Out of the box, the iPod is basically a one-trick pony. The games and applications found under the Extras menu get old faster than Britney. But thanks to four years of work by a crafty group of programmers, you can now use your iPod’s processing power and scroll-wheel interface to play dozens of games, record voice memos, or browse Wikipedia, all without messing up the existing software or your music.

The secret is iPodLinux, an alternative operating system you can install free alongside the existing one on any iPod model. Once geeks-only turf, the Linux option can now be added simply by downloading and double-clicking a new automated installer. Find a few of our favorite new ‘Pod programs below, as well as detailed instructions and links to the latest apps.

  • Project: Linux on your iPod
  • Cost: free
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy | | | | | hard (Editor’s note: 1/5)


1. Download the installer for your computer’s platform (Windows, Linux, or Mac) and your iPod model from

2. Connect your iPod in disk mode, and run the installer. Choose which OS you want your iPod to load by default.

3. Reset your iPod (on most models, hold down menu and select). Press the << key during reboot to launch the non-default system.

More ‘pod apps

Three iPods in a row, showing various Linux apps you can use on them.
From left to right: Encyclopodia, iDoom, and iBoy. John B. Carnett
  • Encyclopodia: Load all of Wikipedia—searchable and with working links between articles—into less than a gigabyte of space.
    • Note: If you have Encyclopodia, it’s the only Linux app you can run.
  • iDoom: Play the popular first-person shooter Doom with crisp graphics (especially on color screens) and an easy-to-use interface. Just download and copy the iDoom folder to your iPod.
  • iBoy: Play nearly all the original Nintendo Game Boy’s classics on your iPod—just search for the ROM files online. The controls can be awkward, but having Zelda on your iPod is worth it. For more iPodLinux games and tricks, including how to run Encyclopodia with other applications, read on.

Encyclopodia trick

If you follow the basic instructions, Encyclopodia—my favorite of IPL’s treasures—installs its own version of the Podzilla interface that overwrites all the other goodies that come with the basic installation.

But since the Encyclopodia application’s source code was, like the code for most Linux programs, opened up to the public to see and change, someone figured out how to install it without deleting all the other games and applications. This info was, of course, posted to the forums, where it remains public for everyone’s consumption.

If you’re using Windows, the instructions can be found in this forum post. For Mac, click here, and scroll to the bottom of the page for the post by “dazmax.” When you unpack the Encyclopodia software, you will see an assortment of folders (like bin and lib) that correspond to those that the iPodLinux installer copies to your iPod. To make Encyclopodia play nice with the rest of your applications, copy the files mentioned in the forum posts from the Encyclopodia folders to their matching folders on your iPod. If you are asked to overwrite any files, say no. Then you can run the epodia file from the Podzilla file browser.

Podzilla 2

Podzilla 2 is the next generation of IPL’s user interface, and it’s considerably snazzier. It can be outfitted with themes if you have a color iPod and also supports software modules that are easier to install. Podzilla 2 is still in development, but most of its functionalities are very usable at this point.

Depending on what version of the iPodLinux installer you’ve used, you may already have Podzilla 2 installed. If not, installation instructions are here. There is also an install tutorial for Mac on the forums.

Once you have Podzilla 2 installed, check the list of modules on, which is a great one-stop place to find the latest games and applications being cooked up, including Sudoku, Dance Dance Revolution—even a rock-paper-scissors simulator.

Where to go for help

Installing the basic iPodLinux setup is a quick and easy way to make your iPod do much more than play your favorite tunes. But it is Linux, so getting down and dirty with it can be a bit intimidating. Thankfully, along with what can be a steep learning curve, iPodLinux also has an accessible community of users to help out if you get stuck on some obscure error message. Here’s where to look for hints, tricks, and cool downloads.

  • iPod Linux: The project’s main site is a searchable wiki, full of user-submitted how-tos and links to other downloads.
  • iPod Linux forums: If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the wiki, there’s a good chance someone has been in a similar situation and has written about it on the searchable forums. And if it’s not already on there, ask away. Often you’ll get an answer back in a matter of minutes, and it just might be some of the project’s main programmers helping you out.
  • If you’re feeling extra bold, you can dust off the old IRC (internet relay chat) application (or download one free for Mac or Windows), connect to the iPodLinux IRC channel (#ipodlinux on, and ask any questions there.

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the July 2006 issue of Popular Science magazine.