Hello Songbird, Goodbye iTunes


I love open source software.  There’s something fascinating to me about a community of passionate developers being able to release highly customizable software that is equal to or better than the commercial alternatives.  As I wrote in a post last year, our company uses almost all open source software, both because of the affordability and because of the extensibility.

My office suite is Open Office, my email client is Thunderbird, my browser is Firefox, and my image editor is Paint.net (although GIMP is just as good).  In my free time I like to mess with every flavor of Linux in hopes of breaking away from Microsoft completely.  Ubuntu is about 95% of the way there in my opinion, but that’s for another post.

There are a lot of things to like about Apple, but they are about as closed off as a company can be.  They are pretty much the anti open source.  Like many music fans, I switched from buying CDs to downloading DRM albums from iTunes when I got my first iPod a few years back.  This reliance on iTunes and lack of control over music I’ve paid for has bothered me more and more lately.

Finally, after reading the immensely positive reviews of Songbird (see: Why Apple Should Be Worried About Songbird on RWW)  I decided to do something about it.  Since the only “legal” way to remove the DRM protection is to burn a CD and then rip it back to your computer,  I purchased Noteburner (a virtual CD drive) for $35 and was able to automate burning and ripping about 1,000 songs.  I set it up before I went to bed and by morning I was DRM free.

Now free from Apple’s reigns, I downloaded Songbird and haven’t looked back since.  There are a whole lot of cool things I’m able to do with Songbird, many of which iTunes doesn’t have a comparable feature for at all.  Among my favorite plugins:

  • The YABS skin makes my Songbird look like the screenshot at the beginning of this post
  • LyricMaster displays lyrics alongside of the song while it’s playing
  • MinTrayR minimizes the player to the system tray
  • Song Notifier displays a pop-up with song info each time a new song plays
  • MorningPeeps is an alarm clock that now wakes me up with my music
  • The device support plugins allow me to sync my iPod and Sansa Clip
  • For the 1GB Sansa Clip, I have it sync with 800 MB of randomly chosen songs that are rated 5 stars (so I only listen to music I love at the gym)
  • Music Recommendations suggests music based on what’s playing
  • The Exorcist removes broken and duplicate files
  • Concerts shows when my artists are coming to my area
  • Album Art pulls the album art from Last.fm

Pretty cool huh?  Doesn’t look like I’ll be going back to Apple anytime soon.

8 comments on Hello Songbird, Goodbye iTunes

  1. Anthony says:

    So, Songbird is pretty cool, but still, I think there’s one crucial thing missing – you’re relying on iTunes for legal music downloading. Songbird is just a player. And that being said, I’m not sure I understand the big advantage of Songbird at all. iTunes is a great music player. So is Windows Media Player. If you have them both watch the same folder, you can sync any device you want, without the worry that support for those devices may disappear tomorrow.

    Just because you use iTunes doesn’t mean you need to buy iTunes songs. Me personally – I like to just buy those good old fashioned CD’s. You can rip them DRM-free to any/every piece of software under the sun, and still have something physical that you own, which is of course a good conversation piece for you and your kids when they rummage through your albums 30 years from now, and simultaneously point out how old you are and how good music used to be.

  2. Brandon says:

    Songbird handles managing your ipod as well right? Sync’ing / adding / removing songs ect

  3. Adam McFarland says:

    @Anthony – I left out that I’ve stopped buying from the iTunes store and instead am buying DRM-free MP3s from Amazon. Personally, I just like having my music on my computer and a backup hard drive and don’t like having to run to the store every time I want a CD (not to mention I buy a lot of singles/partial albums). To each his own though, I know a lot of people who like collecting CDs or prefer to get the higher quality sound from a CD.

    As far as the advantages of Songbird, I don’t know of any other player that does all of those things I bulleted out (the alarm and lyrics are big deals to me in particular), but yes, winamp and windows media player and hundreds of others will get the job done in terms of just listening without some of the bells and whistles I enjoy from the addons. I had originally planned to go DRM free with my music and keep iTunes, but after discovering a player I like better with more features I want and the attraction of open source, I was pumped to switch.

    @Brandon – it does sync with the iPod using this addon http://addons.songbirdnest.com/addon/12. Works great for me for both music and video, but I read somewhere on the site or forum that it doesn’t support the iPhone or iPod touch. I have a 5th generation iPod (the first video iPod) and it works great.

  4. Jesse Holroyd says:

    Bad news Adam, Device support stinks. Google the following phrase:
    “Why doesn’t songbird sync with my device”
    You’ll get over 9,000 hits, mine being one of them.

    I love Songbird. And I agree with you about every point except one.
    I just wish it would sync with my Sony Digital Walkman

  5. Jesse Holroyd says:

    P.S. That’s how I found this article from last year, trying to find a way to sync my device.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Jesse –

      Glad you found the site 🙂

      I’ve been using it since this blog post. For the most part I still love it. My iPod syncs perfectly every time, but I do have some troubles with the Sansa Clip. Since that only holds 1GB anyway I’ve just been managing it manually.

      It certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s still my preferred player. I’m a big fan of their roadmap (podcast support, video support, better device support, burning cds, importing cds, etc). I like how it’s open source. And I still like all of the things I mentioned in the post.

      iTunes does some good things, but it still has it’s faults. I’ve heard great stuff about Windows Media Player in Windows 7 so maybe I’ll switch to that when I upgrade.


  6. Bruce Roberts says:

    This blog needs updated to note that songbird has discontinued support for linux. The last version of songbird looked promising but who wants to jump on a dead horse. I have just made the jump to Ubuntu and a lot of my friends are very interested in doing the same. I think that the people at songbird have made a financial mistake. Goodbye songbird!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Bruce –

      Thanks for the comment. In general I don’t go back and update old blog posts, but yes, I agree that the lack of Linux support is a big deal. I love Ubuntu, and I did have Songbird installed on my Ubuntu system as well, but now it doesn’t make sense to even bother with it.

      I personally recently switched back to iTunes for the podcast support and because it syncs with my iPod (Songbird was eventually blocked by Apple). I wish I didn’t buy an iPod a few years back, but given the choice between buying a new device and switching to iTunes, I switched. It does do some nice things like the Genius playlists.

      That said, if I do get a new MP3 player at some pt, I’ll switch back to Songbird or over to Windows Media Player, or maybe even Foobar2000 or Winamp.


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