A few posts back I mentioned Songbird, a currently being developed advanced media player. Well, I took the plunge and installed it to see what it was like.

On first impressions you expect things to be good, the website is well designed, informal, downloading is easy, as is the installation. On the first run it asks if you want to scan your machine for MP3s (a bit like Picasa does for photos, but it doesn't give you as much control on which sub folders to scan), and it opens up, MP3s listed, ready for action. However that's where things go downhill. At the moment I'm not terribly impressed with Songbird. All of the MP3s it has found are now listed in one long list. Any careful folder structure I had is not available in Songbird, and to top it all it is using the ID3 values instead of the file names, so that isn't very reliable. So essentially what Songbird has so far done is to make finding the music I want to play harder. Hmmm.

I wanted Songbird to redeem itself, so I set off in search of a website with some music on it that their “web playlist” feature would pick up on. Now this bit I'm happy to report works really well. I don't care how it works, but it detects music to play on a website, allows you to listen to it, skip through it, and ultimately download it, with a very impressive latency (I rarely waited for more than a second after skipping forward in a track for it to start playing).

However playing music is where things go downhill again. I've learnt from Tony that this interface is modelled on iTunes, and I have to say its rubbish. Whilst the main info panel for the tune is in the top middle, the play, fwd and rwd buttons are in the top left, and I swear, it took me nearly 10 seconds to find them. To top it off the buttons surrounding the main panel mean nothing. The icons need some work, well, the whole usability of playback control needs work.

In summary? Well, Songbird is a promising application for its web playlist feature, but for a music management and playback utility its not great. The best thing they could do, split out the web playlist and playback feature into an extension for FireFox and IE, and keep the main library and playback as a separate media player. That way I don't have to use Songbird for browsing music websites, I can use the browser I'm used to, but I can have the excellent functionality the web playlist offers. Still one to watch, but maybe not as intently as I maybe would have....