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Linux Alternatives to iTunes

Songbird and Amarok

  • January 21, 2009
  • By Matt Hartley

While it's true that Apple iTunes has some compelling services, such as their TV/music/movie store, the media player itself leaves many power users yearning for something more.

To be sure, the alternatives don't have Apple's muscle with the media industry. This translates into a lack of a movie/TV download service to be seriously competitive with the likes of what iTunes can provide. Despite this drawback, there are still some great open source alternatives to iTunes for those who are more interested in software freedom than software convenience.

Songbird -- Without question, this is one of my favorite open source alternatives to iTunes. Despite still being under heavy development, today's Songbird application is cross platform and easy to use. And for those who have an iPod or MTP device such as a Creative Zen, it's a smart match from the start.

On the flip side, however, newer iPod Nanos and the iPod Touch are not currently working with Songbird. Hopefully this will change in the future, but I tend to think it'll be a ways off.

Songbird features that I enjoy include:

-- Smart playlists -- Build up your own playlists as your criteria changes. These playlists can dynamically adjust themselves to meet your given criteria.

-- Skin it -- This alone leaves iTunes in the dust. Because Songbird is built on Mozilla technology, it also has the Firefox-like ability to be skinned with themes of your choosing. Create your own if you have the skills or simply choose from a growing list of themes yourself.

-- Setup assistant -- Another stellar option that I like. The setup assistant allows the user to add in the ability to use an iPod or MTP device, include recommended add-ons for extra functionality or simply set things up in a fashion that best meets with your needs.

-- Subscribe to music -- Not talking about podcasts mind you, I mean you can go to a website with typical blog content and actually subscribe to their included audio files.

-- Play music from music blogs -- Without downloading anything, Songbird provides a feature where you can line up all the music found on a given page to play it inline, right there within the Songbird browser itself.

-- Add-ons -- iTunes-like media flow cover art, lyrics, related music -- the add-on abilities just go on and on. This is without a doubt the most compelling reason I would use Songbird on OS X over iTunes. It allows Songbird to do much more that iTunes ever could.

AmaroK -- On the Linux platform, amaroK was my first experience with just how powerful music players could be outside of a Windows world. While the software has come a long way since my first experience with it, the overall experience remains a pleasant one.

As you might expect, amaroK supports most iPods. And to a limited degree it has better iPod support than most other iTunes alternatives for the Linux platform.

That said, the iPhone/iPod Touch units you use have to be running older firmware as Apple has made sure that no one ever truly "owns" one of these devices outside of the watchful eye of iTunes. Then we have MTP support. As with Songbird, support is about the same. If it is truly a MTP device, then your device is surely supported.

amaroK features that I enjoy include:

-- Dynamic playlists -- While amaroK might not be the only application out there offering this, they have done it longer than anyone I know of. Create your own playlists that meet very technical constraints, dates, places, anything that can be found in the MP3 data.

-- Scripts -- Before Songbird was even a consideration, amaroK was providing users with the ability to create and utilize scripts to add functionality to their music experience.

-- Usability -- Easy to use, looks really fantastic.

-- Cross platform to some extent -- Despite the fact that Windows and OS X support is very much in beta at this standpoint, at least we're seeing progress in this great media player coming to platforms beyond that of exclusively Linux.

-- iTunes database importing.

-- Strong music management -- Neither large databases of music nor the method used to locate a specific song will keep amaroK down. Tagging, multiple renaming, this application has great management ability for big music collections.

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