Songbird, the fantastic web-integrated media player, has released a new beta 0.7 version of its software client. It’s much improved on previous versions, but most people haven’t even heard of it. I strongly believe that Songbird is worthy of a place on everyone’s computer, and here’s why.
One: Web integration
One of the first things that strikes you about Songbird is the inbuilt browser. If you surf to a website that has links to audio media on it, then those links will pop up in a box at the bottom of the screen, complete with full metadata, allowing you to download them straight to your library with the utmost ease. But the integration doesn’t end there – Skreemr MP3 search is built into the program, as is search for “The Hype Machine” – an MP3 blog aggregator.
The homepage for the inbuilt browser is fantastic too – you can see it here. It’s got a big search box, as well as recommendations for new music discovery services, the latest music blog entries, links to online radio stations and places to buy music. Lastly, there’s an easy portal to get involved with the Songbird community, who produce add-ons and themes for the software. But more on that in a minute.
Two: It replaces your iPod/iTunes environment (nearly) seamlessly
For everyday use, Songbird will do everything that iTunes does for you. A plugin is installed by default that will let you sync music to your iPod, and when you install the software it asks you if you have an iTunes library that you’d like to import. The software itself will let you buy and listen to all music that you’d be able to in iTunes.
This is a great feature for increase the take-up of Songbird. It’s a sad fact, in my opinion, that most people use the default iTunes/iPod combo. People also don’t like moving too far out of their comfort zone, and so if they can’t use their iPod with Songbird, then they won’t use the software. Kudos to the developers for realizing this, and building it in.
But don’t quite uninstall iTunes yet – you won’t be able to do any software updates of your iPod through Songbird. You’ll still need to use Apple’s bloatware for that, sigh.
Three: Customization – Add-ons and Themes
Ever installed an add-on in Firefox? Or a different theme? Because the inbuilt browser is based on Firefox, pretty much any Firefox plugin can be easily ported over to Songbird, and the community have built a tonne of plugins for the software already.
Want the lyrics automatically displayed when you play a song? You got it. Want to see if a band in your library is touring? There’s an add-on. You can even automatically bring up the Wikipedia page for whichever band is playing. Then there’s the themes. If you don’t like the default monochrome grey look, then you you can either download a theme from the online directory, or build your own.
I could go on and on about the available plugins. If you’re interested, the best approach is to check out the full directory.
Four: It’s multiplatform
Songbird has builds available for Windows XP/Vista, Mac OSX, and both 32- and 64-bit Linux. Brilliant! I don’t have to get used to a different media player on my Vista desktop, my girfriend’s Mac laptop, or my Linux laptop. I’d also say that it doesn’t have much competition on the Linux platform for media players. None of the players I’ve tried on Linux have grabbed me very much.
Five: It’s Open Source!
I’ve alluded to this above, but there’s a big community of users constantly improving the software, and it’s completely free. I’m a big supporter of the open source movement in general – Songbird isn’t closed-box like Windows Media Player and iTunes – it’s open like Firefox. More of this sort of thing!
So that’s why I love Songbird with all my heart. But there is one feature I’d dearly love to see ahead of anything else in their comprehensive roadmap of stuff yet to do. CD Ripping. At the moment there’s no way of ripping CDs in Songbird. This is criminal, when it’s included almost by default on many other media players. I suspect that there might be a legal issue with the MP3 codec, or something similar, that’s stopping them from doing it, but Songbird – if you’re listening – this is the one feature that would make me tattoo the Songbird logo onto my arm, like Zune Guy.
Have you tried out Songbird? What do you think? What is it missing? Is there an even better media player that I’m missing? Let me know in the comments!