Songbird's growing pains | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

Songbird's growing pains

Songbird brings tunes to specialized browsing, combining music management and playback with music discovery. It's an exciting and fun browser, but it's not ready for a big-stage debut. Yet.

Social-networking manager Flock has really proven that there's a strong interest in browsers customized for specific users. The tools that it comes with are well-suited to helping people who spend their days navigating those networks. Songbird is the hatchling of Firefox and iTunes, a Flock for music lovers.

Like Flock, Firefox-based Songbird combines music discovery tools with music management. When you fire up a page with songs available for download, Songbird will open a new pane at the bottom of the browser, listing all the songs on the page and purchase links for Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, and Amie St. Double-clicking on a song will download and play it, and there are also blog links next to the track so that you can learn more about what somebody else thinks of the track.

Songbird features large music playback buttons that dwarf their Web browsing counterparts.

(Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

The new version features iPod synchronization and support for USB-connected external drives, a major step toward attracting audiophiles with massive music collections. The browser gives more prominence to music control, with big buttons for navigating playback and smaller ones next to the URI bar for stopping and refreshing Web pages.

During installation, it'll ask if you want to load your iTunes music directory or another media directory, or perform the task later. Processing 5000 songs took about three minutes, not a bad pace. It then asks you which of the preinstalled Songbird extensions you want to load. Most of these, like the iPod and USB device managers, only make the app stronger and are worth installing.

Songbird lets you playback, download, and purchase all songs it discovers on a Web page from an organized panel.

(Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

The left sidebar provides quick links to bookmarks, downloads, your music library in an iTunes-style interface, and several music discovery Web sites to get your started. There's also a minimized mode that displays just the music controls, and a growing variety of skins. Most interestingly, there's a new development in this version that makes the various panes that make up Songbird extremely customizable, so users can dictate what kind of content goes into each one. This way, if you wanted to use the program solely for music playback, you could hide the browser window completely.

Songbird has a growing library of extensions, and support is slowly growing for those written originally for Firefox. Many of the improvements from the last version make for a dramatic change, but Songbird is definitely a buggy creation. At this point in its development, it will not provide a crash-free experience, and bugs abound. This becomes especially apparent when you start loading up extensions and add-ons, as they haven't all figured out how to play nicely with each other. So, caveat emptor.

Despite these problems, the new version is a dramatic leap forward from the previous one, and if the growing curve continues like this, Songbird could really take flight for the music-loving, Web-surfing fanatic in all of us.

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