Everyone has their favourite service, software or developers who they would like to support and promote as much as they can. You can perhaps think of a few off the top of your head ““ Firefox is the obvious example from the last couple years, Digsby is becoming a favourite amongst the online community and FriendFeed is loved by the early adopters.
For me personally it’s Songbird. Over the last year I’ve been taking a real interest in watching the progress of the open source media player. I’ll admit I have not been using it as my main music management software recently ever since I bought a Zune, however I’ve still been testing and playing around with it as each new version is released.
Songbird launches today as a non-beta, version 1.0 release following 2 years of development. The significance of this launch should become apparent with time, but I think it’s safe to say this is an important milestone in the development and innovation of desktop media players and hopefully Songbird will gain the same community support Firefox did.
The Vision for Songbird
Rob mentioned the vision for Songbird briefly in his interview with us a few months back; “what happens when a desktop media player is connected to the Web is an unexplored and intriguing opportunity. Songbird re-architects the traditional desktop media player to go there. Songbird is an open, customizable desktop media player that is built to play the Web.”
Given that Songbird is open source, available across all three operating systems (Windows, Mac and Linux) and has been translated into over 60 languages this vision looks more like a reality every day.
However, visions and arguments for openness and ubiquity have rarely made much difference to what users actually use so the real test of Songbird will be what mainstream users think of the software and if they adopt it which only time can tell.
Performance and stability has been an issue for Songbird throughout much of the development ““ however it’s also to be expected considering it was being released as alpha software. The last few releases however have seen dramatic improvements in both areas ““ so much so that the experience of testing Songbird 1.0 feels almost like a new media player entirely.
Songbird has always been lightweight but for the first time however it actually feels lightweight. If you’ve come from using Media Player or iTunes especially than the experience will be a huge improvement. If you’ve been a longtime Songbird user than you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Customizability and Features
What I love most about Songbird is the ability to only include functionality that you actually need. Software development often follows a cycle in which a new development will quickly gain popularity for being lightweight and innovative. Users like it, but than demand all kinds of new features. This “˜feature creep’ eventually results in a product much like the software it was designed to replace ““ slower, bloated and loaded with features many users don’t need.
This is what I feel is happening to Firefox ““ the point of Firefox was always in creating an open, extendable platform which could be extended by developers, however now Mozilla seems to be also caught up in a features race with Microsoft and Google and what was once Firefox’s greatest strength ““ stability and performance ““ is failing behind. Since Firefox 3 I’ve got sick of the browser’s memory usage, random freezes and frequent freezes.
Songbird will hopefully avoid that and this can be seen by the difference in how features are introduced. The Songbird team develops extensions alongside the main Songbird client and these are what introduces new features to the media player. If you don’t want them you don’t install them ““ simple as that.
Some examples include support for various file types, media players, the popular MashTape extension, LastFm scrobbling and media views are developed by the Songbird team and made available from the addons website.
Incidentally the way the Mashtape extension aggregates data from various different sources really is fantastic, check it out in the screenshot below:
Since extensions are such a huge part of Songbird you would hope this launch includes a number of addons to choose from.
There are over 70 community provided addons for everything from skins to media views to browser extensions. It’s not a huge number but it’s a significant start to what will hopefully grow into a strong community. Songbird is built upon the Mozilla codebase which it shares with Firefox so for many Firefox developers conversion of extensions should not be too difficult a process and may perhaps encourage them to do so.
To conclude ““ this is a great release and I would very much recommend it to anyone to use as their main media player. To be honest, I can’t think of the last time I reviewed a major product and really felt like the developers had totally nailed everything they needed to.
- Performance: fixed
- Stability: fixed
- features: provided by the community
- minor UI issues: fixed
- web integration: great.
I actually like to provide balanced reviews ““ point out the negatives and compromises however this time I really can’t. That alone is probably the best thing I can say about this product.
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