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Subject: My Beginner's Guide to Rockbox Installation

My Beginner's Guide to Rockbox Installation

From: Kane Brolin <>
Date: Sat, 5 Jan 2008 15:38:08 -0500

This is a follow-up thread to one I began early this week. Anna
Dresner of the Blind iPod Mailing List encouraged me to send my
ten-step Rockbox installation guide to the Rockbox Web site with the
thought that it might be linked up to the core Rockbox material. I am
in the process now of getting my own Wikipedia user id so I can edit
content and post something myself. But before attempting to do this,
I thought to run the text of my guide past the list to take advantage
of any editorial suggestions others have to offer.

Please respect the list moderators when giving suggestions, though,
and simply post replies with no quotations or with just targeted
inline quotations. Do not top-post.

Though my ten-step process has been webcast on TekTal as well as by
individual users, I know it is imperfect. I view this as a work in
progress. I think the strength of these instructions lies in the fact
that I am a relative newcomer to the iPod, having used one now for
less than six months. But as someone who has been his own primary
technical support agent for the last 14 years, I think I've learned a
lot about boiling processes down into easy-to-understand steps that
will produce repeatable results if done right. Rockbox is a program
that involves many moving parts that aren't found just in one
executable program or on just one Web page. So this is for those
people who have been frustrated by the difficulties of pulling
everything together.

In writing these steps I have made two key presumptions: My first
presumption is that anyone reading this is using a relatively new
iPod: the fourth generation iPod Grayscale, the fifth generation iPod
Video, or the Nano. The iPod Shuffle, from what I understand, is an
entirely different animal; I never have used one. I know there are
variations in terms of which software applies to which iPods. The
Rockbox site is not easy for one to navigate from the outset; but I
can help anyone off-list who simply can't find his/her correct version
of Rockbox.

My second presumption is that the user is totally without eyesight, as
I am. So I am presuming that someone here might be using a Braille or
speech output system to interact with what is on the screen in an
alternative way. I am most familiar with a speech/Braille access
program known as Job Access With Speech (JAWS) for Windows, which is
produced by Freedom Scientific, a company based in Florida of the USA.
 Henceforth, I will refer to this software piece as JAWS or JFW. I am
also presuming that a totally blind user of iTunes will be using a
JAWS add-on program called J-tunes, which was developed by a firm
called T&T Consultancy that is based in Birmingham, England. This
JAWS interface for iTunes is not free, but it is worthwhile. The full
license costs about 35 GBP, or $100 U.S. if you go through the North
American distributor. I know there may be other ways to read iTunes
screens with voice or Braille, as through the Window-Eyes screen
access program produced by GW Micro. I've never used that program or
any set files from it, though; so any references I make toward access
for the blind will be in the direction of JAWS.

You can download the J-tunes scripts from Download the file to a
place where you can find it. Highlight it with your cursor, hit
Enter, and (if necessary) tab through a security warning page that
sometimes pops up in Windows until you see a button called RUN.
Highlight RUN, hit Enter, and the program will run pretty much
automatically, loading JAWS scripts for iTunes 7. These should work
in any version of JAWS later than 5.1. You'll have to read through a
few disclaimers, tab around at different points, and hit Enter when
you see a NEXT button. But after a couple of times, you'll get a
message stating that your computer must be re-started in order for the
scripts to run. Do the restart process, and go through this same
order of operations with your personalized iTunes Authorisation 3.1
file if you have purchased J-tunes and been given such a file. After
the last reboot, open iTunes, and wait until you hear the phrase
"iTunes loaded." Once you hear the word "loaded," then you'll know
the iTunes interface scripts loaded successfully into JAWS when iTunes
activated itself, so you'll be able to navigate the iTuens screen more
easily using just your keyboard.

