the converter doesn't help, either. The Windows interface was far from clean, too, with labels often running outside their boxes and poor shading detracting from the overall look.

If you're more of a desktop than an on-the-go audiophile, I'd give Floola a pass, but for some, Floola will be the portable, multicomputer jukebox they've been looking for, bolstered by the backing of the Floola.com support forum.

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