posted by Kroc Camen on Thu 4th Dec 2008 18:20 UTC
IconSongbird is a new open-source music player that has this week landed at 1.0. Songbird is described as a "web player"- a music player for this modern, connected era. It blends the web-rendering core of Firefox (Gecko), with the media capabilities of GStreamer- a cross-platform, open-source media playback engine.

With an integrated (and capable) browser, Songbird allows you to wander off to find new sources of music all within the app itself. It's in this area that Songbird can claim many features not readily available in other players:

  • Use a web page or an RSS feed as a playlist, automatically finding audio files within
  • Web search using Firefox's MyCroft search bar / management, allowing you to add new search providers when visting a site that includes a MyCroft or OpenSearch provider.
  • Last.fm integration
  • "mashTape" pane that finds artist info and related Flickr photos / YouTube videos & Google News
  • Add-ins support using the same XUL backbone as Firefox. (Yes, AdBlock / NoScript are available)

This article will cover me reviewing the Songbird experience, coming from an iTunes user with an already chunky iTunes library of some 6'000 items.

Test Machine
  • 15" MacBook Pro (Early 2007)
  • 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard"
Getting Songbird

Songbird is readily available from getsongbird.com in these flavours:

  • Windows XP-SP2 / Vista (11.7 MB)
  • Linux i686 (28.7 MB)
  • Linux x64 (30 MB)
  • Mac OS X Leopard, Intel Only (28.7 MB)

Community contributed builds have also been produced for Solaris and Mac PPC

The Mac download expands into a 117 MB app file (iTunes is 129 MB)

First Run

I'm reviewing this app from the standpoint of a regular user already using iTunes, who has decided to download and try out Songbird, having heard good word about it - much the same story as users trying out and switching to Firefox.

Whilst this might present a somewhat unfair position of comparing Songbird to iTunes in someway, I feel that doing a “clean-room” evaluation of Songbird would not prove much in the real world, as well as it would deny testing one important feature of Songbird: it's iTunes importing capabilities.

Migrating from one app to another is always a very fearful experience. You don't know if the new app is going to make a total mess of your old data and leave you with a clean-up operation that will take weeks. Before running Songbird for the first time, I made sure my Time Machine backup was up to date meaning that I could do a hassle-free roll back should things go wrong. Throughout this review I'll be keeping my eye on how well Songbird co-exists with iTunes.

Upon starting the app and after a licence agreement and an introduction page, you are presented with the import options:

Thankfully Songbird provides the ability to import an iTunes library, and can handle external changes made by iTunes.

The next page provides some default add-ins to expand Songbird functionality. Personally, I hate any advertising in the software I use, especially stuff that gives information out to websites in order to sell me stuff. However, I let these add-ins be as I would like to experience the default Songbird design.

If anything the benefits of easy plug-in functionality via the add-ins means that one can be mix-'n'-match according to taste, rather than being lumped with 'bloat' with no option to remove it (A problem that greatly plagues software with ever increasing version numbers).

Hmm, checked by default. Personally, I'd close and remove the app right now. I find that kind of behaviour massively disrespectful. Real were pulling this stunt years ago and I still don't trust any software that asks for an email address, optional or not. Regardless, the average user would in most cases just click "Finish".

Songbird took approximately 5 minutes to import my library of nearly 6'000 items.
Both iTunes and Songbird start from cold in about the same time (5 seconds).

The playlist folders I had in iTunes were not imported, instead they were converted into playlists themselves. This is kind of a nuisance, as I had been relying on the functionality of iTunes automatically combining playlists live by viewing the parent folder.

Table of contents
  1. Songbird, Page 1
  2. Songbird, Page 2
  3. Songbird, Page 3
  4. Songbird, Page 4
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