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Songbird vs. Amarok: How not to design a GUI

Recently I forced myself to uninstall Amarok 1.4 and try Amarok 2 again. I saw there were some nice updates to the interface coming in the next version so I grabbed the latest version from SVN.

I very quickly started looking for other alternatives, and you'll soon see why. The best I could find was Songbird.

I'll start with a disclaimer that both of these programs are great, and they are free. I am not suggesting, let alone demanding, that anyone change anything in either program to suit me. Kudos and thanks to the devs of both. These two programs are both probably better apps than I could dream of coding. Feel free to respond "Ask for a refund" and "Fix it yourself" anyways if you like. I think it's still useful to give some constructive feedback, and maybe I'll learn something myself about how to make a good GUI along the way.

Next I'll start with my conclusion, so you don't have to read further, because this is admittedly long. Amarok 2's interface is extremely painful, but at least it plays music. Songbird has a wonderful interface, much like Amarok 1.4 had a wonderful interface; if only I could get Songbird to make sound come out of my speakers, I'd be set.

I think it's interesting to compare Songbird and Amarok 2, both being bleeding-edge music players for Linux with a similar philosophy and feature set. So let's compare GUIs. I sized the two windows exactly the same and tried to have them display mostly the same bits of information, so it'd be easy to compare. Click below for larger versions.

Amarok 2:

Amarok 2




In Songbird the playlist dominates the window by default. This is good because seeing a list of music is what I want. It's the whole point of a music player.

I strongly dislike the "filter pane" style of browsing my music. Thankfully you can turn it off in Songbird. You can also install "cover flow" sorts of eye-candy extensions if that floats your boat. I avoid such things, and Songbird's interface is easy and comfortable by default.

In Amarok by default the playlist is a little sliver of GUI off on the right, and the middle context pane dominates the window. Enough people complained about this that in later versions you can turn off the context view entirely, in which case the playlist will stretch to a reasonable size. Whether the information in it will look good is another story (see below).

Amarok's "Local Collection" browser is an expandable tree. You can customize how things are grouped. This was great in Amarok 1.4. It works similarly here. It's not as lightweight or responsive as in 1.4, but I can't complain. By default it's way on the left, with the playlist way on the right and the context view in between, but in later version of Amarok you can change the order of the panes.

I'll call this a tie even though you have to fight for it in Amarok.

Sorting the playlist

Songbird has a bunch of columns with column headers. To sort things you click the headers. Note that this is how Amarok 1.4 worked. This is how every program in the universe works.

In Amarok you have drop-down menus that you can add and remove with buttons, and you pick sorting criteria from that list, left-to-right in order of priority. This is clumsy. According to the devs' blogs this part of the GUI is a work in progress, which is fine, maybe it'll improve.

But note that the design of Amarok's playlist fundamentally limits the ways you can sort it. There have to be some magic GUI controls floating up top, disconnected from the playlist. You aren't going to get a bunch of column headers that you can click because the playlist isn't just rows and columns. Each song in the playlist can take up more than one row and there are grouping-headers interspersed. This is painful and I imagine it's always going to be painful.

Playlist readability

There are no labels in the Amarok playlist to tell you what information you're looking at in the playlist. I initially customized my playlist to show disc number and track number. Doing so, you get a bunch of numbers. What do the numbers mean? At a glance you can't tell. Am I looking at an Artist or Composer? Play Count, or Score? Does that big empty space mean my song is missing a Genre or missing a Year?

In Songbird the columns have headers.

Playlist length

How many songs can you squeeze into the playlist vertically? This is an important metric for me. I want to be able to find a song quickly without scrolling through a list for a year and a half. Sure I can search, but search doesn't replace my eyes in all circumstances.

In Songbird even with those filter panes above the playlist it fits a few more songs than Amarok. You can turn off the filter panes entirely, in which case you can display tons more songs in Songbird than in Amarok. Songbird wins.

In Amarok, by default the playlist has a bunch of multi-row header stuff mixed into the middle of your playlist to show artists and album names and cover art. You can make the headers not take up so much room (or turn them off entirely), in which case Amarok gets pretty close to Songbird. You'll just do without album or artist names. Unless you can manage to cram them into the playlist in the rows beside the track titles.

Which brings us to our major problem...

Playlist customizability

In Songbird you can right click and add and remove columns. You can drag-and-drop columns to rearrange them. You can drag the edges of the columns to resize them. It's simple and it works. This is how Amarok 1.4 worked too.

