Songbird Beta (0.7)

Songbird Blog » Songbird Beta is Released!.

Having played with several milestone builds of songbird, I was keen to try this one. This is a big milestone for this music player & browser hybrid. Since I’ve blogged on this before, I will keep it short.

The good:

  • New feathers (songbird lingo for UI theme) looks great. Only criticism is that it seems to be a bit of an iTunes rip off.
  • Album art has landed
  • Stability and memory usage is now acceptable for actually using the application
  • Unlike iTunes, it actually supports the media buttons on my logitech keyboard.

The bad (or not so good since I have no big gripes):

  • Still no support for the iTunes invented but highly useful compilation flag (bug 9090). This means that my well organized library is now filled with all sorts of obscure artists that I barely know but apparently have one or two songs from. iTunes sorts these into compilation corner and I use this feature to keep a nice overview of artists and complete albums.
  • Despite being a media player with extension support, there appears to be no features related to sound quality. Not even an equalizer. Not even as an extension. This is a bit puzzling because this used to be a key strength of winamp, the AOL product that the songbird founders used to be involved with.
  • Despite being a browser, common browser features are missing. So no bookmarks, no apparent RSS feed, no Google preconfigured in the search bar, etc. Some of these things are easily fixed with extensions.

Verdict: much closer than previous builds but still no cigar. Key issue for me is compilation flag support. Also I’d really like to see some options for affecting audio playback quality. I can see how having a browser in my media player could be useful but this is not a good browser nor a good media player yet.

Songbird

As you may know, I currently use iTunes. And despite it’s quirks which include difficult to migrate library and the occasional instability it’s a very nice application overall and I’ve been reasonably happy with it for more than a year now (ever since I bought my ipod).

Well, there’s a great new music player called songbird. It’s been under development for little more than a year now. The development team includes some former winamp programmers. I was a great fan of winamp until I switched to itunes (shortly after this guy left AOL/winamp). Up until now the songbird development builds were interesting but not really worth using (I played with 0.1 a bit and it was unusable). That is starting to change though and how! It’s still a developer preview so don’t bother if you don’t have the nerve to use that kind of stuff. But if you do you are in for some treats. If you don’t, there’s a cool flash demo on the website. And yes, so far it more or less works as advertised (to my surprise, I was expecting performance/lag issues).

So, songbird is well on track to replace my iTunes setup, just not right now, maybe (I’m tempted though). I just installed it and it imported my itunes library and it’s currently playing my music just fine (important for a music player). On top of that the user interface looks very nice and seems very usable and responsive. Since it is based on the mozilla runtime (i.e. the same toolkit that Firefox and Thunderbird use), it inherits a lot of nice features such as extensions and themes (or feathers in the songbird lingo). The itunes library importer is one of the extensions. Another one that I have not yet tried is the ipod extension (synchronization!), that’s two important features for an ipod owner: Apple should get worried, busy or both.

The default feathers of both the website and songbird are very nice and stylish. The little birdy is sort of cute and the style sort of resembles the Jip & Janneke theme many Dutch people should at least be familiar with. Except this one has a weird puff coming out of its ass :-).

In addition to the usual gizmos, it integrates a webbrowser. This is used to integrate the internet into songbird properly. I.e. there’s a whole bunch of alternative music stores integrated. And they just work. It’s like magic. I type frank black in the search box, and a website pops up with some frank black tracks. Then more magic, a playlist appears below with the tracks. Ok I click play. And WTF! it starts playing more or less instantly. Without a hitch. That’s just super cool. There’s buttons to add the track to my library and to download. Apparently it supports podcasts in a similar way. This is the way internet radio was supposed to work years ago and still doesn’t work in any other media player I’ve ever tried. The search box uses search plugins just like slashdot. The default one is called the hype machine (which I’d never heard of before).

I guess the ‘secret’ behind songbird is its ability to extract links to music files from web pages and automagically construct a playlist for whatever web page you are viewing. There’s no reason why a normal browser couldn’t do that although most lack the features to do something useful with a music file other than handing it to a media player. Songbird does have that ability since it is primarily a music player that just happens to embed the mozilla browser. This concept works extremely well for any website that has downloadable tracks, pod casts or links to streaming audio (e.g. shoutcast).

I’m sure it has much more to offer and I’ll be playing with it a lot over the next week. As I said, this is a developer preview so wait for the 1.0 later this year if you can’t handle that. I’m not sure if I’ll wait that long though.

