Songbird: the Firefox of Music Managers
What it does: Songbird aims to do for media managers what Firefox did for Web browsers: trounce the standard bearer (iTunes, in this case) with customization, open-source ideology, and sheer performance. Actually built on the same codebase as Firefox, Songbird allows you to manage your music collection, buy songs, and load audio on your iPod.
What we like about it: Songbird is the one iTunes alternative that can play songs purchased from the iTunes store, which makes switching from the seemingly inescapable (and overrated) Apple media manager easier than you'd expect. Songbird also has no problem loading music to most iPods. (Note: It doesn't support the iPod touch or iPhone, as only iTunes currently has support for these devices.) (Update: Songbird released an update a mere hours after this review went live with preliminary support for the iPhone and iPod Touch, though it's very rough in the current version.) For those who choose to skip Apple altogether, many other media players, including models from Archos, Sony, Creative, and SanDisk, are also supported.
Songbird shares Firefox's ability to support extensions. An already impressive library of add-ons includes: a "feathers" feature (display themes, in case you don't like the default, flat gray look), downloadable album art and lyrics, streaming music from Last.FM, and the ability to use an iPhone or iPod touch as a remote control (similar to Remote).
If that wasn't enough, Songbird leverages its Web browser roots to let you browse the Internet (complete with multiple tabs) and search the Web for music. If you visit a site like Fluxblog, which is loaded with MP3s, Songbird automatically detects them and opens a mini-playlist at the bottom of your screen. From here you can stream or download every song on the page.
What we don't like: Songbird is still a young program, so don't be surprised to find that it has some bugs. You're bound to suffer occasional hangs or crashes, especially if you load up with extensions. Songbird also lacks support for a couple of key media features: video playback and podcast subscriptions.
That may be a deal breaker for some of you, but what bothered us most was Songbird's inability to automatically copy album art over to an iPod. While iTunes fails at this pretty regularly (which is frustrating), Songbird doesn't even try. It may sound like a minor quibble, but we hate staring at plain text when we know that there is an awesome album cover for Empire of the Sun's 'Walking On a Dream.'
Songbird won't completely replace iTunes for many of you -- especially if you're a video or podcast junkie, or have an iPhone or iPod touch. But, as a pure desktop music manager, Songbird is equal to iTunes in most respects, and better in many -- especially if you're into music blogs.
Download Songbird for Mac and PC.