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Run iTunes in Linux: Wine vs VirtualBox

One of the reasons people are put off using Linux is because their favourite software is not available. It may be common in Windows and there may even be an Apple Mac version, but rarely is there a Linux version too. Typical examples are Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Apple iTunes. You can actually use all three programs in Linux and in this article we will examine the options available. You have two choices and you can either run iTunes directly in Linux using Wine or you can run it in a virtual machine using VirtualBox.

Both are free and are easy to use, but they work in very different ways and with VirtualBox you will also need a full licensed copy of Windows to install.

Wine stands for Wine is not an emulator, and this is because it does not copy Windows. Instead it enables Windows programs to run in Linux by intercepting all the Windows dll and function calls and processing them itself or it converts them into a form the Linux operating system can understand. You don't need Windows to run Windows programs!

You get Wine in the usual way through the package manager. In Ubuntu for example, go to System, Administration, Synaptic Package Manager and search for Wine. Install it and then go and download iTunes from the Apple website. Right click the file after downloading it and choose Open with Wine Windows program loader. Install it as if it was a Windows program even though it is really running in Linux.

You will find that an icon is added to the desktop and there's a new iTunes menu as a submenu of Wine in the menu bar. Just run it like it was a Linux program. It works pretty much like it does in Windows. One thing you might need to do is to use Winetricks (it's installed with Wine) to install Windows fonts into your Linux distro. It makes iTunes look even more Windows-like.

iTunes running in Linux using Wine isn't perfect and there are some problems. It doesn't recognise iPods for example, which is a major irritation. Ubuntu works fine with them and Rhythembox and F-Spot popped up when the iPod was plugged in to play the music and view the photos, but iTunes just ignored it. There were some other issues and it takes 30 seconds for the Preferences dialog to display on my PC. There's something about it that's not quite right. However, if you copy your music into iTunes (use File, Add Folder to Library) then it will play just fine. It must be CDs you've ripped yourself or MP3s you've made, not DRM copyright protected tracks.


The other way to use iTunes is by using VirtualBox. This is a really useful free program that emulates a PC in software. You can install a wide range of operating systems on it and run them in a window on the desktop. If you buy a copy of Windows then you can install it in a virtual machine and run it in a window or full screen in Linux. iTunes works perfectly in Windows of course and so there are no problems. VirtualBox recognises devices plugged into the USB ports and makes them available to the OS in the virtual machine, so if you plug in an iPod then iTunes will automatically sync with it. It's excellent.


The winner

For price and convenience iTunes running in Linux using Wine is the winner. You don't need a copy of Windows and you don't need to bother with virtual machines. However, it doesn't work perfectly and if you really need to sync iTunes and an iPod and you want a flawless experience then VirtualBox is the best.

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