Amarok fails hard in comparison. In Amarok to customize the playlist you go into a special dialog. You pick your components from a horizontally-scrolling list of huge icons. Then you arrange them into rows.

You can put two or more items side-by-side in which case they become multiple columns on that row in the playlist. Kind of. To control the width of the columns, you hover over that component in this magical dialog, and a weird circular icon appears. When you click it, a drop-down appears with a microscopic slider at the bottom that looks like it was pulled from KDE2. This is the only way to resize columns in the playlist. Here's a screenshot.

Amarok 2

What in the world is this? What are simple drag-and-drop operations in Songbird and every other application ever made, are buried in this cryptic dialog under non-standard controls in Amarok. I've been using KDE and Amarok for a long time and it took me a good couple minutes to even figure out how this thing works.

I think the widths are percentages and have to add up to 100%, I don't even know. The slider is so small that if you drag it one pixel it usually jumps 5-10%, so it's nearly impossible to get anything to look nice. And when you resize the Amaork window later, the columns don't resize sanely; some fields are smashed into each other or overlap as others take up too much space.

Maybe this will all be fixed before the next release; I realize I'm looking at bleeding-edge pre-release software. But this whole idea is so fundamentally broken I don't know how it's going to be salvaged.

I've heard many times that "You can make Amarok 2 look like Amarok 1". No you can't. You can tediously stuff lots of information into the playlist so that it approaches the level of info you could easily and painlessly get in Amarok 1.4. But it will neither look nor act anything like Amarok 1.4. Resizing the playlist will break things. Nothing is labeled. Nothing is easily customizable.

Playlist consistency

Songs in Amarok are grouped into albums by default. If you have a song that doesn't belong to any album, it's displayed completely differently than a song that does. You can alter this in the scary playlist editor dialog mentioned above, under the "Single" tab (as opposed to "Head" and "Body" which control the "grouped" songs). Sound confusing? It is. Needlessly so.

In Songbird songs are displayed the same whether they belong to an album or not, since the play list is just a list of songs. This seems like it should be a no-brainer.

Playlist: overall

Amarok 2's playlist is unique, imaginative, and I'm sure it's a clever bit of code. It's also nearly unusable.

Why can't we have a grid of rows and columns? There's a good reason so many apps use such a control. It's simple and familiar and it works. I'm open to learning something new if it's an improvement. Amarok 2's playlist is not an improvement. Why can't the playlist be a simple list of things to play?

There's nothing about QT4 preventing someone from making a good GUI. Look at ktorrent.

The little things

Say I want to email or IM someone and ask them if they like some artist, whose name happens to be Japanese and difficult to type on my gaijin keyboard. How do you copy and paste the name of an album or artist in Amarok 2? In Amarok 1 you could just click any field in the playlist twice, and it'd let you edit or copy/paste that field inline. Same in Songbird.

In Amarok 2, you have to right click and go into the Edit Song Details dialog, and do it from there, then close the dialog. A tiny step backwards.

How do you change the rating of a song? In Songbird you click the stars in the playlist beside the song you care about. Same in Amarok 1.4.

In Amarok 2, you can display the stars for each song in the playlist, but to change the rating you have to click in the context pane. (So if you dislike and therefore hide the context pane, you're screwed.) Clicking in the playlist does nothing. A tiny step backwards.

All of these tiny steps add up.


So how well does each player serve as a web browser?

This seems like a ridiculous question, except that both really do try to be a web browser. You can open song lyrics and wikipedia pages and such things right in the music player. I find these features nearly useless. Lyrics are nice when it works (which isn't often, for the music I listen to), but browsing Flickr? Really? Does someone really use this?

Songbird does use its inline browser in a nice way to let you browse and install addons from the Songbird website, and Songbird has a cool feature to let you rip audio files from web pages. Amarok doesn't have these, but I don't hold that against it. I can easily live without any of this stuff.

So in Songbird you have an embedded Mozilla engine. It's hidden behind a tab. You can just avoid opening such a tab and then you don't see it. You can even hide the tab bar itself. Victory.

In Amarok the browser stuff inhabits the middle context pain. The size is limited for this pane, which means information is crammed into the available space, which greatly limits its use. It's also clumsy and difficult to turn components on and off, and I can't figure out how to resize them. The context view itself is either in your face, taking up most of your screen real estate, or it's gone and not easily retrievable.

