Can Open Source Songbird Compete with iTunes?

Whether the open source music app can challenge iTunes is an open question, but Songbird's add-ons are certainly attractive.
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With the open source music player Songbird finally making its v1.0 debut this past December after two years in development, the big question swirling around Songbird continues to be whether or not this Mozilla-based player will be able to give iTunes a run for its money.

It might be an unfair question, though; after all, iTunes is the most popular media library app going. iTunes is free and it supports virtually all the top audio and video formats. Plus it's built to mesh seamlessly with the near-ubiquitous iPod and iPhone.

But hey, didn't they same the same about Firefox? Surely this upstart browser couldn't make a dent in Internet Explorer's dominance. They were wrong, and maybe it's too early to pass judgment on Songbird, which after is all based on Mozilla's Gecko engine, the same tool that powers Firefox.

If Songbird is going to give iTunes a run for its money, the newly-released music player had better be ready to deliver the goods. In our experience, it is.

First up is the sheer openness of the app, especially relative to iTunes. We've long been frustrated by iTunes' apparent desire to manage and control every aspect of the user experience. Apple has iTunes locked up tight, but fortunately that's not the case with Songbird.

Perhaps as an outgrowth of its open-source roots, Songbird just feels freer. Files are easy to manage and options are easy to configure. There isn't the same fear factor that sometimes has users hovering in uncertainty as they manage their libraries in iTunes.

Setup is also quick and easy. Media can be imported directly from your own files or from iTunes. We found Songbird was able to scan and catalog our entire music collection quickly and accurately.

A lean installation wizard makes short work of installing any or all of six add-ons that come pre-packaged with Songbird. This is where things get interesting. It's with the add-ons that Songbird really flies.

Our favorite by far is MashTape, which appears as a bottom-of-the-screen pane. MashTape tabs give quick access to artist info (bio, discography, etc.), reviews, news, Flickr photos, and YouTube videos. For all-in-one content to augment the listening experience, MashTape is an easy to use, outstanding bit of fun.

Other ready-to-roll add-ons include QuickTime Playback, as well as a SHOUTcase tool that delivers a Songbird-native interface for browsing and playback of SHOUTcast Internet Radio streams. It lets you manage the experience through station bookmarks, genre filters, and other means.

The Concerts plug-in will search Web sources for tour dates that match up with artists in your library, and can be configured to search by location. With the Last.fm tool you can update your Last.fm profile with music you've been playing through Songbird.

Next page: Add-ons

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Tags: open source, Firefox, iPhone, Mozilla, songbird

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