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Songbird: new music player on-song, if a little out of tune

an image of the Songbird logoOriginally, this article was going to be a review of Songbird, the new music player. But then I had another look at it, and for all it’s might, fancy and potential, the poor thing just isn’t ready to take flight just yet. But I’ll tell you what .. oh my, does Songbird have potential! Anyway, if you want a look, go to the Songbird nest and download a copy right now. What’s that you say? Don’t be shy, tell us more? Well OK, then.

The bad: Songbird is at first glance an iTunes rip-off. As for the interface, you could be right, but then again, there’s only a finite number of ways of doing the same thing. So we’ll forgive them.

The very bad: In the current form, the poor devil isn’t exactly on song. There are bugs aplenty. More than enough to stop you not noticing them, forgetting about them and just using it.

The good: Songbird will happily import your iTunes music library.

The not-so-bad-but-bloody-annoying-none-the-less: .. but not the music you bought through the iTunes Store.

The bad: The interface feels quirky, more so than Firefox, Flock et al, which I think is just the whole Mozilla thing at work / play rather than some errant bug. Or maybe it’s just the ‘purist’ Mac user is me?

The very good: Because of its Mozilla heritage, there’s a browser built right in. But what does this mean to you? For me, this is the principle reason to use Songbird.

If you like new, free music (legal, of course) then Songbird could quite possibly be your venue of choice.

Right now, there are loads of people out there churning out top tunes and slick sounds interwoven into web pages scattered hither & yonder on the web.

Just point Songbird towards those websites and he’ll do the rest. In one fell swoop, he’ll unearth all of those choice tracks and pop them into a handy panel for you to preview and then add into your library. If you like the website, then just add it to your Favourites. It’s that simple.

Anticipating your next question (‘coz it’d be mine!) here are the music formats Songbird supports: “Songbird can play all the popular music formats including MPEG Audio (mpga), MPEG Layer 3 (mp3), MP4 Audio (mp4a), Ogg Vorbis, Speex, AAC, WMA, FLAC, and less important: LPCM, ADPCM, AMR. If you’re a developer, teach Songbird how to play your favorite format!”

Songbird also covers all 3 major platforms, so he more than comfortably perched atop Mac OS X 10.3 or later, even though their FAQ page mentions Mac OS X 10.4 or later as well as Linux and Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Windows XP.

The gooder still: Internet radio offers a more comprehensive list of stations than iTunes, and is easier to use, also.

The sort of bad: There’s still a long way to go. But, the people behind Songbird aren’t standing still. They’re busying themselves with updates and nightly builds for the eager amongst you!

Hang on? That sounded like some kind of review to me. Hmm…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

4 replies on “Songbird: new music player on-song, if a little out of tune”

Hmm, looks pretty good although the “not playing iTunes purchased music” thing turns me right off – I’d rather have all my music in one place than some here, some there, even if the playing is super-duper-fantastic.

Still, there’s nothing to stop me converting my bought tracks to non-DRMed versions I ‘spose …

Hey, nice “review.” Very honest and balanced. I’m the author of the iTunes importer and iPod extensions. Thanks for the mentions.

It’s too bad about all the DRM preventing Songbird from playing all your music (e.g., Apple Fairplay). Perhaps that will eventually be addressed by some extension writer.

The web browser is also good for not-free music. It enabled me to write an extension for the eMusic store. Check out this screencast to see how it works. Look for others to write more store extensions in the future.

Songbird’s been dogged before about its iTunes-like interface. However, iTunes has an easy to use interface that’s familiar to many. There may not be much to be gained by radically changing it.

Hi Erik and thanks for posting!

“Songbird’s been dogged before about its iTunes-like interface. However, iTunes has an easy to use interface that’s familiar to many. There may not be much to be gained by radically changing it.”


I think iTunes is a good example of the way the look & feel of media players would have gone anyway, so that’s why I can’t be critical of Songbird.

I think Songbird has a good future, one I’ll be watching with a keen eye.

I’ve got another post coming up on the music scene shortly. A discussion of the tussle between the iPod and the Zune…

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