Note in the screenshot, how in Songbird the lyrics pane is big enough to display all the lyrics, yet small enough not to be annoying. You can also hide the pane (as you can hide every other pane in the GUI) via that tiny button with an arrow under the pane. Amarok's lyrics widget is either too big (if you let it occupy the whole content pane) or too small (if you want to have anything else in the pane with it).

Note that Songbird's lyrics pane is added via an addon. It's a completely optional part of the GUI, which is nice. (Note that Songbird also mangles certain text in the lyrics due to encoding problems, which is a point against it.)

Wasted screen real estate

See that tiny little red icon in the bottom-right of Songbird? That's the integration. It's all hidden in a little square of pixels, out of my face, not sucking up screen real estate. This is a common theme in Songbird. Everything is tiny and/or hideable. Tiny is good.

In Amarok everything is huge and round. Even ignoring the content pane, there's white space everywhere. There are buttons strewn all over the interface, like the seven in the lower right. Export Playlist? Does that really need a button? And other buttons appear (and disappear) in awkward positions at the top. "Add Position Marker"? Does this really deserve a prominent button right beside the main play controls?

And yet things I do need buttons for, such as changing the Skip or Repeat options, have no buttons. This is possibly the first player I've ever used that doesn't have a button for Skip and Repeat.

GUI skinning

Songbird is skinnable. So was Amarok 1.4, to a degree. Amarok 2 isn't and I don't know if it ever plans to be. I can live without skins but it's nice to have the option.

Desktop environment integration

As one might imagine, Amarok wins here, if you use KDE, as I do. Global keyboard shortcuts are already set up, it sits in the system tray, and there are nice Plasma applets you can put on your desktop.

Songbird meanwhile does not play nice. First, it has window hints set to hide its border and window title bar, and it tries (and fails) to manage windows itself, giving your window manager the middle finger. I had to force kwin to display the title bar and border just so I could resize certain dialogs that were otherwise broken.

Then, Songbird doesn't sit in the system tray. You can force it down there via alltray, but right-clicking the icon doesn't give you Play/Pause/Next/Back options like in Amarok.

There are no global hotkeys, but you can easily fix this in KDE too because you can set your own global hotkeys to do anything, and Songbird has a commandline interface to let you do what you need. It's still not as graceful as Amarok.

So KDE thankfully rescues Songbird from its own deficiencies, which is nice. Except...

Playing music

Ah, Songbird. Why oh why won't you work? Songbird uses gstreamer. In my years of bouncing between Gnome and KDE and XFCE and others, and using various distros, gstreamer has never worked for me consistently. I can get Songbird to play music, but Flash videos stop producing sound while Songbird is running. This is a known and reported bug, I'm not the only one. While Songbird is playing, other KDE apps randomly produce sound or not depending on the phase of the moon.

Amarok actually plays music, so I'm stuck with it. Unless I go back to Amarok 1.4 which I may still do.


Songbird is pretty good. If I can figure out how to make gstreamer play nice, I'll probably use it.

Otherwise just consider this yet another voice in the wilderness wishing for a Qt4 version of Amarok 1.4. There was nothing wrong with it, from a user's perspective. I'm not the first wishing for this, and won't be the last. If I had a couple years to get good at C++ and a team of programmers to help, I'd probably try it myself.

Why write an 87-page essay about the GUI of a music player? Because Amarok 1.4 was a really good program. I'm a programmer and I appreciate a good program. Songbird has a pretty darned good GUI too. It's painful to see Amarok 2 going in this direction.

July 11, 2009 @ 2:09 PM PDT
Cateogory: Linux


Quoth Johannes on July 11, 2009 @ 9:24 PM PDT

Thank you for this review. I am afraid that GNOME is going in a similar "unusable" direction with 3.0... how is it possible that things change for the worst?

Quoth GregE on July 11, 2009 @ 9:47 PM PDT

Do you use Pulseaudio? I have KDE set up to use Pulse as the default for all sounds. If you run Pulseaudio Device Chooser it will put an icon down near the clock. Click on it and select Configure local sound server, then go to the Simultaneous Output tab and select "add virtual output device...."

This has solved most of my sound issues allowing multiple apps to output sound simultaneously.

I am using Amarok 2.1.1 and find it OK, but then I just play music - I care nothing for ratings etc they are in my head and change with mood and over playing.

If you feel like a challenge try aTunes, it is Java based. My main gripe with aTunes is to do with it's abysmal double clicking performance.

Quoth Chris on July 11, 2009 @ 10:04 PM PDT

I think Banshee does it right. Not surprisingly, it will be the default player for the next version of Ubuntu.

