Songbird: the Music Player Best at Being Under Development

On my list of “quality blog posts I may someday get around to writing”, is a comparison of music playing software. I stormed out of iTunes a while ago and I’ve gone through a lot of possible alternatives in a search for a replacement (reasons for ditching iTunes and replacement I’ve settled on will be all be told in that much better post in the putative future).

One tantalizing possibility is Songbird. Songbird is mostly from Rob Lord, a guy who is famous for building music players. (Remeber winamp? That guy. Well, the other that guy.) And man does the music-software-developing wisdom show. Never was a software treated to a more practically perfect in every way mandate and development process. In addition to being an aggressively open-source project spearheaded by a comfortably-funded team in a loft space, it’s built on the same platform as firefox, designed explicitly to interoperate with web2.0 stuff and is documented drip by drip in a voluminous and articulate blog.

The results so far are well… it’s a great development process. Trying to actually run the thing is an exercise in patience more than music listening, especially if you’re packing a big music library. The code needs some tweaking, shall we say. And the features, they’re in planning.

But oh boy are they getting the UI down. And here’s the thing, despite still being at way-early-development stage 17 months after their first preview release, there is a super active user community. Users of what, I wonder? The thing’s practically vaporware. But people still flood them with thoughtful responses to every blog-request for comment on every nitpicking detail of UI polishing. I guess they feel engaged. Open-source truly is a wonder.

We’re coming up on 2 years since they announced this thing. A distributed team of programmers has spent 2 years cranking on it. And it still won’t connect to an ipod without a 3rd party extension, burn a cd, or efficiently navigate a medium sized catalog of music. But nobody beats them at development process.

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[…] damning Songbird with some markedly faint praise back there, I started to feel guilty. I should at least point out that Songbird’s stated central mission […]

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