An Alternative to iTunes? Songbird 1.0 Review

GetSongbird.com.  Will this program replace iTunes?

GetSongbird.com. Will this program replace iTunes?

Apple’s iTunes is one of the most popular media library management applications currently on the market.  It’s available for free, comes pre-installed on all Apple computers, supports all of the most popular audio and video formats, and is the most compatible application with the iPod.

But a tall tree attracts a lot of wind.  Just as Mozilla decided to take on the task of toppling Internet Explorer’s dominance of the web browser world (after a few other companies tried), a new start-up is trying to take on iTunes.  And wouldn’t you know it:  their software is based upon the same code as Mozilla’s Firefox. 

Songbird, an open-source media player in development by the secret-society-sounding Pioneers of the Inevitable, saw its first stable release this past week, and while rough around the edges, the program definitely has potential.

Songbird's main view.  Look familiar?

Songbird's main view. Look familiar?

By default Songbird includes support for all of the media formats supported by iTunes, and even has some rudimentary support for Apple’s DRM-imprisoned AAC files purchased from the iTunes Music Store.  When first launching Songbird, a transition wizard of sorts appears, making the process of switching from your current media player of choice to Songbird that much simpler.  The wizard can either search your computer for media or import your iTunes library.

I chose the latter option.  It imported most of my songs, but not all of them; I was promptly reminded of this by a warning message saying that some of my files could not be imported.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what files were unable to be imported.  But a particularly nice feature was the wizard’s suggestion of add-ons to install along with Songbird.  Much like the Firefox website, the Songbird homepage has a section where users can download plug-ins to suit their needs.  The import wizard saw that my iTunes library included some DRM-protected files, and suggested I install the plug-in that adds playback support for these files.

The mashTape plugin.  A nice touch.

The mashTape plugin. A nice touch.

Songbird also suggested some other plug-ins, such as “mashTape,” a customizable info-box that displays information, photos, and videos about the artist of the song currently being played.  I also installed the “Concerts” plug-in, which allows you to, unsurprisingly, search for concerts in your area.  You can also filter the downloaded list to include only concerts of artists in your library.  The concert-browsing feature is streamlined and easy to use.  This is easily one of the best features of Songbird.

It is also worth mentioning that plug-ins like “Concerts” integrate so seamlessly because Songbird has an integrated Mozilla browser.  You can search sites like Skreemr.com and the Hype Machine right inside the software.  It isn’t a fair replacement for a full web browser, but it does get the job done for quick searches.

However, Songbird is not without its limitations.  The current iteration of Songbird is a bit sluggish, and can suffer from the occasional hiccup or crash.  I haven’t tested iPod support; supposedly it can transfer music to any iPod, but I’m a little hesitant to play around with that feature.

All in all, Songbird could definitely be a formidable challenger to the market dominance of iTunes, but not in its current state.  And although I probably will not replace iTunes just yet, Songbird is clearly moving in the right direction.  iTunes is painfully un-customizable, and it seems to be at the peak of its success.  It’s about time that a new contender in the media player war showed up.

Songbird is available for download at GetSongbird.com.

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2 responses to “An Alternative to iTunes? Songbird 1.0 Review

  1. I’m glad to see that there are some competitors out there. This may help bring more creativity to the market, and perhaps more open features…Nice review, that concert feature sounds pretty cool.

  2. Pingback: Case Study II – Songbird’s Last Tune | cmuq 67-474

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