Quoth GregE on July 11, 2009 @ 10:37 PM PDT

I just installed Songbird to see what would happen. I am using Kubuntu 9.04 64bit, soundcard is an onboard VIA VT1708S.

All sound is via Pulseaudio. I have gstreamer-pulse installed along with phonon-gstreamer and phonon-xine. Phonon-xine is the selected backend for KDE. I do not have the Ubuntu supplied flash installed, I have the proper 64bit flash direct from Adobe manually installed in the plugins folder /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins. Plus the virtual pulse device described above.

Songbird outputs music without problem. I loaded Firefox 3.5 and played a YouTube video then went into KDE System Settings and played the test function in Multimedia. All the sounds continued to play, mixed together. I exited Firefox and Songbird kept on playing without missing a beat.

I hope this gives you enough clues to fix your sound issues. I off now to play with Songbird.


Quoth aleph on July 12, 2009 @ 5:57 AM PDT

You may want to give Exaile a try.

It looks pretty similar to Amarok 1.4, though I admit I haven't tried it out yet myself, since I can't get it to work with Jack, which is a requirement for me, but it doesn't look like that's an issue for you.

The problem I've run in to with most open source music managers is that they don't both work with Jack and have a ratings system.

xmms2 looks promising, but won't build on my gentoo system yet.

I don't know why so many music managers don't allow the songs they manage to be rated. It's a huge oversight, in my view.

So, when I have the time I'm most likely going to look in to writing some kind of ratings and other music metadata server, maybe using the Audio::DB module from CPAN. Then I'll see if I can integrate it with mpd, by having it spit out playlists in response to searches, along with some easy way of changing the song metadata in its database.

Quoth wintermute on July 12, 2009 @ 9:52 AM PDT

You should definitely check out qmmp, it's a great Qt4-based audio player.

Quoth Troy on July 12, 2009 @ 2:06 PM PDT

I keep hoping to drink the amarok2 kool-aid, but every time my nose gets near the cup it smells like bitter, bitter poison. Innovating in the way that the devs are attempting always has potential to create a nice UI advancement, but as you point out, too many things with A2 are fundamentally broken and (i believe) its future is grim. All we've really learned UI wise is what doesn't work.

FYI: Here is a Amarok 1.4 repo for jaunty+

Elijah Grey
Quoth Elijah Grey on July 12, 2009 @ 2:06 PM PDT

About Songbird using Mozilla's Gecko engine for displaying webpages: Actually all of Songbird is written in Mozilla tech. It's all XUL, JS, etc.

Also, nice choice of music :D. I love JoCo's songs.

Quoth Aekold on July 12, 2009 @ 5:31 PM PDT

Excuse me for asking this, but what style are you using for your KDE? Looks pretty...

Binny V A
Quoth Binny V A on July 12, 2009 @ 6:02 PM PDT

I'm also not very enthusiastic about the direction Amarok is taking. By the way, RhythmBox looks good.

Rahul Jain
Quoth Rahul Jain on July 12, 2009 @ 7:27 PM PDT

Just use mpd, and then use qmpdclient as the front end for mpd. Now, here is a music player which just plays music and is the most lightweight thing I have ever come across.

Quoth Thierry on July 12, 2009 @ 9:08 PM PDT

You might want to check that specific line :

I think it's interesting to compare Songbird and KDE4, both being bleeding-edge music players for Linux with a similar philosophy and feature set

Quoth Jonas on July 12, 2009 @ 9:20 PM PDT

I was planning on writing something similar about Rhythmbox, which also is unintuitive in a lot of areas of music playing.

I do seem to migrate back to Winamp-style players.

Quoth kurt on July 12, 2009 @ 11:52 PM PDT

The whole point of a music player is playing the music, not seeing the playlist :)

Quoth jam on July 13, 2009 @ 12:30 AM PDT

songbird needs to get rid of the farting bird thing why is that. tbh vlc does all i really need in a desktop music player with no farting birds

Quoth leo on July 13, 2009 @ 12:39 AM PDT

i'd just like to mention that the playlist sorting GUI is not finished. in fact, it hasn't even been started yet. the current GUI is a testing GUI to allow the backend to be written---our SoC student hasn't begun actually making it usable.

