Songbird is a cross-platform, open-source iTunes replacement that is built off of Mozilla. It has a similar look and feel to iTunes, but it extends many of the features. The site actually has a great screencast that introduces the unique features found.
I was introduced to Songbird by Ian McKellar at SHDH15. I’ve been using it for about a week (Version 0.2 Developer Edition on Windows XP) and here are some of my initial thoughts, starting off with things that I like.
- Integration with MP3 Blogs. I’ve actually never subscribed to any MP3 blogs before, but I can see that easily changing now. Songbird comes with a list of 6 MP3 blogs. With these blogs, Songbird will scan the posts for MP3s and show them to you in a form of a list at the bottom. From there you can play the MP3s as if they were local media. This is a very handy feature for quickly listening to new music.
- Cross platform. I love the fact that I can go from OS to OS and this program will be available. It’s always such a bummer going between my Mac and PC and having to use different programs because one isn’t supported on one OS. Being a cross-platform application eliminates those frustrations.
- Works just like iTunes. If you know how to use iTunes, you know the basic functionality of Songbird. This eliminates the frustration of learning a new program, let alone the extra/hidden features. This is a smart move by the developers since their target audience seems to be iTunes users. Any transition will be very smooth (including the fact that you can easily import your iTunes library).
- Mozilla updater. When I start the program it will automatically check for updates for the program or any add-ons. Since this program is still in development, this is a very handy feature for distributing bug-fixes or new features without having to go to the site and download an installer.
- Last.fm integration. This is only one of many add-ons for Songbird. However, I like this because I don’t need to load a separate application for scrobbling my songs to Last.fm. These guys know what their audience wants.
- Ogg Vorbis Support. Unlike iTunes, Songbird supports the open-source MP3 alternative Ogg Vorbis format. Although it’s not as popular as the MP3 format, it’s nice to have support for those alternative formats.
There were a few things I didn’t like or felt were missing. These were mostly features of iTunes that I would like to see implemented.
- iPod Sync Support. This should be a no-brainer.
- Airtunes Support. I love how I can wirelessly stream music to my speakers with iTunes + Airtunes. I would love the same feature in Songbird
- iTunes Share Support. As someone who has multiple libraries, this feature is a very convinient feature on iTunes I would like to see in Songbird. It would be great if somehow a feature was also added to copy music from library to library via shares!
- Better Bookmark Support. When bookmarking a site, it doesn’t give me the option of where I would like to save it to. For example, if I want to bookmark a new MP3 blog, I’d prefer it go into that section rather than the bookmark section. Further, how do you add a new MP3 blog?
- More Radio Station Support. This kind of goes along with the previous suggestion. I have a few radio station sites I listen to sometimes; it would be nice to be able to easily add those to the radio section when bookmarking.
- More Smart Playlists. One smart playlist I would like to see is one that has a list of all MP3s found on MP3 blogs. That way I can play a variety of MP3s on random without much effort.
- Last.fm/Audioscrobbler Authentication Confirmation. As someone who uses a variety of passwords, I always forget which password I use where. I started to use Songbird and checked my Last.fm account to see if my tracks were getting scrobbled properly. When I saw they were not, I figured it could either be the feature itself or my password. It turned out that I used the wrong password, but I had no way of knowing. I think a confirmation or a button to test your login credentials should be added to prevent this issue.
- Highlighting song in library. When I go between tracks, the library stays at the beginning. Most applications move the library to the location of the currently playing song for you. This is convenient if you want to play other songs of the same artist.
Lastly, here is a list of bugs that I found while playing around.
- Full Screen Error. When I close my laptop lid, and open it back up, the application goes into a full screen mode that is bigger than my actual screen.
- Last.fm Error. Sometimes the following error is triggered: “Some tracks you submitted have not been added to your profile for the following reason: Spam protection triggered: You submitted a track dated earlier than your last submission.”
There is one last note I would like to add. The ability to find and play MP3s found in MP3 blogs makes Songbird a very powerful, and perhaps even revolutionary program. Maybe I’m behind, but I have not seen a program with that sort of functionality. Perhaps this is the time to bring up the idea of implementing semantics within HTML for the purpose of labeling music and finding music in MP3 blogs. I propose the idea of a Microformat-like way of labeling MP3 information within HTML for programs like Songbird. Currently it looks like Songbird gets its information from ID3 tag information, but for the MP3s that are not properly labeled, it shows only the filename. Sometimes the filename doesn’t even hint at the songname or artist of the song! Another benefit of using semantic information within HTML is the fact that you don’t need to download the MP3 (or part of the MP3) to get the information. This can save a lot of bandwidth for the host of the blog and the person browsing the site. The last benefit is that this makes for a format-neutral way of labeling data. You can put an MP3, Ogg Vorbis, Real Media, or WAV file on a site, and still have the information come up.
As a program that’s still being developed, Songbird feels like a very complete cross-platform media player. I can see this easily taking the place of iTunes as new features are developed. I for one have started the transition from iTunes to Songbird. Of course, there are missing features, like the ones noted above, that would seal the deal once implemented.