Songbird sings just a little louder

The Web browsing, music playing, and music discovering mashup Songbird releases an update. Version 0.5 is still in beta, but looks a lot stronger. If you love music, you need to check out this bird's tune.

To paraphrase Buddy Holly, every day its a-gettin' closer--closer to Songbird leaving beta. The open source music/Web browser mashup has upgraded to version 0.5 and can be downloaded for Windows, Intel-based Macs, and PowerPC Macs. It's still in beta, so this bird's definitely got some bugs and development left to go before it's ready to take flight, but the latest build is more stable than ever and includes some key milestones.

The latest edition expands device compatibility with a new device API plug-in that comes with the browser. The new media transfer protocol supports Creative's Zen, the IRiver, several Sansa, Samsung, and Sony media players as well as one phone, the Nokia N80. Users can opt out of this or any of the other preloaded plug-ins during the installation process, or uninstall them after the browser is running. The iPod device support is available as a separate plug-in, according to the publisher, until they work out stability kinks.

Another new feature lets developers create new ways of viewing your playlists beyond the standard spreadsheet, and disperse these new media views as add-ons. Mac users now get hot key support, and a code rewrite has made it easier for plug-ins to surface the Always on Top feature for the minimized media player mode. It's not clear, however, how the reworked engine for Firefox 3 will compare with Songbird, which is currently being built on a branch of the Firefox 2 code.

Songbird 0.5 supports many media-playing devices with this preinstalled plug-in. (Credit: CNET Networks, Inc.)

Unlike Flock, the Web browser/social networking mashup that has a specific target audience in mind, Songbird should appeal to music lovers--potentially a far greater percentage of people. The native ability to surf the Web, play music you currently own, and discover new music all from the same application is, in my opinion, one of the first steps on the same road that Microsoft tried to force with Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla is aiming to soar beyond with Firefox 4.