Quoth jefferai on July 13, 2009 @ 12:52 AM PDT

@aleph One thing that hurts is that there is no real standard for storing ratings in various types of files. Most tag types support some sort of ratings system or another, and most of them are different, using different values. It also isn't specified how those values are to be used, so one music player could consider a valid rating 1-10 while another divides the entire possible range into 10 evenly-divided chunks. Some players with large market share (like iTunes) just shoehorn what they want to use into the tags because they figure that no one would ever want to use another player (or at least, they don't want you using another one). But that's harder for smaller players that want to respect standards. Perhaps -- if isn't too broken -- a spec put out by fd.o would at least allow conforming players to interoperate. All this being said, Amarok does support storing ratings in its database.

@kurt You're echoing the thought of most of the Amarok devs. The Amarok devs got tons of feedback for 1.4 with people talking about how much they love the context information, so for A2, the idea was to make this (and all sorts of other ) context information front and center. Most people queue up their music and don't need to fiddle with the playlist too much. A spreadsheet-style playlist wastes a ton of space by repeating things like the artist and album name endlessly. In addition, if you wanted to show enough information, you'd end up with tiny columns you'd have to keep resizing. The idea with the A2 playlist was to make the playlist much more space-efficient. It is true that you can't really sort it (although I think that might be in the works), but you can edit the tracks enough to display exactly the information you want where you want it -- and actually have it visible.

Quoth Energiequant on July 13, 2009 @ 1:01 AM PDT

I totally agree with you. I have been a very happy user of Amarok 1.4 but Amarok 2 makes me go mad. It clearly has been released way to early and the whole GUI rewrite/planning seems to have gone wrong as it lost its great usability in exchange for some mistaken eye-candy. Amarok 2 is incredibly buggy whereas 1.4 was rock-solid and by far one of, if not THE best application on my desktop. Unfortunately some parts of Amarok 1.4 stopped working for me when I switched to KDE4 and streams can no longer be played. Although you wrote you were testing some "pre-release" version I can assure you: stable releases look the same. Maybe they get more stable in future versions but releasing Amarok 2 in such a buggy state was a serious failure; I currently consider it alpha or beta quality. (and I'm talking about the 2.1.1 stable release)

Skinning the interface works somehow but you have to replace files in your home directory. I wrote about it here. In general, the SVG theme you use is adjusted according to your KDE4 color theme. I don't know whether to like or hate that feature.

Last week I decided to start writing my own audio player in Java (to be platform independent) using MPlayer, xine and VLC as backends. However, I didn't look at aTunes until now. Features look fine and implementation similar to what I had in mind but the unavoidable Substance skins cause eye strain on my system (which I also considered using until now) and the UI in general seems quite overloaded. I'll take a closer look but I think I will have to continue writing my own player instead of using and/or contributing to aTunes.

Quoth Teo on July 13, 2009 @ 1:26 AM PDT

I'm the developer/GSoC student who is currently working on playlist sorting. I want to emphasize that the feature that was reviewed here is just a temporary interface, that I cooked up during a lazy afternoon before Akademy 2009 for the following reasons only: - for me to test the backend (as Leo already mentioned) - for my mentor to track my progress - for the dev team to discuss - and finally, believe it or not, because the previous testing interface was even worse :D We don't even accept bug reports and/or patches for that code yet, simply because, fear not, it will be replaced by something else. Also, you might have noticed that some other playlist functionality is currently borked too, that's mostly a consequence of my work in progress. There are still many months of development to be done before 2.2.

Quoth Mike on July 13, 2009 @ 2:21 AM PDT

You have just contributed to two open source projects. Thank you and congrats.

Quoth Brian on July 13, 2009 @ 3:23 AM PDT

@Thierry oops, typo, thanks for pointing it out.

@Teo and leo thanks for the info, I've read your blog(s) and saw that sorting is a work in progress. I'm interested to see if you come up with something good but I don't see how it's going to work any better than what's there.

If the playlist had stayed like 1.4, no one would even need to work on this! At least not as much. It'd be a standard widget with standard behavior.

@jefferai I think repeated information in the playlist is a feature. I have albums where the artist, year, or virtually everything else is different for every song (compilation albums). I have albums where the artist is the same for everything but there's a collaborator or "featuring X" for a single song. Grouping can't work in that case; something will be left out.

Even if context is important I think Songbird gets it right by hiding it behind tabs. The playlist shouldn't have to battle for space with everything else.

@Aekold The theme is qtcurve. The icons are Buuf.

Thanks to others for suggestions on music players. Some I'd tried, some (atunes) were new to me.

