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.