Linux

10 Linux replacements for iTunes

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.

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.

#1: Amarok

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.

#2: Banshee

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:

audio_folders=MUSIC/,RECORDINGS/

folder_depth=2

output_formats=application/ogg,audio/x-ms-wma,audio/mpeg

Within the contents of .is_audio_player.

#3: Rhythmbox

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.

#4: Gtkpod

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.

#5: Songbird

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).

#6: Listen

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.

#7: Exaile

Exaile was written in Python for GTK+. Exaile offers:

  • Cover art
  • Large libraries
  • Lyrics
  • 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.

#8: Audacious

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.

About

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.

17 comments
rcugini
rcugini

Why not just download mplayer for Linux? You can get it as a tar file or as an rpm file. It plays pretty much anything.

DualWolf
DualWolf

I bought my daughter an iPod Nano, which is the ONLY THING that my linux desktop could not support for sending files TO the iPod Nano proprietary file system. I am not concerned with how many bells and whistles it has, I would like to have the basic capability of sending playable music files to the iPod Nano without corrupting it and making it unusable. Do you know how this can be done? I have a Creative Zen for myself, which is as easy as using a USB memory stick. But, I bought the iPod, thinking it would be just as "compatible".

skris88
skris88

One key feature of my audio player is that of Replay Gain. This is available with Media Monkey on my Windows XP (and Vista). The feature works out the average volume level of a track and then store it in the file, then use that to ensure that if you have selected random play, all tunes sort of match up in loudness - not one being 20db louder than the previous (a very serious problem if one is actually playing very loudly in the first instance!)

tsadowski
tsadowski

I guess I am just a Gnome geek rather than a KDE geek. But like most other KDE applications Amarok suffers from TOO MANY options. Freedom of choice is good but like KDE its self Amarok drowns me in choices. Give me the simpler, yet still feature full, options of Rhythmbox and Banshee any day!

cearrach
cearrach

Since you're including music players without syncing ability, then I might suggest Aqualung: http://aqualung.factorial.hu/ It does even have some iRiver support, which is more than can be said for Audacious.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

Anyone know if any of these will rip CDs to MP3 to a decent quality? I am desperately trying to get something working properly on the latest Kubuntu and am having no success. Please help!

cg0def
cg0def

I guess you haven't tried KDE4. While I would fully agree that the older KDE suffered from feature creep the new one is far from it. Quite a few things have changed in the design ( maybe because they mostly started from scratch ) and the results are a lot better. Actually I find myself liking Dolphin a lot better than Nautilus. But as far as Amarok goes ... it is about the worst design ever. Wasn't the point to make a music player and if so why did they add all the other 1000 somewhat useless features? Sure it's nice to have plugins that extend the functionality if you need it but this is hardly the case here. The interface feels more than cluttered and the sad part is that even with themes you can'd really do much about remedying that. Anyway I still haven't seen anything that works quite as well as iTunes does especially on OS X ( with all the addons available ). The closes is foobar2000 only it's a windows app so you need wine to run it on *nix. The latest versions even include layouts very similar to itunes only the player actually has more features and allows custom keyboard mapping among other things.

jlwallen
jlwallen

i've had a lot of luck with that tool. if not that then grip.

pgit
pgit

If you can get your hands on grip and lame packages, there's your answer. grip by itself doesn't do mp3, but has a plugin ready to output to lame. The problem would be getting lames, as there's issues with Thompson's patent on mp3. They technically don't want ENcoders in th hands of folks, but they say it's really ok and they don't care... so long as you're not cranking out thousand of copies and selling them. grip + lame = mp3

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

Yes that's right I would like a proper KDE app to do the job. I can't be bothered to write a script every time I want to rip a CD, and in this day and age I really shouldn't have to. I have tried the Ubuntu forums and none of the solutions for 8.10 work - the annoying thing is that in Kubuntu 8.10 nothing seems to work properly for this: K3b is broken, Sound Juicer is broken, Amarok still doesn't have the functionality. The only thing I got to work was RipOff but it only seemed to do it in mono! I am probably going to have to run something in an XP VM which I really don't want to do but I may have no choice.

pgit
pgit

suse is using a well polished KDE 4.0.3, that works great. Mandriva is trying to get the jump, and after all us die hard users aka testers get the bugs out, they will be money ahead. In fact after installing now you'll immediately be handed a ton of updates that fix most all the major problems. By the time the spring release (April) they should be back in the driver's seat. But for now suse is a fully operable system, and they do have grip, though not sure about lame, you might have to compile.

cearrach
cearrach

Well you could just rip the tracks to wav format, to see if cdparanoia is working (I presume it's being used), then encode afterwards to test LAME. Of course Ubuntu doesn't support the mp3 format by default, so there might be a library dependency issue. This isn't really the proper forum for support though, I might suggest asking for help in the forums.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

as I said, the only thing to work so far is RipOff and that only did mono. I'm starting to think that lame itself is broken although I don't know why.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

...and the implementation on Kubuntu 8.10 is very beautiful. Pretty much everything else seems to work so far. I'm not going back to KD3 just so I can rip CDs, and I agree that Mandriva 2009 looks awful so I'm not going there. I will keep plugging away and if I find a solution that works properly I'll post it in the Ubuntu forums.

cearrach
cearrach

I'm not sure I understand - how is running XP in a VM easier than using the suggested solution of using Grip + LAME? FWIW Aqualung (that I mentioned before) also supports ripping CDs and encoding to a variety of formats.

pgit
pgit

Try Mandriva 2008.1, everything works. It's pretty amazing. You can try the One live CD and decide if you want to install. Then there's on line media where you can add grip, and even lame. (a third party source called "plf." K3B works flawlessly in this OS btw. But their new release, 2009, is a mess. They switched to KDE 4 and made major changes to how the base system works. 2008.1 KDE 3 is where it's at.