Jonas Arnfred
Quoth Jonas Arnfred on July 13, 2009 @ 7:07 AM PDT

I don't think you are entirely fair here. You might want to mention you are reviewing a gui which isn't intented to be used for anything in the beginning of your article.

Another issue I have with your critique is your assumption that you will be using the layout of amarok in exactly the same way that you are using songbird. If you are using your music player with the winamp philosophy of having a bunch of different songs in a huge playlist and then browsing that, then I think you are right in you conclusion that amarok2 is a step back.

However with growing music collections and many people having albums as opposed to single tracks, it makes sense to try to figure out how the music player can make your collection more discoverable. When I listen to music, I usually browse my collection to find an album I want to listen to, and then I drag that over to create a new playlist with only those songs in it.

My content panel then shows me other albums by the same artist as well as default information on the song currently playing, which is what I want to know. I would like a panel with similar albums/similar artists/similar songs which I figure is what the content panel is for, and which I figure will eventually come. For this purpose the content panel is excellent.

By having a content panel I am reminded about other music I might want to listen to as well, and I'm presented with extra information on my current playing song. It fits pretty well with the slogan of rediscovering my music, I think.

My use is clearly different from yours. I don't need to sort my playlist since I want my albums to be played in the right order anyway, and I don't need a playlist with a 1000 songs in it, since I usually only one album showing up anyway.

For this purpose amarok2 shines, and I think that if you dropped your assumptions about how amarok2 should work you might find it a decent application. I don't know of course. You'll have to try for yourself. I'm just saying that there is more than one way to look at it.

Quoth Vincent on July 13, 2009 @ 7:08 AM PDT

I didn't bother to read the whole article, but I wanted to say I like your attitude, it's very constructive and you really don't see that often enough :)

Quoth Dave on July 13, 2009 @ 12:25 PM PDT

Great article!

I, too, did not read the whole thing, but you voiced my concerns with Amarok2 quite nicely. In fact, I spent about 2 minutes just trying to figure out how to get it to scan my music folder. Once I finally figured it out, it started playing right away! I didn't ask it to play, I just wanted to load the music library.

Thanks again!

Quoth oscar on July 13, 2009 @ 5:34 PM PDT

Brian " @Aekold The theme is qtcurve. "

But qtcurve have a lots of themes? is the default?

Quoth Flo on July 13, 2009 @ 9:36 PM PDT

Iam using Songbird on OpenSUSE 11.1 (with KDE4.2). I have installed the fluendo-gst-mp3 codecs from the non-oss repository and songbird from packman. It works just fine in the most cases. But randomly i have to restart KDE to get songbird produce sound.

Nevertheless i think that songbird is the best player i have ever used.

Quoth Flo on July 13, 2009 @ 9:58 PM PDT

Me again: There is a skin for songbird, called "System-Style" that integrates songbird in to the UI of the current operating system.

Quoth reginald on July 14, 2009 @ 2:41 AM PDT

Thanks for this review,

On a short note I wish to mention that the one thing that was most embarassing about Amarok 2 is the fact that you can't easely create a playlist with songs that you like. In Rhythmbox, which I use now, you just drag the song to a new or existing playlist and you are done, but in Amarok 2 there is this thing automatic playlist which I don't understand and can't be turned off and wich doesn't allow you to see the songs you would like. Also I didn't figure out how to see my complete collection. In one sentence: it looks nice but is unusable as has been said.


Quoth Stuart on July 21, 2009 @ 8:39 AM PDT

You convinced me to give Songbird another try. I haven't touched it since it was in beta (or maybe even alpha) many years ago. But I'm certainly with you that Amarok 2 took all of the things that were awesome in 1.4 and chucked them out the window, and it makes me sad. I mean, honestly, 1.4 is the best music player I've ever used; it functioned precisely as I wanted it to in basically every way, and was like a revelation coming in from just using Winamp/XMMS. I don't really like the way other players treat libraries like iTunes does; obviously it works for some people, but it seems like an unnecessary dumbing down of the experience.

So, yeah, gonna try Songbird now and see if maybe I can have a worthwhile replacement.

Quoth TheUnabeefer on August 06, 2009 @ 3:51 AM PDT

Even something like a submenu under the "Playlist" dropdown in Amarok 2 would be nice....

"Sort Playlist By > Artist / Album / Title / Year ..."

My biggest complaint isn't that they don't have columns, but there's nothing yet to replace the functionality that came from clicking those columns to sort.

