3 Ways to (Try and) Get the iPhone to Work with Linux

[I've mentioned about my crazy Ubuntu using IT friend Anthony Casella a few times before. Several months ago he made the switch from Treo to the iPhone 3G and -- surprise surprise -- he's loving it! Well, almost all of it. Problem is, Apple doesn't make an iTunes for Linux. So what's an open source geek to do? Tinker, of course! Here's Antony's first article on (trying to) use the iPhone with Linux. Are you trying to do the same? If so, let us know what you're doing in the comments! - Rene]

It's a fabulously well-known fact that Apple has no interest in bringing support for it's highly popular iPhone to Linux. Perhaps I can go as far as to say is that Linux is to Apple as curd is to eyeball. None the less I have an affinity for the iPhone in spite of the abhorrent treatment I receive being a Linux user. Here are a few ways that you can try to live with this Shakespeareanesque tragedy until such time that Apple sees the error in its ways (ya, right)... after the jump!

By Virtualizing

Although VMware allows for any user to download and install their VMware-server and VMware-player applications free of charge, USB iPhone tethering -- as of this writing -- is only supported by their for-pay VMware-workstation application ($185, OUCH!). By simply heading to www.vmware.com you can purchase and download the application by filling out their online form. Once installed, you can virtualize your Windows OS of choice (actually, iTunes 8 is only supported by XP SP2 and up), download iTunes and then synchronize, purchase and play music.

The obvious drawback would be that you'd need a Windows installation disk and valid installation key (Well, most of us need this anyway, ahem). Secondly, you are cruising at not-so-blazing-fast USB 1.0 speeds due to a VMware limitation. On top of that is the $189 fee is a non starter for many simply wanting to listen to their tunes. Finally, running a VM of any OS can be a resource hog so going this route, albeit the most feature complete, seems a bit overkill.

By Jailbreaking

For those of you who don't have an original iPhone 2G and have not upgraded to firmware 2.x, or perhaps simply despise soiling their favorite distro with anything from Microsoft, then there is a Linux-only way to sync your files. The Ubuntu specific “How To” found at the Ubuntu community iPhone site gives you a step by step guide to getting this working using the awesome Amarok music player. I am very aware that Ubuntu != Linux but the guide can tailored to other distros if that is your inclination.

I think it's easy to see why this is less than optimal. Let's be honest, iPhone 2G is last gen and missing out on the App store that came with firmware 2.x would royally suck. Frankly, even though a jailbroken iPhone gives me benefits like being able to multitask my ssh client and run a mail app, I can honestly say that I would be missing out on some of my favs like the Google Mobile App (where I feel like I am a Trekkie talking into my communicator waiting for the “Computer” to give me the answer to all my questions), iTunes remote, I.TV and Air Sharing (more about this next).

By Compromising

I've found a less intrusive way to synchronize my music, photos and movies than what is employed by the previous two methods. I, like most system administrators, use and am able to function with multiple operating systems. I use Linux at work, Windows and Mac OS X at home. I don't follow the zealotry of others who find it necessary to keep a pristine mono-OS-culture. This is where the iPhone app Air Sharing (iTunes Link - currently on holiday sale!) comes into play. The app costs $4.99 and can be installed directly onto the iPhone via the App Store. Any song that I have ripped from CD, or any movie I have ripped from DVD, can be loaded onto the iPhone via the Air Sharing application using WebDAV or Bonjour over a wifi network. This lets me store my ripped MP3 music and MP4 videos onto the device.

The thing that differentiates this from some simple USB key is that I can also play these files from within the Air Sharing app if the urge should arise. Once I am at an iTunes capable OS, I then copy the files off of the iPhone via Air Sharing and sync them to iTunes which then places them into my playlists and ultimately on the the iPhone “as Jobs intended.”

As with the other two methods, there are some snags. One of which is that most people may have a problem having to select a new music file to play each time a song ends as the Air Sharing app doesn't auto play the next item. The biggie of course is that DRM'd files that you want to place into Air Sharing for transfer to your linux box will NOT play on said linux box (via any legal means). That's DRM for you.


Let's face it, none of these are ideal. Until iTunes is reversed engineered or perhaps Jobs allows for even a WINE enabled installation a la Picasa2, we Linux users will have to continue to rely on our resourcefulness to get the full benefits of our iPhones.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

3 Ways to (Try and) Get the iPhone to Work with Linux


Or just flip the bird at Apple and buy something from a company that doesn't use DRM and other proprietary technologies to lock out paying users. Hint: T-Mobile G1.

Virtual Box works great to Sync the iphone, It runs windows much faster than VMWare, I am not sure why you have not mentioned it. oh yea, its FREE.

iphone syncs fine with itunes xp in virtualbox but when upgrade is performed and the iphone goes to recovery mode the usb locks up.
I had to go to an actual XP and restore after copying the backup file over.
iphone in recovery mode > ubuntu > virtualbox > XP > itunes

Hey nice article.
I use VirtualBox (free) and use an install of WinXP so I can sync my iPhone 3G at this stage. It's a pain I know, but a workaround at this stage.

To the author: You're an idiot. 1st, Ubuntu is absolutely linux as it is a branch of Debian with new-technology and user-friendliness in mind (in contrast to pure stability and security ala Debian). 2nd, jailbroken iPhones can still run every app they did when previously "non-jailbroken". Jailbreaking does not replace the iPhone OS (or hardware for that matter, ahem), it simply lifts a few of the more fascist restrictions Apple has imposed upon its poor, helpless fanboy-users. So yes, you can still walk around looking like an idiot with your Google Mobile app and StarTrek fantasies if you have jailbroken...
Every iPhone user should jailbreak their phone without question if they care at all about user rights and not further sinking into a pathetic, corporate-controlled existence.
You should refrain from writing/talking before someone intelligent checks your work. Really, this is just more FUD that will create even-more FUD in the future.

I always find that these kind of articles forget to talk about firmware upgrades, syncing files is the easy bit. Linuxdad's comment was useful.
Has anyone tried petitioning Apple?

ubuntu 10.04 and Oracle Virtual Box...
I can sync the iphone ok (songs, contacts, etc), but when I try to upgrade the firmware I always get stuck in recovery mode..
I've tried adding my iphone Mobile Device (Recovery Mode) to my USB filter but it just doesn't get recognized in itunes. ARGH
Now I have to fire up my old pc just to upgrade my firmware again.

I'm just going to buy a real cheap Atom based UPC, running just windows and iTunes. XP home sould be fine for this for a while. Attached or mapped to a drive full of media, this will be my "iOS sync Server"
I'm even going to try USB over Ethernet just for kicks. 8)

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