October 12, 2006

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A different drummer
Searching for the iTunes alternative
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

One of my co-workers came into the office fuming the other day.

“Can you write a column on how much iTunes sucks?” she said.

I offered a one-word column, reading “Royally,” but that doesn’t exactly fill up the space, now, does it?

Honestly, I don’t use iTunes much. I probably could, but when I got my non-Apple MP3 player, I installed the software that came with it, called Creative MediaSource, and have been reasonably happy with it. It’s not perfect; it has problems ripping some CDs with enhanced content on them or things like asterisks or parentheses in the title.

iTunes tends to act like your 11th grade history teacher, who figured that if your average student had eight hours of free time per day, it was only fair to give eight hours of history homework, never mind other classes, karate lessons, jobs and/or social lives. It hogs system resources, always running something or other in the background while you’re trying to work, surf, play games or whatever. So what would make a good replacement for iTunes? It should:

• organize and play digital audio and, ideally, video
• burn and rip audio CDs
• synchronize with your portable media player
• connect to an online music downloading store
• support podcast subscriptions
• be free

A tall order? Maybe. Windows Media Player does all that except podcasts and links to more than 20 stores. Winamp does pretty much everything, but only in their Pro version, which is $20.

Then there’s musikCube; a lot of folks swear by it as a no-frills music player, but once again, there’s no podcasting support. When even Yahoo.com lets you subscribe to podcasts and e-mails you when there’s a new one available, you really have to get with it.

If you’re willing to have your podcasts downloaded in a separate application, try HappyFish (www.thirstycrow.net/happyfish) or Juice (juicereceiver.sourceforge.net). Neither gives you a complete media library, but they do sync podcasts with your iPod or other portable media player and are pretty user-friendly.

Songbird (www.songbirdnest.com) looks promising. It’s pretty much an iTunes clone, but less resource-hungry. Not only can you download podcasts, but all your audio and video media are organized nicely.

Problem is, Songbird is only up to version 0.2 right now. Judging from their Web site, the developers are spending far more time creating innumerable images of their farting bird logo and cutesy redundant words (like “test flight” for a downloadable beta version and “feathers” instead of customizable skins) than actually making a media player.

On the other hand, Songbird is open-source and based on the Firefox browser, arguably the most successful open-source project among desktop users. Some of the same people who made Winamp are on the Songbird team. It’s supposed to work on Mac, Windows and Linux. Someday.

Most of the music download services have their own software you can install as well, though they’ll probably let you download straight from their Web sites or other software. They often don’t support podcasting either, since if you can download free content all over the place, why buy music from them, right?.


010/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
09/14/2006 Laptops for less
09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
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