Canonical, the Ubuntu overlords, decided to include Banshee 2.0 with Ubuntu 11.04 “Natty Narwhal” – meaning the highly popular Linux distribution will be shipping with a fully integrated online music store for the first time. This version of Banshee has been tested on Ubuntu 10.10, and is the current stable release. Mac OS X users can download a temperamental beta, and there is a very buggy Windows alpha version in development.
For those of you who aren’t already using Ubuntu 11.04, you can get a version of Banshee for your particular distribution over at the download page. There are plenty of versions for specific distributions, or you can download and compile from source should you wish to.
Older versions of Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distributions (with binary compatibility) can download from the official repository opening up a new Terminal window and typing:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:banshee-team/ppa sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install banshee
For the latest versions, adding the official Banshee repository (as above) is a must.
Streaming & Downloading
Banshee is very much reliant on an Internet connection for much of its feature set. One of the main features is Amazon MP3 Store integration, which appears in the menu bar on the left. Browsing for music is handled simply by the bog-standard Amazon frontend, and whilst a custom interface would have been nice it serves its purpose.
Anything you stream (preview) is handled by Banshee, which means no Flash plugins and some lightning-fast buffering. Every now and again a preview would timeout when clicked. I’m not sure if this is Amazon’s fault or Banshee’s. Simply clicking preview again loaded the track the few times I encountered the error.
Downloads (free or purchased) from the Amazon MP3 Store are automatically added to your Banshee library, and you can stipulate the settings for saving this to your hard drive within the preferences.
Also included are integration with Miro and The Internet Archive. Miro is a fantastic way of discovering both audio and video podcasts, with a hearty selection of media to choose from. Much like the Amazon MP3 Store all previews are handled by Banshee. Podcasts can be subscribed to with Banshee’s in-built podcast tool and you can even add a shortcut link to your favourite shows on the main Banshee sidebar.
The Internet Archive is probably one of the better integrated components, with an ever-expanding database of things to watch, listen to or read. The search interface makes it really easy to find what you’re looking for, and it’s a good job as you’ll have so much free content at your fingertips.
A simple Internet radio streamer and Last.fm integration are also present and functional but nothing particularly special to write home about.
The daily builds of Banshee currently also include experimental eMusic Store support, described by Rolling Stone magazine as “the iTunes music store’s cooler, cheaper cousin“. When this makes it to the stable builds Banshee will come with 2 music stores, and offer a huge selection of tunes.
Playback, Connectivity & Customization
Bolstering the already impressive feature set, presentation and accessible content is the player’s compatibility with other devices. Banshee plays nicely with Apple’s range of portable media players, handy if you need to use iTunes to transfer media to your iPod or similar. If you’ve got a Creative Zen or other MTP device then Banshee will do the trick here too.
Adding music to your library is done via the preferences. Simply point Banshee to your music folder, hit Refresh Music Library and wait for the program to do its thing. Video works in much the same way.
Browsing for music is done via the artist browser, which uses cover art for navigation (though you can always search). Intelligent shuffle has been included as well, with Banshee preferring songs with higher ratings to those you aren’t fond of. Audio playback displays a minimalist description of the track title, artist and album as well as cover art.
There are several extensions included with Banshee from the get-go, including the cover-art downloader, YouTube support and artist information from Wikipedia during playback (in the context window, enabled via the View toolbar). More extensions are listed and available for download from the Banshee website.
Banshee is reasonably lightweight and responsive, and certainly doesn’t feel as bogged down and sluggish as the Windows versions of iTunes I have used in the past. If you’re searching for an iTunes equivalent for Linux, demand excellent integration with radio, video, podcasts and a music store then Banshee comes with everything you need.
Have you tried Banshee? What do you think? Any other similar Linux favourites? Let us know in the comments below.