The Candidate

12 Nov

Open-source alternatives to popular software programs are often like important films that people are more apt to praise than actually, you know, watch. Sure, Ingmar Bergman’s made many important contributions to cinema. But there’s also a reason Die Hard is a Christmas tradition in many households. Similarly, it’s great that many open-source applications exist. But when it comes down to simple things like making an ipod work, working with the office computer, or in the case of operating systems, finding a wireless network, there’s also a reason why the Apple and Microsoft have the strangleholds they do. iTunes hasn’t become the industry leader because Apple put a gun to everyone’s head, it’s become the industry leader because it’s completely intuitive to use. Nonetheless, Apple’s business practices, especially as it gains more clout in the music industry, have a lot to be desired, and the forever-in-beta Songbird project deserves attention.

It’s far from a perfect project, and it’s safe to assume that the masterminds behind it assumed it would already have been released commercially by now. It’s been developing fitfully for over two years now (with many false starts) and is only just now approaching a Version 1.0 (the various betas have all been promising but buggy). For the intrepid, Release Candidate 1 is now available for download, with the promise that it’s coming down the homestretch.

Immediately noticeable is the vastly improved performance. The biggest issue with previous iterations was that it was nice when it worked, which was about half the time. It’s finally stable enough to use for long periods without freezing, or draining system memory (which, for Windows users, is one of the issues that causes people to seek iTunes alternatives in the first place). There’s still a few issues; it doesn’t organize library folders like iTunes does (which is annoying), it lacks CD ripping capabilities, and device support isn’t quite up to par yet. In other words, even if you’re using Songbird as your primary player, you’re probably not going to be uninstalling iTunes just yet.

So why go through the trouble? There’s been plenty of iTunes alternatives that have found out, like John Kerry in 2004, that to topple an existing power, it’s not enough to simply point and say “we ain’t them.” A challenger must actually bring something new to the table. Songbird certainly does not lack shiny features. Last.fm addicts will love the integration, which allows for “Loving” and “Banning” tracks directly from the player. The built-in internet browser (it takes some getting used to, but this is where Songbird really shows its Firefox DNA) also makes downloading from mp3 blogs a snap: just navigate to the page, and it scans for any tracks on the page, allows you to listen to them inline, and download and add to the library in one click. Note that Apple has the technology to add such a feature, but since it would cut into iTunes Music Store sales, there’s a fat chance they’ll ever do it. The Wikipedia integration also feeds photos and biographical information into the bottom half of the player.

It’s disappointing that after two years of teasing, Songbird is still not (quite) ready for primetime, but its attractive interface and rich feature set make its future look brighter than ever. Lets hope the Songbird community gets over that last hump and gives Apple a minor scare.

Last.fm, Wikipedia, and The Hype Machine all join the music player

Last.fm, Wikipedia, and The Hype Machine all join the music player

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One Response to “The Candidate”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Songbird’s Out (And I’m Not Dead) « Black Ships - December 3, 2008

    […] Songbird’s Out (And I’m Not Dead) The last two (exhausting) weeks have forced a somewhat unplanned hiatus from updating. I’ll be back to my normal schedule soon, but in the meantime I wanted to poke my head above water long enough to follow up on the Songbird post. […]

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