So having presented that background, here goes, from the beginning:

1. Make sure your iPod is connected to your computer in such a way
that your PC can detect its presence in Windows Explorer or in My
Computer. Do this by enabling "Disk Use" in iTunes after making sure
the iPod and iTunes are talking to each other. This is very important
because, as we shall see, you'll have to manually create directories
and move files into them using My Computer or Windows Explorer so you
can see them as you want to see them in Rockbox. By default, your
iPod is not visible to other Windows applications as being another
disk drive; the way to change this is through a particular operation
inside of iTunes. This is why you need to use iTunes and J-tunes in
the very beginning, even though Rockbox eventually can free you from
iTunes altogether if you don't like this Apple software. To "Enable
Disk Use" is a fairly simple process once you're in iTunes; it
involves setting a preference within iPod's Options page. If anyone
visually impaired needs a greater understanding of how to do this
without a mouse, please write to and I'll send you
some instructions for that separately. You'll know you have performed
Step #1 successfully when you go into My Computer or Windows Explorer
and you actually see your iPod as a drive, with a
letter assignment. On this laptop, for instance, my iPod is the E
drive, just one letter up from my DVD drive. But when you go into
Windows Explorer, don't expect to see your iTunes music library files
there. Instead, you'll see four mostly-empty directories called
CALENDAR, CONTACTS, DATA FILES, and NOTES. You may also see something
there called "iPod Controller," which you should not erase or mess
with in any way. None of these is especially important for what you
want to do now. iTunes hides or
encrypts your music library using a file structure that Microsoft
Windows and Rockbox do not readily see. More on that when you come to
actually using Rockbox in Steps #9 and #10.
2. Make sure you have all the files you will need to use as tools in
giving a voice to Rockbox. Whether or not you're a gourmet cook, you
probably know it's easier to maintain focus on what you're doing if
you buy and gather up all the ingredients you'll need before baking a
cake. There's nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of a
creative or technical process and realizing halfway through that you
don't have everything you need and don't know where to find it. you
can get to an archive of daily builds for the iPod Video by going to As of Saturday, 5
January, 2008, For example, the latest build for the iPod Video 30 GB
was No. 15998.
3. Unzip the core Rockbox files, which are contained in the zipped
archive you just downloaded. If you've used a compression/extraction
utility program such as
7-Zip, PKZip, or Winzip, this isn't hard. All you have to do is click
on the Rockbox
program file, wait for Winzip or your other utility to open, then
extract all contents of that compressed file into the root directory
of your iPod. In other words, if the iPod uses drive letter E, just
tell Winzip to extract all files to E:\. The Rockbox zipped archive
is smart enough to know how the directories should be structured and
how the individual files work with respect to one another and to your
iPod. After the extraction has been done successfully, you should be
able to open Windows Explorer or My Computer and see a fifth
directory inside your iPod. It'll be called .ROCKBOX--and yes, the
directory name begins with a period sign, not with the letter R.
There will be other subdirectories and files inside of the .ROCKBOX
directory, but you will seldom have to manipulate these very much.
4. Next comes the installation of fonts. I realize that a blind
person generally
doesn't care about or perceive fonts, since he/she won't be viewing the
shape, color, or boldness of lettering on a screen or a page. But
fonts can matter to how Rockbox runs on your iPod, so it's useful to
install a cluster of 75 different font files separately. This is done
in one operation, very similar to what you did with the core Rockbox
application files in Step #3. Just click on a fonts package available
and download as you did with the core Rockbox files. Click on this
package after it has been downloaded by hitting the ENTER key. Then
wait for your compression/extraction utility to open it, and direct it
to extract to your E drive's root directory--presuming
that's what letter your iPod occupies on your computer. Just as with
the main Rockbox application, this program is intelligent enough to
know where the fonts are to be extracted, so you don't need to create
a Fonts subdirectory inside E:\.ROCKBOX. When you're done with this
operation, though, you'll now see a new subdirectory called .ROCKBOX\FONTS that
has been created, and it will contain all the separate fonts Rockbox
needs to run. I think 75 different font files are included. Even if
you upgrade the rest of Rockbox later to a newer build, you never
should have to install fonts again.
5. Go back to the page from where you downloaded the core Rockbox
files for your model. Right next to the software for your iPod build,
you should see a companion voice file, usually named as an English
voice file but with your particular iPod model and the date of that
file's creation embedded into the name: for example,
ipodvideo-20071221-english.voice. Save this voice file to a place
where you can find it on your computer. After it has been saved,
highlight your English voice file, right-click on that file (with a
SHFT+F10 in Windows), and make sure it has been renamed simply as
English.voice. Then paste this file into the
E:\.Rockbox\Langs folder on your iPod. You can do this through My Computer or
Windows Explorer with a simple cut-and-paste operation. English.voice
represents the voice that will be reading menus, reading settings, and
perhaps spelling file an directory names to you. This file must be
called English.voice in order for Rockbox to recognize and use it.
You can change the voice file later simply by replacing it with a new
voice file, cutting and pasting the new one into Rockbox and
overwriting the old English.voice you have grown tired of.
 6. Now is perhaps the most critical piece: making it so Rockbox actually
boots up with your iPod. You have to download the bootloader file
that completes this install process. You can go straight to this file
by going to
. First, download the file to your desktop or to some other place you
can find. Then just highlight the file name, hit Enter, listen to the
details screen that comes up, press the letter I (meaning install),
and press the enter key. After awhile, you'll hear that the
installation process has succeeded, and iPod Patcher will invite you
to hit Enter again to close. Again, be patient. This takes a few
minutes, even on a pretty fast Windows XP machine.

