When ripping CDs from my own collection or (shh) my friends', I didn't always bother to include the cover art. Personally, I never considered album art for my iPod all that important. That has changed now that we have an iPod touch in the family. If I'm missing a lot of album art, the experience of virtually flipping through my music collection, something Apple calls "cover flow," is diminished. iTunes doesn't always offer art for albums I didn't purchase from iTunes. Thankfully, a little GPL-licensed application called Album Cover Art Downloader (ACAD) solved my problem.
The iPod touch's cover flow is an irresistible option to "flip" through your virtual album collection by sweeping a fingertip across a landscape-oriented screen. If the art is missing, iPod replaces it with a dull, dark gray square with boring musical notes. That's no fun! So, I went looking for a solution to the missing album art problem, and found a GPL program that has become my favorite for keeping my album art straight. ACAD runs on Windows or Linux, and it makes the process of finding and downloading cover art quick, easy, and fun.
Downloading and installing ACAD is no problem; there is a self-extracting executable for Windows, an .rpm for Red Hat, and a .deb for Debian. The source code is available for everyone else. you can configure ACAD to search for album art from a variety of sources, including Yahoo!, Amazon, and Buy.com, then tell ACAD if you'd like to save the files to be compatible with KDE and GNOME, in a generic image file format like .png, embed them in ID3v2 tags, or set them for use in Windows Media files. Finally, tell ACAD how you'd like it to "guess" which album art to look for, either by looking at the ID3v2 tags or examining the pathname %(artist)%(album), and you're set.
Once the program is installed and configured, select File -> Open from the menu to show ACAD where your music files are. From there, you can select individual albums or songs for which you'd like ACAD to find cover art, or you can just select everything -- though if your music collection is very large, ACAD has a tendency to bog down and even crash. I found it best to choose no more than three or four albums at a time, just to be safe.
ACAD then begins a search for your album art and presents you with choices. Highlight the album on the left, or a single track, if for some reason you don't want to put album art on the entire album (or if you only have one or two tracks from the album), select the artwork you want, and click Set as Cover. Make sure you have the correct album highlighted before you set the cover, or ACAD will happily embed the wrong artwork in your music files. If that happens, delete the cover and try again.
Once I located album art for the majority of my music, it only took a few minutes to re-import the files onto my iPod touch, and just like that, my cover flow was flowing much better, thank you.