Monday, 17 May 2010

Karma and Zen

Lets' face it, Ubuntu doesn't get everything right and it can even be as bad as Windows at times! OK, I've had one of those weeks: first the printer saga and then Windows nuked my Creative Zen V!

The Zen comes with some Windows sync software which (frankly) is rubbish, but I'm a creature of habit (aka, stupid) and still insist on trying to transfer music to my Zen using Vista. Somehow, connecting my Zen to my Vista machine (something I've done countless times before) triggered some sort of kill command and Windows happily obliged.

Alright, I'm overstating it, but you take the point: when I attached my Zen it was one of my favourite gadgets, when I detached it, it was a brick. It only happened because the postman delivered the new Jackson Browne album yesterday and I wanted to get it straight onto my PMP for those long walks in the Welsh hills.

Fortunately, Google had the solution and, to my palpable relief and benefit to my temper, I was able to revive my Zen. That's the good news!

The bad news is that for some completely insane reason, I decided that Ubuntu must be able to sync my PMP with my music on my network and I spent the next twenty-four hours trying to get it to work. Entertainment is one area of personal computing that I think Windows wins hands-down: leaving aside the (excellent) Windows Media Player, there are all sorts of alternative entertainment packages that beat the Linux offerings into the dust. I'm sorry, but that's just how I see it. That said, I really don't want to be tied to Microsoft just so that I might occasionally update my music, so Ubuntu was going to have to play ball (even if it killed me).

The real irony is, when I plugged my Zen into the USB of my Ubuntu box, Linux saw it immediately and mounted it in Nautilus. Now that's impressive! However, the problem comes with the proprietary formats used by Creative: Ubuntu just can't read them without a little help and you need to install the MTP support packages from Synaptic. Even then, you can't just drag and drop as you would in Windows Media Player because the Zen doesn't add the new files to the library (see the wiki link above for an explanation). I wasn't too phased by this: I still had Rhythmbox to try and, sure enough when I opened Rhythmbox, there was my Zen listed in the side panel waiting patiently for me to do something. Unfortunately, everything I tried to do was fruitless. Dragging tracks to the Zen resulted in the music being added to root and not the Music folder: consequently, the PMP couldn't play them. I tried the command line but with the same result (even using the folder ID numbers rather than, names), I wasted hours trying to get it to work - all to no avail.

So, onto gnomad2. This just didn't see the device at all and I had absolutely no joy in finding a solution. My best guess is that, had I owned a Zen V Plus (rather than the Zen V), I might have made it passed the finishing post, but as it was nothing helped. I even compiled and installed the latest version in the vain hope that it would solve the dreaded "No jukeboxes found on USB bus" error message. The lsusb command listed my Zen, so I know that the USB bus was working ok: but nothing I tried (even a firmware update) would coax gnomad2 to talk to my PMP.

In desperation I finally turned to Amarok. The version from the repository was rubbish: it wouldn't even play music in my Music folder on the PC! It didn't see the Zen (until I realized that I had to unmount (I much prefer "demount", but let's go with the lingo) it first) far less read it. Anyway, as a last resort, I compiled the latest version from source and....

It worked!

I can now send music to my Zen and it loads all the artwork and track listings as it should. It is noteworthy that Amarok still won't play music on my PC, but hey, you can't have everything!

By the way, if you have a bricked Zen, try connecting it to a PC via a USB cable, slide and hold the on switch while you use a pin to reset the device. Worked like a charm for me.

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