The iPod is a popular focus for enterprising shareware developers - a search on software repository MacUpdate. com turns up 163 iPod utilities. Now Roxio has brought together five of the best pieces of iPod/ iTunes software, saving you about £20 off the usual retail price and making them available to folk who prefer to buy boxed software from retail stores (remember them?).
First, MusicMagic Mixer - a program that, erm, shuffles your playlists. Doesn't iTunes do that? Yes, but its Party Shuffle feature randomly juxtaposes songs that have no business being in the same music collection, let alone a party playlist.
MusicMagic Mixer performs 'spectral analysis' on your music library to work out which songs go together. We tried it with dance music - it also seems capable of distinguishing between country music and The Clash. Sceptics should consider the length of time the program takes to scan your music collection - often an entire day for large libraries.
Audio Hijack is one of the highlights of the package. It lets you hijack the audio of any Mac application, and save it to a file that you can import into iTunes and transfer to your iPod. While you could use it to record the bleeps and blurts of just about anything, the main target of the app's 'hijacking' is RealPlayer.
Not being able to record a stream is one of the most common online frustrations, and one this tool solves elegantly. Broadcasters like BBC Radio make most of their content available online - but Real streams are useless for listening to on an iPod. So, until the BBC starts to podcast all of its shows, Audio Hijack is your best bet for transferring The Archers onto your iPod mini.
Perhaps the most in demand program right now is iPodderX - an application that kickstarted the podcasting revolution where online radio content is delivered straight to a listener's iPod on a regular basis. It is beautifully designed and works very well - unfortunately, its usefulness is somewhat diminished now that iTunes 4.9 finally has built-in podcasting capabilities.
Roxio has also included CD Spin Doctor - a program that's actually from its own stable of software, although until now you had to buy Toast if you wanted to get hold of a copy.
CD Spin Doctor is designed for folk who have vinyl or cassette they'd like to add to their iTunes library. With the right hardware, it assists you in importing the music - and prevents scrapes or scratches from making the leap from analogue to digital. It also features automatic gap detection, so once your music is playing the conversion process is all but automatic.
The runt of the litter is iSpeak It - a curious utility that turns a swathe of text into speech so you can listen to it on your iPod. In theory, you can copy and paste an article in and 'read' it while you jog. iSpeak It relies on OS X's speech technology.
While the voice it uses can be tweaked in System Preferences, listening to your Mac robotically intone a lengthy script can sometimes drive you up the wall. Still, it's very handy, and the older version 1.5 is on this issue's cover CD, so you can get a taster of The Boom Box.
While it can't be said to be an essential purchase, Roxio's collection is a good bundle for anybody looking to get more out of their iPod. If you're looking for your first iPod accessory, put down that zebra print case and give this package your consideration. Ian Harris