Promit's Ventspace

April 15, 2010

Songbird Sucks

Filed under: Non-technical — Promit @ 10:42 am
Tags: , , ,

Allow me to introduce you to Songbird. It’s a desktop music player, just like WMP, iTunes, WinAmp, etc. I thought I’d try it out for a while, since I periodically get irritated with WMP (which is sort of bad) and Zune (which is pretty bad) and iTunes (which is really quite bad) and WinAmp (which is downright terrible). My review: It’s shit.

The basic idea behind Songbird is to try to leverage the Firefox approach in a music player. Provide a simple code, sport lots of plugins, work with lots of devices, and so on. The website is well done, and it generally looks like a solid project. Unfortunately, looks are deceiving in this case.

Where to start? Well, it’s built around the Firefox core, and if you think it sounds a little odd to build a media player literally out of a browser…it shows in Songbird. The basic view is tabbed, which would make sense if you could do any of the things you expected from a tabbed view. Multiple library tabs? Nope. Tabs for searches? Nope. Tabs for anything other than websites? Nope. It’s even based around a cool views metaphor where different panes (inside the tabs) can have different info, except they fail to expose those usefully with tabs either. The UI is skinnable, but the popular skins are varying levels of bad and bugs abound. Oh, and the default library UI is either a big long list of all your music, optionally with a genre/artist/album filter that takes up a lot of space. Don’t want genre filtering? Too bad.

The whole thing supports plugins, but as usual the plugins are even glitchier than the defaults. So although a few of them are based on dramatically less idiotic ideas, the results are equally irritating. Besides, I subscribe to the MirandaIM rule here: An application that requires a list of carefully configured plugins to be good is actually a pretty shoddy piece of work. The Songbird UI is trash, but that’s not enough to merit a blog post. I encounter terrible UI almost daily, after all.

No, what really got on my nerves with Songbird is that it does not work correctly. Here is a hint: if you are writing a music player, make sure the music playing functionality isn’t broken! Songbird frequently skipped the beginnings or endings of songs, chunks of several seconds in length. (Disconcerting in general, and downright ridiculous with seamless albums!) Several times, I encountered a bug where it decided to play two separate tracks simultaneously, and one couldn’t be stopped.

It actually gets worse. The damn thing corrupted a lot of my tags — even on files I didn’t try to use the tag editor on. Artist and album artist fields seem to have been switched in a number of places, and long titles got truncated. Why would a music player be editing MP3s that I’m playing? I have no idea. But now I have to clean up after it.

You’d be better off with almost any other player.

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