Also, I turn off my context view, not because I didn't find it useful, but because it took too much space. Maybe an option to throw it under a tab off to the side if you want?

I really loved Banshee, but couldn't get past gstreamer and the lack of crossfade and gapless playback... so back to searching.

Paul Rafferty
Quoth Paul Rafferty on August 13, 2009 @ 2:51 AM PDT

This article rocked. I read it, and agreed whole-heartedly with all of it. I installed Amarok 1.4 on Jaunty using the afore-mentioned repository, but unlike the old medibuntu package, it doesn't support the editing of M4A tags. I compiled it myself with libmp4v2 support, and that's cool, but most of the scripts fail without DCOP. I'm still limping along with 1.4, but I know that it's the end of the road for this version. I have really (REALLY) tried to like Amarok 2, but no amount of tweaking and 'rethinking my listening habits' will allow me to accept it. Simply put, Amarok 1.4 was perfect. Amarok 2, for me, is no substitute.

Quoth Markus on August 15, 2009 @ 3:47 AM PDT

Thanks for this fair and accurate analysis. I very much agree. I have been using Amarok for years, and now just feel frustrated and alienated. The alternatives mentioned in the comments are interesting, but did not convince me for various reasons (e.g. I like to open and play musing from file, not just from "collection" where I need to "import" stuff first). I wonder if some of the energy that is now going into all these developments would better be invested by taking up maintenance of Amarok1, which might still be a fairly well-developed and competitive code-base that would probably find a significant base of followers.

Quoth Markus on August 15, 2009 @ 3:54 AM PDT

My previous suggestion might have been too optimistic. As a developer on the Amarok forums states:

"the Amarok 1.4 codebase is a mess and was getting unmaintainable"

Anyway, it would probably be useful if more people reading this page would consider writing some comments in this forum too.

Anonymous Cow
Quoth Anonymous Cow on September 04, 2009 @ 2:30 AM PDT

My advice for anyone using Linux is first to remove Pulse Audio. If you are an audiophile, you are going to HATE that demonic little sound daemon. If you want to work with audio, you'll find yourself fighting PA to the end of time.

It is easier to remove it. This does NOT mean you have to stay with ALSA. I'd recommend JACK but you practically have to have an engineering degree to understand out to configure it properly.

My recommendation is OSSv4, the version of OSS released when they announced a return to the FOSS world. All those features that the Pulse Audio fans rave about are there in OSSv4, and this is the best part, it doesn't break anything like PA does. Even more, it can and usually does work independantly of ALSA, meaning you could blacklist the soundcore module to keep ALSA from being loaded at all.

I do this, I use Arch, and it was easy to do.

Second piece of advice: Don't waste time with Banshee. Do NOT waste time with Banshee. First off, compared to Amarok 1.4 (1.4, not 2. Amarok 1.4 still remains the single best music player for Linux. The Amarok really ruined it in 2.) or even Songbird, that music player is drivel and doesn't even compare. Second off, there's Mono all over Banshee, poisoning it.It would be great if it was almost as good as Amarok 1.4 and didn't stupidly use Mono as a dependency.

Mono is patent poison. And I make sure it never worms its way into infecting my system.

My best piece of advice: Stick with Amarok 1.4, you'll be glad you did. If I had th technical knowhow of KDE and Amarok 1.4, I'd fork it. Maybe bring GTK+ to it, or just update it to Qt4.

Quoth Brian on September 05, 2009 @ 2:13 AM PDT

I may try OSSv4, I've having no end of problems with ALSA. Thanks for the suggestion.

David Hilton
Quoth David Hilton on September 13, 2009 @ 4:19 AM PDT

I've recently taken the gentoo patches for amarok, applied them, and created a repo at

I probably won't be able to do much development, as I am terribly busy, but hopefully it will become a useful reference.

Kadai Crosshansen
Quoth Kadai Crosshansen on September 29, 2009 @ 6:31 PM PDT

Nice comparative between Amarok2 and Songbird.

In my self experience, I can say that one of the most important features that is missing Amarok2 from Amarok1 is the possibility to have multiple Smart playlists.

At the time I checked it for the first time, it just only got to have a single one and with some -strange- mix thing that allowed you to fill the playlist with an -accurate- (That was not accurate at all) bias or fuzzy ones... and for the way I have always managed my playlists, that was completely useless.

One of the big advantages of Amarok1 vs amarok2 is that Amarok1 was pretty simple. While is not bad to try to innovate, you always need to know that what you are doing is correct and that your users will not have a bad time adapting to the new interfaces.

