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Review: MusicMatch Serves Up Tunes for Linux

MusicMatch Jukebox: Featureful Software, Limited by WINE

March 16, 2001

I have never been impressed with music playing software on any platform. The interfaces often try to emulate your stereo's CD player, and usually come up short: songs are slow to load, music is hard to organize, and everything still feels "off."

Granted, PCs were never built to be music devices. This was sort of an afterthought people had when soundcards, speakers, and CD-ROM devices all came together. Still, I always hope for a little bit better. After examining MusicMatch, I am still hoping for better, but I am encouraged with the progress this application has made.

MusicMatch Jukebox 6.0 and MusicMatch Jukebox Plus 6.0 for Linux are both graphical music playing applications from MusicMatch. Each is similar in function and design, with the difference being that Jukebox Plus has the added feature of being able to burn CDs and Jukebox does not. For this added feature, MusicMatch has tacked a reasonable $19.95 (US) price tag onto the Plus edition, while the base model is completely free of charge.

MusicMatch runs on Linux thanks to the auspices of WINE. While this normally gives me the willies, I have to say that this was the smoothest installation of a WINE-using app I have ever seen. The program ran flawlessly in terms of functions, though there was significant delays as the various windows and dialogs were jerkily painted on the screen. Strictly in terms of performance, this was the most disappointing part of using MusicMatch on my machine. The good news is, that while the interface was slow and jerky, music playing and recording were not hindered at all.

Installing MusicMatch Jukebox (mmjb) went off without a hitch, and after the first-time start, it successfully found all of the MP3s on my machine, storing them in its own music library. A word of caution: be sure you have a symbolic link set from your CDROM to /dev/cdrom. mmjb does not look for any devices on its own, so it's a symlink to /dev/cdrom or nothing. It didn't, for instance, locate my SCSI-emulating CDRW at /dev/scd0 on its own.

In terms of functionality, there are a lot of features packed into this program. You can play audio CDs and stored MP3 files, record audio CDs into MP3 files, and (with Gold) burn your own CDs, all in one program. The interface is in three parts: the Player, the Library, and the Recorder. The Player and the Recorder seemed a bit redundant, but figuring out which component did what was no big deal.

The default setting for mmjb is to simply read the audio tracks whenever you insert a new CD, not play them. You can change this within the settings of the program so that the CD will simply play on insert, which I prefer to do. I did note that if you start mmjb with an audio CD already in the drive, you have to manually click through a few steps to pull up the tracks in the Player's playlist--something I wish this did automatically.

Recording CDs was easy: put it in the drive, select the songs to record, and click Start Recording in the Recorder component. The recording speed was okay, at 1.5X playback speed. Nothing to write home about here. Files are automatically saved in whatever music library you have open at the time, which was convenient.

Organizing the music is handled with libraries, which in turn feed playlists to the Player. What seemed odd to me was the fact that to burn a CD, you had to load the appropriate playlist in the Player before clicking the CD-R burn icon. It all worked okay, but it may have made more sense to put these functions down in the Recorder.

Another limitation of the application is the fact that it can only see one CD-ROM unit at a time, so those of you who are blessed with two CDs, one to read and one to write, will have to channel mmjb through the CD-R/RW unit.

The interface of mmjb, like many other commercial players on the market, is skinnable. A few skins came with the program, and they were pleasing to the eye and not too garish.

Overall, I think mmjb is clearly a step in the right direction for music management on the Linux platform. If the application can just work through some of the issues needed to run more smoothly on Linux, then this will be a first-class setup.