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imageEveryone 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 Why I'm Digging Digsby Why I'm Digging Digsby Read More 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 Zune 3.0 Music Manager Reviewed Zune 3.0 Music Manager Reviewed Read More , 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 Behind the Scenes Of Songbird - An Exclusive Interview Behind the Scenes Of Songbird - An Exclusive Interview Read More 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.


songbird tour dates


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 Using to Improve your Audiovascular Fitness Using to Improve your Audiovascular Fitness Read More 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.

Download it now.

  1. Avery
    July 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    I hope this skin is formally alike itunes.

  2. evbart
    December 13, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I'm definitely ready to get away from iTunes, but I can't pick an alternative.

    Songbird seems just as heavy as iTunes, when I'm running it on an older XP pc. Just opening it and playing a song takes up over 120mb of ram! While something like Foobar only takes 7mb. Foobar is a bit too bare bones, and requires too much configuration for my lazy tates :-)

    I have an ipod and a zune as well, so maybe mediamonkey or winamp?

  3. heavyMGS
    December 7, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    I have been following Songbird for a while and keep trying it out every time they update it but I can't get into it at all. This newest version hangs pretty badly on my Vista machine when I have no problems with MediaMonkey. The album art does not show up for files even though I know it's embedded in the file. The addons seem to work part of the time. No Podcasting directory.

    While I do like the idea of this player, it just does not seem to work very well or have the functions I like in a player or manager.

    MediaMonkey and Aimp2 or XMplayer are my music players of choice.

  4. scott
    December 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Yes they do, as a plugin i believe.

  5. ryall
    December 4, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Do they have a 'Playing Now' view yet? Seriously, why copy iTunes' flawed design?

  6. Chutzpah
    December 4, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Please get a dictionary or grammar text and learn the difference between "than" and "then."

    • Laurence
      December 4, 2008 at 7:54 pm

      Please find better things to get worked up about.

  7. Adam
    December 4, 2008 at 1:37 am

    I tried it on my Vista machine, seems to run decently. I'm sticking with Media Monkey, though, until Songbird gets the ability to "dock" to my taskbar.

    It won't, btw, run on my Mac because I haven't yet joined the Intel Mac movement... My 7 year old Powerbook still runs just fine!


  8. Kinox
    December 4, 2008 at 4:16 am

    I installed Songbird v1 .deb from onto my Ubuntu Hardy. Installation is successful. However, I notice that just the simple operation of playing a song results in Songbird using up 30% of CPU (consistently, not spikes).

    Compared to RhythmBox, which uses about 6%, Songbird does't seem lightweight at all. Hope the developers can really look into the CPU usage for future versions. Other than that, I like it. :)

  9. Colin
    December 3, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I have never had a single crash in Firefox 3, despite having 20+ add-ons (which usually cause the crashes, in my experience) installed.

    I tried Songbird before, but ITS stalling switched me off to it. I also like a music player to do just that, I certainly don't need it to run GreaseMonkey scripts or search Google, etc. Songbird still seems to be unsure as to what it actually is, and in your own words wrote "I have not been using it as my main music management software ..." neither would I,.

    • Laurence John
      December 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm

      I haven't been using it because I have a Zune...

      If it wasn't for that than yes I would be. Songbird has a very clear idea of what it actually is, that just may not suit you.

      Also remember Songbird is setting up a platform which online music stores, websites and partners can take advantage of and really improve the experience they provide for customers.

      If you use Media Monkey, Winamp, Media Player or iTunes than Songbird is a great replacement!

      • Neagrigore
        December 4, 2008 at 8:25 am

        but what if you are using Amarok? I would not trade Amarok for anything, whish they had a version that works well in Windows.

        • Laurence
          December 4, 2008 at 7:53 pm

          Yeah I thought about this one... hmm no probably not, Amarok is great and if you like it Songbird may disappoint you with the increased system resources usage etc.

          I wish there was a proper Windows version too =P

  10. docbob
    December 3, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I played with it yesterday or tried to. Unless they patched it, it is useless to me as it crashes under my version of Windows Vista.
    Hopefully they can fix it as I enjoyed it.

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