jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Songbird Media Player

Songbird is a very young product with a very bright future. The Mozilla based media player has come a long way since first releasing a beta, unfortunately to unseat the ruling titan iTunes, Songbird still has a very long ways to go. Songbird is open source, packed with features, and seemingly infinitely expandable through various add-ons and web integration. Also, like the rest of the Mozilla suite, Songbird is cross-platform, a point that becomes glaringly obvious the moment the app is launched.

First the good points. Songbird is a lot of fun! On first launch, Songbird asks if you would like to import your existing iTunes library. I was able to import mine without a problem, including DRM’d tracks and movies. Songbird cannot play the movies, but it has no problem playing your iTunes purchased music. The mashTape extension gives quick and easy access to information from across the web concerning the currently playing track. It will pull up the artists biography, discography, reviews, news, photos, and videos. Another interesting extension is integration with the SeeqPod website. Selecting the SeeqPod Search item from the left pane allows you to search the Internet for songs, and then download them to your library with a right click. The search is a bit slow, especially when Songbird attempts to verify all of the links. Certainly a lot of fun, the SeeqPod extension seems to be of questionable legality.

Songbird has cleaned up their interface quite a bit, and with the exception of the play and volume controls being at the bottom instead of the top, the default “feather” (or skin) looks fairly similar to iTunes. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of iTunes skins for Songbird, but they either were not compatible with Songbird 1.0, or looked nothing like the real iTunes. The Mini Player view is reminiscent of some of the older media players, a very compact interface that I really enjoy.

For all the fun Songbird is, iTunes will remain my media player of choice for now. While Songbird does makes advances with its interface, no skin will replace not having a native mac UI. Something in the way the app feels while using it gives it away as being a port of a “multi-platform” application. A small and rather insignificant example of this is how the “About Songbird…” menu option opens a sheet covering the library with the software license agreement. A normal mac citizen would have another window, most likely with the applications icon centered towards the top, followed by the applications version, and then maybe some other interesting facts about it. A quick look through my other open applications (Mail, iChat, Safari, TextMate, and Yojimbo) shows a consistency that Songbird lacks. This is a small example, but one that shows the lack of consistency with standard Mac UIs that is pervasive throughout the application.

Songbird also seems to consistently take up quite a bit more resources than iTunes. Songbird uses approximately 20-25% cpu during playback, and ranges from 100 - 150MB persistent RAM size. Compare this to iTunes which uses between 4 - 7% cpu and 80-100MB of RAM. Songbird takes longer to launch, and adds to the resource utilization as more add-ons are installed and used.

Songbird seems like an application that missed its mark. With all of its web enabled functionality, it still cannot perform some basic tasks, like playing a movie or video file, or importing a CD. Given that this is a 1.0 release, I’m looking forward to some great things from this project. Once an open source app gains steam, advances can be made very quickly. I’d like to see a faster start time (how about one bounce in the dock?), a native user interface, and a lot of work done on the back end to reduce resource utilization. Given that there are really not a lot of players in this market, I’m excited to see an iTunes competitor. I just hope that Songbird’s goal was not to be a poor iTunes clone.

opensource music