Compared to Rhythmbox, Banshee is far richer in extras. However, compared to Amarok, Banshee has a long way to go. Although Amarok's new interface attracted something of the same criticism that KDE 4.0 did, it is comprehensible almost immediately and highly configurable as well. Moreover, unlike Rhythmbox or Banshee, its collapsible menus in the Media Sources pane make Amarok much more convenient for large local music collections.
Amarok is filled with innovations, but two stand out. The first is the Context Pane, which fetches and displays lyrics and Wikipedia entries about the artist -- a suitable replacement for linear notes.
The second is biased playlists, in which you can generate automatic lists based on your preferences. For example, you could create a playlist that included 25% British Punk and 50% Classic Rock or only songs that were more than three minutes long.
Amarok is not completely flawless. Sometimes, when it scans for new music, its display is incorrect until you shut it down and reopen it. Sometimes, too, it drops new tracks under Various Artists, even though the Artist tag contains an entry. At other times, if the search for lyrics is prolonged, Amarok's controls freeze, although the current track keeps playing. But, these problems aside, Amarok remains the premier music player of the free desktop, although I suspect that Banshee may rival it in another release or two.
You might want to compare these applications simply to decide which you prefer to use. However, the comparisons also show some of the development trends in GNOME and KDE.
For instance, as I compared these applications, one thing I noticed was the apparent arm race between the two desktops. For instance, the recent 1.0 release of DigiKam was almost certainly influenced by the editing features of F-Spot, while Banshee appears to be edging closer to matching Amarok.
Just as importantly, these popular apps clearly show the design trends in both KDE and GNOME. In particular, KDE shows a tendency to develop all-in-one applications that allow you to do everything you could possibly imagine in a single window. By contrast, GNOME tends to develop applications with a smaller range of functions. Also, GNOME's apps tend to pay more attention to usability than their KDE counterparts.
In addition, F-Spot and Banshee are part of the growing trend towards using Mono in GNOME. For those of us who find Mono's licensing incompatible with free software, this dependency alone may keep us from using these applications.
However, many others do not share this view, and, like it or not, these Mono-based applications are important aspects of GNOME's development. Even if you prefer to avoid Mono, you might consider temporarily loading these applications, just so you can get a better picture of current desktop trends.
Alternatively, you might consider any of half a dozen other photo or music managers. Just as everybody seemed to be designing a new word processor fifteen years ago, right now every day on Freshmeat seems to bring a new photo or music manager. Currently, photo and music managers are a major area of development on the desktop, and, as the five apps discussed here show, there is a program for just about every taste and preference.
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