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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TunesViewer : Access iTunes University easily on Linux

Over the years Linux has evolved from an operating system used by hackers and primarily used on servers, to being recognized as a viable alternative to popular proprietary operating systems on Desktop, the growth of Android, which is infact based on GNU/Linux has only made the case even stronger. The list of vendors that support Linux has grown, there are companies that are funneling in money for development of device driver for Linux, to companies releasing their products on GNU/Linux platform as well.

I am no Apple fanboy, I admire thought process they put in designing their products, but there are many things that I dislike about Apple, and not supporting GNU/Linux is one of them. I own iPod Classic, I have Rockbox running on it and hence I have never worried about iTunes being not available on GNU/Linux and this never forced me into looking for viable alternatives.

I have been following UC Berkeley's webcast for some time, I have thoroughly enjoyed some of their CS courses - for instance Operating Systems, Data Structures and related to signal processing, however, they recently shifted to iTunes U and I was forced to look for alternatives for iTunes to access these files again.

I had option of installing iTunes under Wine or using an application called TunesViewer, I decided to use native application approach and decided to give TunesViewer a try. TunesViewer is open-source pyGtk based application that parses XML files that iTunes generates and allows you to browse iTunes U and download podcasts ( I am not sure about legality of downloading from iTunes U, would love to hear about it).

TunesViewer is written using pyGTK and is available in both rpm and deb packages, thus allowing you to install it easily on debian based distributions like Ubuntu or rpm based distributions like fedora. TunesViewer is not available in the repository and hence you would need to go to the following site and download tunes viewer.

Click here to go to TunesViewer home page.

Once you have downloaded TunesViewer, you can install it by issuing the following command in the terminal window ( Assuming name of the file you have downloaded is tunesviewer_1.2.deb , and you have changed working directory to directory where you have downloaded this file ).
sudo dpkg -i tunesviewer_1.2.deb
On my system I did not face any dependency issue, however, it is possible they might crop up owing to not using apt-get/aptitude for installation, in case tunesviewer asks for library missing from the system, you would have to install it from the repository.

Once installation completes, you can launch TunesViewer from Applications -> Internet -> TunesViewer, alternatively, you can also launch TunesViewer by typing in "tunesviewer" at the terminal window.

TunesViewer allows you to easily search for content on iTunes U, or instance, I was able to find lecture series on Embedded Systems, Information Security and Theoretical Computer Science, which I thought were not in public domain. These were not listed on opencourse ware pages.

There are tons of content on iTunes University, which is only growing as more and more university realize the potential of Opencourseware and the ever increasing popularity of iPad and iPhones make iTunes U, ideal platform for them to distribute their opencourseware.

TunesViewer, Notice the search box at top, allows you to easily search for content on iTunes U

Not all content on iTunes U is under public domain, and some of the content is restricted and requires login name and password for access, TunesViewer supports authentication to access content which is restricted.

TunesViewer parses the XML files designed for iTunes and hence allows you to access content meant for iTunes, and since most of the content is designed in form of interactive webpages, which is displayed in iTunes, the interface of page should be similar to what you will find if you were using iTunes instead of TunesViewer.

Search results for "Algorithms" gives different courses shared by different universities on iTunes U


Depending on relevance, if you chose a particular search result, Tunes Viewer takes you to the corresponding course home page, or page of the university where the media was featured, allowing you to find more related content. Additionally, the section at the bottom displays all the media files from the page , along with the type of the media file, it can be video in which case, type is listed as mp4 or it can be audio in which case type is listed as mp3, these files can be easily downloaded by double clicking on them.

However, TunesViewer is still very much incomplete and only gives you limited functionality, for instance once download starts and if it is interrupted, there is no option to resume download, this has been a major problem for me, I work in lab , where WiFi is erratic and there were many partial downloads, which had to be restarted from the beginning, there is not even a resume button in download manager which TunesViewer provides, though a simple work around is, you can click on Item Info and copy the URL of media and download it using your favorite download manager.

Overall, I don't have too many complaints against Tunes Viewer, it is a viable alternative to running iTunes under Wine and offers an easy way to download educational content from iTunes University and with the rate at which number of new courses are being added in iTunes University right from making iPhone applications to teaching you Convex Optimization, iTunes U can be an important one-point central repository for educational content for self learners.
The only grudge against Tunes Viewer, it is slightly incomplete and is not actively being developed by developers.

Article Written by : Ambuj Varshney (blogambuj@gmail.com)
For Linux on Desktop Blog , http://linuxondesktop.blogspot.com
(C) 2011 , Ambuj Varshney

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