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Songbird’s Open-Source Music Player Finally Takes Flight

songbirdlogoWay back in February of 2006, I wrote about an early version of Songbird, a music-playing app that aspired to be an open-source rival to iTunes. I was guardedly positive. It took way longer than I would have guessed, but the Songbird folks finally unveiled an official version 1.0 of the application today. This final release bears surprisingly little resemblance to that first version. And while I’m still digging into it, I’m impressed.

Songbird’s interface still has some iTunes-like aspects, but it’s no longer the iTunes doppelganger that it seemed to be shaping up to be when I first looked at it. For one thing, it’s both a music player and a full-blown, Mozilla-based, tabbed browser–you can be listening to music in one tab and browsing the Web in another. A feature called mashTape automatically shows info, photos, and videos relating to the musicians whose stuff you listen to; it can also find local concerts by performers in your library. (I just discovered that Freda Payne will be here next April–maybe I’ll go see her.) It’s also got an add-in architecture so folks can extend its capabilities; several add-ons are already available.

In my 2006 post, I fretted about the fact that so much digital music was locked up with DRM that Songbird might not be able to deal with. Turns out I didn’t need to worry so much. For one thing, there’s far more DRM-free stuff out there today, thanks to no-DRM music stores from Amazon, Rhapsody, Lala, and others, as well as the iTunes Plus songs from Apple’s store. For another, Songbird can play songs protected with Apple’s FairPlay–something which I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know a non-Apple music player could do. (I think this feature only works on Macs, though.)

Songbird also imports iTunes libraries automatically. (It went reasonably well in my test, although Songbird imported videos which it then couldn’t play–and now it keeps telling me that it doesn’t know what to do with them.) It can also connect to iPods, but not, apparently, to iPhones as of yet.

This application isn’t perfect, but it’s inventive, fast, and surprisingly polished in most respects. It’s obvious that the Songbird folks have been busy over the past two years and nine months. If you love music and/or interesting free software, it’s very much worth checking out.

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