New PC & moving itunes library

Update 30/07/2009I just bought an imac and moved the same, but now consolidated, library over to it. Check out the instructions here.

Whoohoo! My new hardware has arrived, last week. I’ve been busy playing with it so that explains the small delay in posting.

Right now I am still going through the tedious procedure of getting everything the way I want it. I have a local network so I can access my old PC. However, dragging my external HD between the two machines is much faster.
Tediousness includes copying my itunes library. Tricking itunes into accepting the old library is somewhat of a challenge. But that’s what’s google is for. Since I found google’s answers a bit disappointing (lots of drag this folder there type of stuff from Apple users), I’ll post some detailed instructions for real users who do not “consolidate” to the itunes folder but choose to keep their music organized manually. To add some difficulty, my new machine has no second harddrive so the paths are different after copying.

If all goes well everything is moved (music, playlists, play statistics, ratings) AND I can sync my ipod with the new pc without that requiring it to be wiped and refilled with the moved library. I’m moving the library, not recreating it.

The Itunes library consists of only two files, its own itunes music folder and whatever external directories you imported (two in my case). One of the two files is a binary file, the other one is an xml file with data on all your songs, including path names, statistics, ratings, etc. Essentially, the xml file contains everything we want to migrate except for the mp3s. Unfortunately, moving the itunes library is not as simple as copying the files to the new machine. Sadly, Apple deliberately made it hard to do what you are about to do. So here’s a step by step guide (windows specific though Apple probably is about the same):

  1. At all times, keep at least one intact backup of all files mentioned in this post. Never work on the originals. Preferably, leave the original library untouched, you can always go back to that.
  2. Start by copying your mp3 folders to your new machine. That may take a
    while. Make sure they are where you want them to be. It took 20 minutes for my folders using an external HD, not
    counting the time it took to create the backup from scratch on
    the external hd (basically I used my incremental backup). Also copy both Itunes files (xml and itl) and the itunes mp3 folder (if not empty)
    onto the external hd.
  3. Now dowload, install, run & close itunes. It will create an itunes
    directory for you the first time it starts, that’s where it will look for its files. Replace the stuff inside this directory (My Documents\My Music\iTunes) with the
    backups on your external hd (including the itunes music folder). Now here comes the tricky part. Thanks for
    this post for putting me on the right track! DO NOT start itunes again until after the steps below.
  4. First fix the pathnames in the xml file. They still point to the old location. Open the file in a capable editor, the thing to look for is search and replace functionality. Search and replace the parts of the path names that are now different: your itunes music folder and any other folders you imported in your old library. Save the file.
  5. Now this is important: iTunes will ignore whatever path info is in the xml file! Unless the itl file becomes corrupted. We can fix that! Open the itl file in an editor, delete the gibberish inside, save. Your itl file is now corrupted, normally this is a bad thing. You still have the xml file though (and a backup of the itl).
  6. Start itunes, it will ‘import’ your music and afterwards complain that the itl file is corrupted, let it fix it.
  7. Check if everything is there. In my case I messed up with the search and replace and some files were missing. Just go back a few steps, copy your backups and retry.
  8. Done. Everything now is on the new PC. What about the ipod? Just plug it in!. You already installed iTunes on the new machine so you have the drivers for your ipod. The key or whatever itunes uses to recognize you ipod is in the xml file. And now also in the recreated itl. Apparently the xml file is sort of a backup of the itl. I suspect the itl is a bit more efficient to manipulate programmatically. I have no idea if this preserves any itunes store stuff you purchased. Presumably, this involves deauthorizing your old machine and authorizing the new one. I never used the itunes store so it’s not an issue for me.

The only thing I lost in the transition is some iTunes preferences that are easy to restore. For example I had some of my playlists set to shuffle. The imported playlists no longer had the shuffle enabled. Big deal. The preferences probably aren’t part of the library. I noticed that the shuffle settings do not sync to the ipod either. This is annoying actually because the shuffle settings is deep down in some menu on the ipod and I only want to shuffle playlists. I like my album songs served up in the order that they were put on the album.

I’ve used winamp for most of the past decade (I think from 1996?). Only when I got my ipod a few months ago, I started using iTunes, by choice. There is an excellent winamp plugin which will allow you to sync winamp with your ipod. Presumably, moving a winamp library is a lot more easy since winamp uses a file based library rather than a database. However, the main developer has left AOL, so winamp development seems a lot less interesting these days. AOL seems to just pile on commercial crap with every release. So I’ve given up on it for now.