Linux offers a variety of options for those who want an alternative to iTunes. Jack Wallen looks at the available choices and the features included in each one.
If you're like me, you have one or more multimedia devices. Be they iPods, Samsungs, Zunes, etc., if you use them you have to synch them (or at least add media to them). And if you're a Linux user, you know that outside of using CrossOver Office or Wine, iTunes is not an option. That doesn't mean there aren't options. In fact, there are more options for working with an MP3-type player in Linux than in any other operating system. But are there 10? Let's find out.Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
This is probably the most popular of all the music library tools on Linux. There's a good reason for that. Amarok, well, rocks. Amarok plays well with iPods and most other devices (the Zune is getting close to being compatible), sports the standard features of today's multimedia players (including cover art and lyrics support), and is simple to use. Amarok also adds Wikipedia support (so you can find information about that obscure band you're all about), contextual information (similar to iTunes' Genius), last.fm integration, and a script manager so you can create custom Amarok scripts and download other customized scripts. Amarok is probably the most consistent with iPod integration. And like any good Linux application, Amarok is themeable.
Banshee is another Linux favorite and is to GNOME what Amarok is to KDE. Banshee offers a number of outstanding features, such as video, device, podcast, and last.fm support; play queue; cover art; an artist/album browser; and search and smart playlist support. The Banshee interface is closer to the iTunes interface than Amarok, which will be a welcome surprise to those users migrating from iTunes. Banshee can be a bit trickier than Amarok with certain players. For instance, with some Sansa models you have to create an empty file in the devices root directory called .is_audio_player. With this file in place, Banshee will recognize the media player. Of course, when you use this method, Banshee will set the main directory as the root directory. You can change this by adding contents, such as:
Within the contents of .is_audio_player.
Rhythmbox is another music management application for the GNOME desktop. Rhythmbox is based on the Gstreamer plugin and offers a music browser, searching and sorting, large audio format support, Internet radio and playlist support, audio visualizations, device support (including MTP and USB mass storage), play/rip/burn audio CDs, podcast support, browse/preview/purchase songs/albums from sources such as Magnatude, and Jamendo. Rhythmbox suffers from the same issue as Banshee. If you are having trouble with your media device being detected by Rhythmbox, try the .is_audio_player shown in Banshee's listing.
Gtkpod is a platform-independent interface strictly for iPods. Using the GTK interface, Gtkpod can sync with iPods from first to fifth generation. Gtkpod has yet to reach a stable 1.x release (currently enjoying .99.12) but has come a long way from its beginnings. Gtkpod requires libgpod to connect to the iPod device. One of the nicest features of Gtkpod is that it will copy to and from an iPod with ease. Within the Gtkpod interface, you will find a menu entry for exporting songs from the iPod to the PC. This is a simple means of backing up an iPod. Gtkpod does smart playlists, cover art, playcounts, photos, podcasts, and syncing.
Songbird is a cross-platform music management tool, based on Mozilla, that is still very much in beta. Songbird offers a lot of unique features, including built in Web browser, concert tickets, shoutcast radio, and customizable plugins. Along with the special features, Songbird has all the usual features of an iTunes replacement but offers an amazingly friendly interface. The Songbird interface is probably one of the most user-friendly simply because it is so much like a Web browser (the interface the majority of computer users are MOST familiar with).
The Listen-Project was created in Python and offers the standard features for a music management application. The feature list looks something like this:
- Partial DAAP support (browse and listen only)
- Last.fm support
- Stream record
- 10-band equalizer
- Icecast Agent
- Gstreamer visualizer support
- Jamendo Music Store browser
- Crossfade playback engine
- Plugin system for creating new feature
- Lyrics support
- Wikipedia support
Listen is very much in beta, and at this time it does not have device support built in. So Listen is more of a local music management tool for your PC.
Exaile was written in Python for GTK+. Exaile offers:
- Cover art
- Large libraries
- Artist/album information via Wikipedia
- Last.fm support
- iPod and device support (via plug-in)
- DAAP support
- Shoutcast directory support
Exaile has a clean interface, it's incredibly easy to use, and it's much more stable at beta than many others that are enjoying official releases. Exaile has a good repository of available plug-in that range from an alarm clock to Windows Multimedia Keys. Device support is there but not nearly as ready for prime time as, say, Amarok. Two features set Exaile apart: track Blacklisting and tabbed playlists. Track blacklisting allows you to configure tracks so they are never scanned into your music library. Tabbed playlists allow you to have more than one playlist open at once, and you can jump between then by clicking on their respective tabs.
The Audacious media player has one of the best playlist features available. Audacious is based on XMMS and has a similar default interface. Audacious is not nearly as feature-rich as Amarok or Banshee, but it does support a number of audio file types. Audacious suffers from one big problem -- it does not have device support. If you're looking for an outstanding, stable music manager for your PC, this might be the one. But if you're looking for a complete solution for both machine and device, look away now. One area where Audacious does excel is with plug-ins. There are four categories of plug-ins: Decoders, General, Visualization, and Effects. Each category has a number of available plug-ns (the Decoder category having the most.) Plug-ins range from Voice Removal (in effects) to Scrobbler. The one issue that will most likely turn the average user off of Audacious is its minimalist user interface, which is way too '90s.
#9: Quod Libet
Not only does Quod Libet have the strangest name in the bunch, it is also a unique player. Quod Libet's mantra is that users know how to organize their music better than the developers do. To that end, you can organize your music based on regular expressions or regular searches. Quod Libet supports all popular, non-drm'd formats (Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, MP3, Musepack, and MOD). Quod Libet also features tag editing, Internet radio, podcasts, and a flexible interface (can be as minimum or maximum as you want), and the command line is available.
#10: iTunes with Wine or CrossOver Office
It's probably not fair to mention this, but I figured there would be those reading this who either can't let go of iTunes or want to try iTunes side by side with another application for comparison. With iTunes in Wine you can get basic functionality to work, but getting this system to synch with an iPod is a task that is best left to magicians and deities. Crossover Office is a different story altogether. The latest Crossover Office does have full iTunes support built in. However, various versions of iTunes break this compatibility. The most compatible is iTunes 4. iTunes 7.6 has all functionality minus synching with an iPod. So for those of you who simply want to manage a local or networked music library without synching to a portable device, this is a possible solution. If you want a more complete solution, stick with one of the other applications listed.
Pick of the bunch?
So we made it: There are indeed 10 possible replacements for iTunes. None of them is perfect, but neither is iTunes. If you had to ask me which of the listed players was my favorite I would have to go with Amarok. Amarok has the largest feature list and has the best device support available. But I would recommend any of the above solutions.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.