The Windows Music Player Battle

Since there is growing competition with music players on Windows lately, I decided to shop around and try them out. Can they replace Winamp? How does foobar2000, iTunes and Songbird measure up to the great Winamp?

I am an avid music listener with a large collection of music. To manage that I need a good media player. Before I start I'd like to say who is the current champion and long time player on my desktop. Winamp. There is a reason I don't want to use Winamp anymore. Winamp seperates playlist from media library and makes the media library a sort of addon. New players have a singular interface where all your controls and media is. The multi window thing just doesnt do it for me anymore. So I decided on this round of installing Windows XP for the millionth time, that I would shop around. The first contender:

Songbird

First impressions


Songbird looks promising and there has been a lot of hype about it online. There seems to be quite a community around it and there are plugins and skins to choose from. Everything from the website to the installation looks sharp and well done with pretty artwork.

Interface


The interface is nothing amazing, but then I wanted a tool, not a piece of art. I did however curiously download 2 themes that looked good on the plug in site, but looked pretty bland when I applied them. Also like Firefox(which is also XUL driven) the application needs to restart to load themes and plugins. This is a bit of a pain.

Usability


This was the deal breaker for me. I added some files to my library which worked quite nicely, and set folder monitoring to on. In Winamp this passively load new music into your library. In Songbird this eats up the entire UI and makes the program unresponsive with a modal "Adding files to library..." dialog in the middle of the screen. So you cant do anything when your loading music into the library. Right clicking and getting album art is a gamble. It may show a dialog or it might just do nothing with no indication of failure(that I could see). I could live with most of these things. What I couldn't live with was the fact that scrolling through my list of music was sluggish. And so I uninstalled Songbird.

Conclusion


I don't want to knock Songbird down. After all it is a relatively young player. It has a lot of promise. May I will try 1.x when the performance issues have been sorted out.

Foobar2000



First impressions


Foobar is a very small minimal player. It's pretty fast and snappy and has all the necessary elements for a good music player. It's not as impressive as the others, but it gets the job done.

Interface


Foobar has the bare basics in user interface elements with no flashy anything. It does however not look bad either. Theres not much to say but it works great.

Usability


The user interface for Foobar is complex. There are settings that I don't care about in the preferences and things I will never set. I guess this is nice for someone who needs these features but I don't. I liked the flexible UI but couldn't really find my media library, even though I added folders to it. Usability is not so much an issue in Foobar as it does what it needs to simply.

Conclusion


My problem with Foobar was that it didn't support Last FM, and it didn't have a nice media library. It looks like it's more geared toward old style "add files to playlist" usage. It is however a great player and I feel like I don't want to uninstall it.

iTunes



First Impressions


Apple always has quite a bit of polish on their products. And this makes all their stuff well... pretty impressive. My first fear of iTunes was that it would be too apple-y. The download was rather large, 69 megs(coincidence?).

Interface


The first thing I did was try to see if I could change the default skin. It's not that I don't like Apple's brushed metal fetish, it's just that I like things to be a bit more consistent with my desktop. I couldn't find any such option. I also had this big fat message saying Genius sidebar is not available in my country. No problem. I probably won't miss it(since I don't know what it is.) Coverflow view is really impressive. I am really liking this interface

Usability


iTunes decided it would be a good idea to convert all my WMA files. I agreed since I hate WMA. Trying to download album art required me to sign up for an iTunes store account. When I was doing this I was slapped a EULA that if printed could wipe out at least one hectare of trees. And now it's time to uninstall. If I want to use get cover art I need a credit card to get an account. Screw it, I'm not getting a credit card just for that.

Conclusion


This really sucks. It seems like a very nice player. Being impressed with cover flow I would have really liked to use it with album covers, but Apple seems to want a credit card for that. This player is made for Apple, and not for the user... sadly. They want me to buy songs from them, so never mind that then.

And the winner is...


Winamp by a landslide. Winamp still reigns supreme on Windows. Songbird has a chance of competing, but will probably have more market penetration on Linux. I wanted to list Amarok 2 here, but having tested it on Windows I wasn't convinced. The user interface in 2.0 took a strange turn and I can't live with that yet. KDE applications are still too unstable on Windows anyways.

It sucks that I set out to replace Winamp and ended up using it. I guess it really does kick the Lama's ass, and all the other Windows music players' asses too.
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