Saturday, June 18, 2011

Open Source iTunes Competitor Songbird Officially Released

Songbird is like an open source version of iTunes that handles just about everything that program does, while swapping out the iTunes store interface in favor of the world’s music blogs.

You can stream music from those sources directly within the program (try that with iTunes’ browser), purchasing whatever music you encounter there that strikes your fancy from multiple sources: Amazon, Amie St., eMusic or iTunes. Or, if a blog or other site offers songs as free downloads, those are gathered neatly at the bottom of the screen as well.

At its core, though, Songbird is a solid music playback program — albeit one that can be customized with add-ons from Songbird and other developers, a strategy we’ve seen before from Songbird founder Rob Lord, formerly of Winamp, which itself had a wide variety of plug-ins. Lord set his sights squarely on iTunes when he launched Songbird a couple years back, accusing the program of being "like Internet Explorer, if Internet Explorer could only browse" Songbird, with its emphasis on unfettered access to the web’s music sources, proves his point.

Aside from being a solid local player with Web 2.0-friendly music discovery built-in, Songbird can sync music to your iPod, so long as it’s not protected by Apple’s Fairplay DRM. Although a mechanism exists for playing Fairplay-protected music in Songbird, it didn’t work for us (screenshots below).

Beta versions of Songbird have been kicking around for ages, but today`s official release offers several improvements over the program, including a switch to the open source GStreamer multimedia playback system, which the team says makes this version perform better and with more reliability.

Songbird also added a mashTape feature that harvests images from Flickr, videos from YouTube, artist bios from and news from Google, all related to the currently-playing song. Minor tweaks include revamped keyboard shortcuts, a new Linux installer (the program runs on Windows, Mac and Linux), the ability to find out where a file actually lives, and the ability to nest one smart playlist inside another.