7. Download and run the Voicebox program. We've done the hardest
work already, but you still have a problem: Rockbox has an installed
voice, but has no idea how to read file names or directories to you so
you can manipulate or play the contents of your iPod. As you may know
from previous list discussions about this topic, Rockbox does not have
an intelligent text-to-speech engine. Instead, files and directories
are identified through a series of pre-recorded "talk clips" that your
computer creates on demand using the primitive text-to-speech engine
that Microsoft Windows offers. Voicebox enables you to update the
talk clips on your iPod in a plug-and-play fashion. It examines the
folder names and file names you have placed on your iPod—the ones that
you can see from Windows Explorer thanks to what you did in Step #1
and what you will do in Step #8—and it allows e things to be voiced so
you can navigate back and forth between them. You can find Voicebox
and an explanation of how it works at The file you
want will show up in the Internet Explorer download window as This is a free program, and it doesn't take long to
run. You first
unzip the files into a directory of your choosing, then run the
executable which is called VOICEBOX.HTA. You run the program simply
by highlighting the file called VOICEBOX.HTA and hitting the Enter
key. Then you navigate through the start-up screen, making sure all
options are checked that should be checked. In general, the defaults
already are set the way you'll desire them. But you will have to tell
Voicebox where your iPod is so it can place appropriate talk clips
onto the iPod instead of onto another part of your computer. So at
the edit box where it asks what drive you're running Voicebox on,
simply type the letter name your computer has assigned the iPod to,
followed by a colon. Your entry in this edit box will look like E: or
F: for example. Tab to the field that says RUN VOICEBOX, hit Enter,
and wait patiently. The operation does not tend to give you progress
reports while it's running; but the iPod will make a crunching sound
as Voicebox is installed or updated, and you can hear this sound if
you gently pick up the iPod and hold it to your ear. It sounds much
like the sound a computer makes as a new application is
being installed. The iPod is, after all, just a uniquely designed little
computer processor with its own hard drive and a screen and headphone
jack. When Voicebox has finished, you will hear a chime emanate from
your computer's sound card and will hear the opening Voicebox screen
again, which you can navigate through using the Tab key. JAWS speaks
this screen very well without any kind of script or JAWS cursor
8. Now comes the fun part: actually loading your files onto the iPod.
This is much easier for you to structure in Rockbox than it would be
in iTunes, since iTunes has its own secret way of categorizing and
even naming files from its library. But if you have songs on your
computer that you wish to transfer to your iPod—or even songs on CDs,
for that matter—you simply copy or move these from their present
location on your hard drive or CD drive to the iPod drive. You do
this using My Computer or Windows Explorer, using CTRL+C to copy
whatever you've highlighted and CTRL+V to paste. This is a manual
operation, not an automated one. Copying long lectures or even short
music files can take a couple of minutes, since your iPod is an
external drive that doesn't operate with quite the speed of your PC.
But using the Rename function in Windows, you can put whatever names
you want on the folders or files you've copied, being sure to always
keep the three-letter extension at the end of the file name so that
your iPod will know whether it's supposed to be running a .MP3 file, a
.WAV file, or something else. When you're done, run Voicebox again;
it will overwrite anything and add new talk clips as appropriate
without your having to micro-manage the process. So Voicebox is
automatic and self-executing, but creating directories you like and
moving files into them is something you must regularly micro-manage.