For me, not having a playlist that works as a list is a core missing feature, because I use to move tracks between playlists based on their playcount, and having them messed on Amarok2 due it grouping them on albums and so was not an option.

I really love, love Amarok1... and leave it in preference for Songbird was a tough process... by now, I usually use Amarok for other things like for fast tagging, because it does feels really bloated at the time of play tracks when you have a library of a size larger than 15000 tracks... and knowing that it is not going to be maintained anylonger, makes it sure that the problem will stay there forever.

I hope that someday Amarok2 becomes a great player as Amarok1 is still and with such easy management. But by now, I'm sticking to Songbird with their so-wonderful add-on system, specially because of the Vandelay Industries Add-on, what have been a life saver to me.

Those was my two cents.

Quoth Peter on November 26, 2009 @ 11:31 AM PST

I installed Amarok 2.2 tonight since v1.4 is being phased out apparently. So far I am not impressed. I'm missing some of the features I loved and used the most.

The first thing I did when I starting using the program was I found a way to remove the context browser. I never used that in the previous versions, and I haven't found a good reason to yet.

Once I got the context browser out of the way, I expanded out the playlist to see how it works. I was stumped for a while about the multi-line song design before I started making my own playlist layout. I threw in some songs, then realized none of the columns have headers. Ouch.

I then started playing around with the music browser. I was able to change it to artist only organization, but I am missing the letter grouping I loved from the earlier versions. That made it super easy to find the song I wanted. I could use the search, but...

I couldn't get the search to work at all. I type a few characters, I get some results, but either none of them have the terms I searched for, or I only get an artist with no song when I expand it.

This was when I realized all of my songs were now incorrectly paired artist to title. Apparently Stone Temple Pilots sang War Pigs. This must have been some kind of importing problem because I know 90% of my music is correctly tagged.

Another excellent feature now missing is "organize music". Once I learned to use it in the previous versions, I saw how much power it had. I could rename batches of files with a few clicks, and have a nice clean collection of music.

The OSD (at least for me) doesn't work as it did, and it is less customizable. I really liked being able to decide what goes in there.

There are many other little things missing, like the right click menu on the playlist, which I used very frequently to clear the playlist. Also, is it just me, or does the new layout seem colder and less friendly? I think the color scheme in v1.4 was warmer and more inviting than the new gray.

I'll give it a little while longer, but I will likely be switching back to v1.4. When I started using linux a few years ago I remember struggling to find a nice music player, after trying around 10-15. I love the things Amarok is doing, but this new version is simply a step in the complete wrong direction.

Quoth aapgorilla on February 16, 2010 @ 1:48 AM PST

You can use firetray to get songbird into the tray. I agree with most/if not all of your criticism of amarok2 btw, actually I think you could apply all of the aspects of this criticism to kde4.4 still too

Quoth frozenbuffalo on March 07, 2010 @ 4:33 AM PST

I switched to songbird 1.4 and am happy I did it after fumbling around with amarok 2.2. that's why i finally deleted amarok: * database inconsistencies with almost every update * messed up tags, covers and ratings after updates * GUI ? right, if it means Graphical Unusable Interface * and last but not least: nosy developers

for ME songbird does what I need and I'm happy with it.

Quoth V on March 20, 2010 @ 11:35 AM PDT

Still very very alpha, completely unusable for a non-developer right now, but one day!

Quoth Paul on October 30, 2010 @ 10:33 AM PDT

Just wanted to say thanks for the writeup. I've been using Amarok for quite a while now, and since the 2.x version been quite frustrated with it. Mostly little things, like "how do I sort the playlist?", and trying to find things like "Random" - the buttons are quite non-intuitive, IMO. Recently when going from 2.2 to 2.3 I found new things to get frustrated about, like "Where did the back and next buttons go??" You know the big goofy buttons on the upper left? All gone except Play/Pause. Turns out that wasn't so bad, and is actually nice, as it now shows in the (giant space wasting) header area the previous and next song titles, and you can click them to go forward or back.

Anyway, I digress - the main thing I wanted to mention is that I found this searching for "how do I change the width of the context window in Amarok?" - it was tiny (which is what you'd like, by the sounds of it, but I like the lyrics and there was only room for a word or two on each line, and it would NOT let me resize it. (See ) Turns out I had to go to the Playlist Editor and set the widths of a bunch of things from fixed to "automatic". Dunno why I didn't think of that right off! ;)

Good article, Cheers

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