Songbird: an Open-Source, Cross-Platform Music Player

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Songbird is a an open source, multiplatform music player intened to rival players such as iTunes; but does it have much more beyond the basics?

[Editor’s note: this review was written by Freewaregenius contributor Jason H. Check out his tech blog: 404techsupport.com].

I’m taking a look at Songbird version 1.1.2. Songbird has been out for a while but only reached 1.0 at the end of 2008. Version 1.2 is expected to be out this month adding features like an equalizer and a customizable toolbar.

I used to use iTunes and left that after getting sick of the ever-increasing size for updating and bloat. I’m now currently using MediaMonkey and am pretty content with it. We’ll see how Songbird stacks up against the two.

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If you’re familiar with other Mozilla products like Firefox or Thunderbird, the install process will feel very familiar. An additional part of the Songbird setup process is locating your media collection and importing it for the first time. You can also set this folder to be monitored for any changes. Along with the import, you can install some add-ons that the setup recommends. You can always add these later but installing them during the setup makes for a much improved first impression. Setup recommends these add-ons: MTP Device Support, QuickTime Playback, Windows Media Playback, SHOUTcast Radio, Concerts (songkick.com), Last.fm, mashTape, 7digital Music Store.I would recommend the MorningPeeps (alarm clock), LyricMaster (lyrics) add-ons as well. They’re pretty cool and add more versatility to the player allowing you to set an alarm with your music collection and automatically pulling down lyrics for your songs to add to the tags. I would recommend a few more plug-ins based on their description but they did not work for me upon installing them; MinimizeToTray (Songbird version) and The Exorcist (remove broken tracks and duplicates) were two that I tried. It seems the Songbird community is not as rigorous as the Firefox community for the reliability of add-ons.

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Songbird uses tabs like Firefox and allows for a lot of configuration. You can open separate web pages in these tabs which might allow further integration with the player. It also has an about:config page like Firefox for advanced tweaking. Of course, the standard configuring with an interface is also available and allows for a lot of customization.

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Songbird comes with a built-in tag editor and much of these can be automatically populated through the various plug-ins. You can rate songs and add all the metadata you want including your own comments.

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One of the coolest features of Songbird, in my opinion, was the Smart Playlists. You can have a playlist randomly populated based on different filters and criteria. If you want to listen to something but you’re not quite sure what you’re in the mood for this can definitely help narrow down your music collection.

smartplaylist

If you’d like to change the look of things around Songbird, you can change the theme, or Feathers in Songbird terminology.

I was pretty impressed with the import process. It imported more than 4500 tracks in less than 30 seconds. You can use Songbird to play DRM titles if your machine is already authorized. Unfortunately, to authorize your machine that likely requires you to download and install the client for the other systems.

With a 13 MB download, Songbird measures in on the light-weight side of things compared to the ever-increasing 64MB iTunes 8 download. When running, Songbird brings with it a 70MB process and feels snappier than iTunes and MediaMonkey.

All in all, I’d still recommend MediaMonkey over either of the others. MediaMonkey has its own dynamic playlists to stack up against Songbird’s Smart Playlists and I really make use of MediaMonkey’s ability to auto-organize files by different tag attributes, particularly genre and artist. That’s just my opinion though. When the price is free, give them all a go and see which you like best. Songbird will likely continue to be developed and bring a lot of cool features with it, so it will be worth keeping an eye on.

Version Tested: 1.12

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista.

Download Songbird from Mozilla (approx 13 megs).