In december 2001 the mailing list was setup and the first mail was sent out on December 7th. This was months before the project had any name. We just gathered eager reverse-engineers wanting to improve the Archos Player firmware.
We were just a few friends who like hacking low level code, both as professionals but also in our spare time – and we really thought that these kinds of devices had much larger potential than what the firmwares they were given allowed them. “Rewriting Archos firmware from scratch, how hard can it be?” as we used to joke. Oh well, we did.
From that moment we worked on mp3 players. A couple of months later we started on the next target (Archos Recorder) and so we continued. We got ourselves the name Rockbox for the project and people joined up from everywhere, wanting to contribute their knowledge and enthusiasm.
(Björn “Zagor” Stenberg, Linus “LinusN” Nielsen Feltzing and Daniel “Bagder” Stenberg in September 2002.)
We got our logo in 2002. In 2003 we supported the FM recorder model. We ported code to and run our first stuff on a “software codec” target in 2004. During 2005 we added support for our first color screen targets and in 2006 we added ipod to our “family”. The flood gates opened and new targets have poured in ever since. iAudio X5 and the Sansa e200 were also added that year.
Today, we have code running natively on 75 something targets (on SH1, m68k, ARM and MIPS architectures) and we run Rockbox as an app on top of other operating systems such as Android and Maemo. The project keeps up a fast pace and even in the last few months we’ve seen several new ports having been added to the source code tree.
Being a large project with lots of strong personalities and committed developers we’ve had our share of politics and flame fests. The real name policy was originally a reason for lots of heated debates, as we only accept contributions from people who provide real names – no nick names, but as time has passed the arguments have more and more been over technical details or over how the development is or isn’t run.
Rockbox has participated in the Google summer of Code program four years as a mentor organization and in this time we’ve had perhaps 15 students that have worked on Rockbox, and a bunch of them were successful and a fair amount of those students stayed in the project after having finished their summer projects.
The Android version hasn’t been released on the Android market so far because lots of developers think that first impressions is very important and as Rockbox has been designed with fixed-size screens there has been no support for platforms with varying screen resolutions. This has forced Rockbox to provide different versions for different Android targets (screens really). In addition to that, the GUI of Rockbox has been all native Rockbox and not very Android-like which has also been mentioned as a con. These issues are being worked on, although I cannot provide any estimate for when we’ll see Rockbox “for real” on Android.
I’ll stick to my story about what I think of Rockbox’s future: I think the dedicated music player market is going away slowly and that phones and other portable devices is what people will use to play music on. Rockbox is a very capable music player, but the question is if there’s really a demand for it on the new generation of devices…