It Might Not Change Your Life, But Songbird is Cool

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Songbird Screenshot

Originally uploaded by sogrady.

I’m not quite as positive as Michael on the subject of Songbird, but it’s a near thing. I remember being moderately excited when I first heard of Songbird’s launch – well, who wouldn’t be at the prospect of a cross-platform music player built on top of Firefox’ rendering engine?

Unfortunately, I was to be disappointed because they only had a Windows build available at the time. Fortunately, they’ve managed to release both Linux and Mac versions in the interim, and I’ve been giving it a run through since I read Michael’s piece.

The verdict? It’s pretty sweet. With all due respect to the Banshee, Rhythmbox, etc folks, Songbird is easily the most attractive music player available for Linux. As you might be able to tell from the picture, it’s a bit iTunesish in appearance, which in my book is a good thing. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Apart from the looks, however, Songbird’s got an ability that other media players do not. Built as it is on Firefox, it speaks the web natively, so that you can actually load web pages within it and it will parse the page culling out all of the available rich media for immediate play or download. I was a bit skeptical of that until I a.) visited the Songbird folks’ screencast and b.) used the functionality to look around for some music. Within about 45 seconds, I’d found and begun downloading a live David Bazan show from an old favorite from my Boston days, Cambridge’s TT the Bears. Impressed, I am.

So that’s some of the good. How about the bad? As a .2 release, the client clearly has some polishing work ahead of it. Clicking on the Services menu item, for example, overwhelms me with a list of things I’ve never heard of. The Devices menu item merely says “No Devices Yet”; it’d be great if they could leverage of the Linux iPod work such as libipod. The usability can also be an issue at times; I sometimes get confused about when I’m downloading versus listening. I’d also love for it to integrate more closely with my music store of choice, emusic.com.

Overall though, I’m quite impressed with Songbird and am not surprised they got some funding. As I told someone just today, I’m far more impressed with XUL than I was before; it’s an interesting cross-platform rich client technology that I need to pay more attention to, particularly given the Firefox connection.


  1. I started playing with an earlier version, and it was quite flaky, but showed some promise. Certainly the eye-candy is an attraction, and a later version has been a considerable improvement in stability. Worth keeping an eye on, particularly as it’s cross-platform.

  2. A “bit” iTune-“ish”? I’d hate to see what a straight rip-off would look like (oh wait — LSongs!). At least they changed the color scheme. I suppose it’s inevitable that a good design becomes the new baseline, but it’s sad for the people who put the work into the original iTunes layout.

    It looks like they’re going to do some interesting things with the web integration (where’s the CC free music un-store?), but it’s not unique in terms of technology — iTunes uses WebKit embedding to do the iTunes store pages.

  3. Ric: i’m similarly impressed, obviously. what will be interesting to see is whether or not the cross-platform aspect becomes a real, true differentiator.

    Matt: well, i don’t think they copied it wholesale, but yes it is similar. i actually wish they’d take it a bit further and copy the iTunes shortcut keys, (CTL-arrow, spacebar, etc), but won’t hold my breath.

    as for the web kit embedding, i guess what differentiates it for me is that Songbird allows you to open any web page in the context of the player. far as i know, iTunes can’t do that.

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