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It was inevitable: only a matter of time before someone decided to pioneer the era of web music players. That someone is the Pioneers of the Inevitable, and that player is Songbird.

Songbird is a new music player application created around the same software platform that powers Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird. This gives Songbird a number of tricks for free: a powerful user-interface/web engine (Gecko), excellent cross-platform support (XULRunner), and an excellently flexible extension system (Mozilla Addons).

Underneath the hood it’s a solid audio player with the excellent open source GStreamer media system as it’s backend across all the platforms it supports. It provides extensions for playing Apple’s FairPlay and Microsoft’s WMA DRM as well as those for interacting with iPods and MTP devices (Zune and friends). The player is skinnable (Feathers in Songbird parlance), and third party extensions throw in support for retrieving album covers from the web, new ways to view content in your library, recommending new music based on the artist currently playing and much more.

But the most important part is Songbird’s integration with the web. The main player interface of Songbird displays normal music library/player controls, but the music library view is actually just a static browser tab. You can open new tabs and use Songbird as a normal browser. A number of integration features are provided including music blog support. When viewing a music blog (or any web page that links to media content), Songbird opens a pane at the bottom of the browser view showing each media item it has found, including music store links that it could find for the music. You can preview the items on the list, download the whole version (if provided by the blog), or purchase the music via Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, or Amie St.

Although few music blogs have added support for it yet, the browser even supports ecommerce integration, providing cart and checkout interfaces, and tallying the cost of the tracks you’ve selected for purchase before sending you to the checkout. The support is basic but functional and I suspect it will be receiving more attention in future development. Songbird comes pre-setup with a bookmark to the Hype Machine, a popular music blog aggregator which is a good demo for the new features.

The builtin mashTape extension provides an extensible way to mash web data related to the music you are playing. Out of the box it provides artist info from Last.fm, news, photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Yahoo Music and others. Extensions can provide new data categories as well as data providers for other web services.

Songbird 1.0 was about the music. The software isn’t quite ready to handle your video collection. By default Songbird pretends like it can’t play video, instead opting to play the audio portion of the media. However the bulk of the support is there thanks to the GStreamer core, and in fact it is possible to coerce version 1.0 to play videos, but the user interface is not yet complete, so it isn’t particularly useful. To enable video in Songbird 1.0 open the URL “about:config” and change “songbird.mediacore.gstreamer.disablevideo” to false. This probably means that it won’t take many version numbers for video support to make it’s formal premiere.

As much as I’d love to see normal video file support, a lot of video watching on the web is done at Hulu and Youtube, so it’s not unreasonable to expect some extensions which allow linking Youtube videos into the library like any other media, and if I’m lucky, a similar extension for Hulu that supports it’s video queue/subscription feature :-D.

Songbird supports smart playlists in which you can set criteria about the songs you want on the list. This isn’t nearly as cool as Amarok 2’s new Bias-based dynamic playlists, although to be fair, you can use any playlist as a rule for a smart playlist.

The only real downside to Songbird is it’s startup time and general weight. Both of these are a direct result of choosing the Mozilla platform, but I think it was the right choice given the goal of creating the world’s first music player VS web mashup.

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