I realize I am a bit behind on this (the news “broke” in April), but I have to say I’m fairly surprised. It seems the makers of that fine media player Songbird have given the axe to supporting Linux. Their reasoning – lack of developers and their inability to keep Songbird on par with the Windows and Mac versions. Of course, it didn’t take long before one of the active Songbird developers forked Songbird into a new Linux-first project called Nightingale. But already this project seems to be unstable enough to make one believe it will fail before it takes flight.

I have to say this whole turn of events really surprises me — first and foremost because a project had a lack of Linux developers. Think about it – Songbird is based on Firefox XULRunner and we all know how heavy on the Linux side Firefox development is. So how could a project, based on one of the most-used apps in Linux history, suffer from a lack of Linux developers? It just sounds suspect to me.

Ultimately though, why does this matter? Linux already has a wealth of media players. We have Banshee, Rhythmbox, Amarock, the tried and true XMMS, VLC, Dragonplayer, and many more. Here’s the rub; Songbird was the only media player that was (please smack me for saying this) iTunes-enough for the average user. Yes, I do hate that it’s come down to this, but the average user has associated music playback with iTunes. It’s the same thing as asking someone to open up a browser and they immediately think “Internet Explorer” (or, even worse, they say, “What’s a browser?”). That is why this project was important to Linux. It brought to the platform a near-universal standard that people understood. When the average user opened up Songbird, it didn’t matter what platform they were on, it was instantly familiar. It looked and felt like iTunes. And as much as I hate to admit this, that is important to getting new users to adopt.

I’m not saying that a Linux distribution need seek out every application that mimics that of another platform. But I am saying Songbird on Linux was a poorly handled project. Songbird should have been included in live distributions and placed, front and center, so that new users could say, “Oh, that must be my iTunes!” It’s kind of like saying I’ll google that on Google. Any other search engine is plagued with that user-familiarity. People won’t be saying, Let me bing that or Go yahoo that and let me know what you find out. People still say CD, even though CD sales have plummeted thanks to, guess what, iTunes (and other iTunes-like services). Of course I understand the Songbird development team had to focus on the platforms that would bring them immediate success – Windows and Mac. But leaving behind Linux seems, at least to me, a bit short-sighted.

Fortunately, for Linux, the remaining media players are equally as good as iTunes. And now that Ubuntu has upped the ante with the UbuntuOne Music Store Linux finally has its iTunes. In fact, I am currently listening to and shopping for music as I type (Yes 90125 or the Silent Hill Original Game Soundtrack?) with Rhythmbox…a fantastic music player that should not, in its own right, be thought of as a substitute for iTunes. Rhythmbox is not iTunes and it doesn’t try to be iTunes. Songbird did, in many ways, try to be iTunes. And if the Nightingale project fails, Linux will miss this pseudo-clone of the Apple perennial. Linux will not have its google of music players.

Will Linux suffer if Nightingale fails? No. Would Linux better for having Nightingale? Of course. Should the Linux community reach out to the Nightingale project and ensure it doesn’t fail? Hard to say. If given the choice between more rapid development and features for the current standards (Rhythmbox, Banshee, Amarock) or including Nightingale in the mix (and slowing down development of the others), I would happily say forget Nightingale. But given that Linux needs as many familiar tools as it can get, Nightingale could (and should) be a very important project.

So, to that end, I would say if you are a developer and are interesting in building projects that can only serve to HELP Linux be familiar to new users, head on over to the Nightingale Web site and introduce yourself. I’m sure the development team would be more than happy to have a new cook in the kitchen.

I wish the Nightingale project the best. I hope they succeed. This project does serve to illustrate how dedicated and agile the Linux community really is. Take something away from them and they will regroup and restore. Kick them down and they will get back up. So long Songbird…and thanks for all the fish.