Songbird Sings. But to Whom?
The tech elite, like Slashdot and Ars Technica have dutifully covered the first flight of Songbird. Briefly, Songbird is an open source alternative to iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. Songbird is a combination of a web browser and a music jukebox -- think of it as a lo-fi iTunes with the entire internet acting as the Music Store. Songbird comes with links to stores like mp3Tunes and eMusic, as well as various blogs and mp3 aggregators. It also accepts third party extensions, which bodes well for its future flexibility and features. At the moment though, I'm not sure who the target audience is.
Perhaps it is the digital elite. Songbird certainly has geek cred, with its hybrid Winamp/Firefox roots. But while I applaud the OGG Vorbis and FLAC capabilities, I think most Windows geeks can get along just fine with Firefox, which they already have, and a player like Foobar2000, which has a much smaller resources footprint than Songbird. With the FoxyTunes extension for Firefox, I already have the ability to play mp3s from my browser, though I rarely feel the need to do so.
The included radio and blog links are hit and miss. I appreciate the link to the Take Your Medicine blog, which introduced me to a cool new band. But overall, the available free mp3s were spotty, and the eMusic and mp3Tunes links were not exactly a revelation. Songbird has a Devices menu, but my Rio Karma is not a supported device.
Songbird is obviously trying very hard to be like iTunes, so one might think that an iTunes user would be the target audience. The iTunes audience is a much different crowd -- more interested in style and ease of use than geek features like open source or OGG. Songbird works hard to cop an iTunes look/feel. They even go so far as to mock iTunes ancient Rip. Mix. Burn. slogan. Yet to this point, Songbird only mixes. I could find no ripping or burning features.
As a test of its current capabilities, I tried to locate a mainstream mp3 to download, for free or for cash. I randomly chose Joss Stone, since I had seen her on TV last night at the Grammys, and last weekend at the Superbowl. That girl has some serious buzz right now. I used the Songbird search tool to try to locate her. First I tried an eMusic search, but no dice. So I did a Google Music search within Songbird. That was more successful. The first link was a page offering to sell me the Joss Stone single, Right To Be Wrong -- from the iTunes Music Store.
My take on Songbird? I'm glad there's an open source challenge to the proprietary iTunes. I'll keep it installed, and check the updates regularly. I am looking forward to seeing what the community develops for extensions. I, for one, would love to see BitTorrent integration, which would allow Jamendo and other grassroots P2P publishers to feature their music on Songbird without risking enormous bandwidth costs.
For now, Songbird adds no features I don't have with my other software (EAC, MusicMagic Mixer, Foobar2000) and the crashes, missing features and inconsistent interface mark this as too new to trust as my primary player. Yet.