9. This next step may be done with just the iPod as a stand-alone
device. So it's time to unplug. Disconnect it from your computer,
plug in the headset, and turn the iPod on by pressing the center of
the scroll wheel. In case you don't hear talking within seconds,
you're probably still running the Apple operating system. So to do a
warm boot into Rockbox, press simultaneously the center of the scroll
bar and the upper button on the controls—(these technically are called
the SELECT and MENU buttons). Hold these down for a couple of
seconds, then wait. You will hear a popping sound through the
headphones. After this, you ought now to hear a voice when you try to
mess with the scroll wheel. Now if you run your finger very slowly
around the scroll wheel, as though you were turning a rotary volume
control up and down, you actually will be scrolling through a series
of menu choices such as FILE, DATABASE, SYSTEM, and SETTINGS. A good
idea is to go into your SETTINGS folder, selecting it by highlighting
it with the scroll wheel and then pressing the center of the wheel,
which is the SELECT button. This will take you to a new set of menu
choices that you will hear by scrolling around with the wheel. Rest
on GENERAL SETTINGS, then hit Enter. This will take you to yet a
third layer of menu choices, one of which is VOICE SETTINGS. Press
the SELECT button yet again, and you will hear a series of choices
Select in turn on each of these entries, then use your scroll wheel to
choose the option you want inside this layer. Usually, you want to
highlight YES on each option successively and then hit SELECT to get
back out to VOICE SETTINGS again. In case you do want to refer to
things inside databases iTunes has created, another thing you'll want
to do here is to select VOICE FILE NAMES and then select SPELL,
instead of OFF or NUMBERS. What this means is that in case you forget
to run Voicebox, you'll still be able to hear your file names spelled
by Rockbox even if they are not spoken properly through a .TALK clip.
It's crude, but it works. You also can turn your iPod's voice volume
up or down by going into SOUND SETTINGS—not GENERAL SETTINGS but SOUND
SETTINGS—selecting VOLUME, and then running the scroll wheel
counter-clockwise for up, clockwise for down, and hitting SELECT at
the point where you feel the sound level is comfortable for you.
10. The final step is really optional, and it's most useful if you
decide someday that you like iTunes and that you want to keep some
things stored by iTunes in your iPod and refer to them through
Rockbox. You do this not by referring to the files and directories
you created yourself, but by referring to "databases" iTunes has
created automatically through its proprietary process. From the
opening "screen" of Rockbox, select SETTINGS, but then scroll to
DATABASE, not to GENERAL SETTINGS as before. Once inside DATABASE
SETTINGS, you can activate this aspect of Rockbox by scrolling to
INITIALIZE NOW. Hit the Select button, then wait for a moment, and
you'll then be able to go back out to the main menu, select DATABASE
from that main menu, and hear things spelled—categories such as ALBUM
and ARTIST. Every now and then, you can also choose to UPDATE your
database from that same series of menu choices.

That's it! If anyone has questions, please write me off-list at unless you want your question to be for general
consumption. Please be specific in your subject line so that I know
your question applies to these instructions. Doing so will induce a
faster response from me.

Also, I am open to suggestion. In case something is unclear, or
unless your experience is different from mine, I would appreciate
hearing about it.

If you need further assistance, you can refer to a decent blind users'
FAQ on the Net that assists us with answering the most
frequent questions unsighted people have about iPod use. Actually, it
was written for the Archos, which I believe is Microsoft's version of
the iPod. But most principles apply for the sight-impaired iPod user
as well. It's
where I learned about Voicebox. The address is

Received on 2008-01-05

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