Interestingly enough I switched away from iTunes 7 and haven’t touched it ever since their highly hyped update to 8. I switched to foobar2000 which is actually a pretty awesome bit of software. I have however been constantly hearing about Songbird and its amazing features so I’ve now finally got round to installing it and testing it out. Here are my thoughts.
Foobar > Songbird
One of the reasons I switched away from iTunes in the first place was obscene memory usage. I’m not sure how iTunes 8 is with memory but I had many grievances about the performance of iTunes 7 when I used it. Testing Songbird on a decent laptop (3GB RAM, Intel Core2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10 GHz, a processor that benchmarks faster than most in its clock speed range), it took 5 seconds for the program to start up fully while foobar loaded instantly. Foobar’s memory footprint was absolutely miniscule at 10MB while Songbird required a hefty 80MB, though that’s fairly unsurprising considering its capabilities as a browser.
In terms of usability, as a foobar2000 user, I miss features like Cursor Follows Playback (and more importantly Playback Follows Cursor), complete ID3 tag control, advanced syntactical filters and fully customisable shortcut keys, for which I have yet to find Songbird extensions. Whatever the case these are minor concerns and are bound to be ironed out / provided in the long run by extensions or built in natively. However my concern is that Songbird seems directed more at less savvy / control-freak users who don’t necessarily want to use something like a RegEx string or SQL query to perform operations or filter their music – the functionality is based more around forms and buttons rather than console, debug window and command prompt. While most people probably welcome this user-friendly approach, I personally enjoy the ‘hackability’ and almost complete controllability of foobar. Of course, since Songbird is open-source a real hardcore user may prefer to hard code in mods, though I for one prefer not to have to recompile software to make it do what I want.
There are also several components which come natively with foobar (or as pre-installed plugins) such as ReplayGain (very important; Songbird’s equivalent is the ‘VolumeProfiles’ addon); minimise to tray (again critical [to me]; Songbird has the ‘MinimizeToTray’ addon); and a ‘resume playback after restart’ option (a nice touch to foobar; Songbird has an addon called ‘last track resume’).
Songbird > Foobar
Enough nitpicking. Songbird really does have some really awesome features. Its integration with the web is very nciely done – I get the impression more or less every online music service is supported to some extent, and the whole browser integration is a brilliant idea. Foobar’s web integration comes in the form of ‘freedb’ which I assume is some sort of tags downloader though it’s never given me any vaguely sensible suggestions so isn’t very good. There’s also a mini player built in which foobar doesn’t seem to have without resorting to skinning. Ratings are native which foobar is critically missing – you have to use ‘quick tagger’ [addon]. The default iTunes interface was offputting at first but the browse library by artist/genre/album etc at the top is another feature foobar lacks but Songbird has. And, of course, Songbird is open source.
It’s interesting that Songbird was developed as an open source project thus appealing to the techies while also being amazingly pleasant to use with some of the most useful and critial features built in and vast extensionability. Someone commented Songbird is like the Firefox of media players. I can’t say I disagree.
Songbird, Foobar > iTunes
Despite a slow load time, Songbird wipes the floor with iTunes when it comes to performance. There was a problem with iTunes 7 in which scrolling through a large library was a misery owing to the intense slowness of just about everything. Songbird on the other hand is actually pretty snappy. And of course Foobar runs like lighting.
Both are extensionable. I know there are iTunes addons etc. but both these alternatives take extensionability to a much higher level. Songbird probably uses extensions about as much as Firefox while Foobar takes extensionability to an extreme by more or less requiring them to function normally (hence the pre-installed ones).
And of course neither associates itself with a store that sells DRM music ;) So it’s all good.
Overall, based on my experience of them so far, both are far more than adequate replacements for iTunes (unless you’re a fool and actually use the iTunes store in which case your music is useless if played by anything but Apple products). Foobar even has support for iPods (not sure about Songbird). Neither has performance issues, and both are more or less customisable enough for the standard user. If you’re after an easy and pleasant-to-use player with an automatically decent-looking interface with truly wonderful web integration, go download Songbird. If you’re a control-freak in search of hackability and control almost to the extent of writing your own RegEx (and also a completely no-nonsense player), foobar’s the one for you. On the other hand if you want a program that is slow, memory-hogging and defaults to buying music from a store with hideous DRM, go ahead and download iTunes.