Foobar2000 has long been a favorite free alternative audio jukebox for the hard-core customization enthusiast, noted for its odd name and utilitarian interface. The program has graduated from garage band status with version 1, which includes some nifty new features that make it more competitive.

Foobar2000, customized and with tracks added. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The most obvious change is the new context menu structure. It looks far more user-friendly than before, but it's also less customizable. There's also a color-code system for the status bar and playlist view by default, to help them stand out in the default interface, and album art support has come much closer to the competition.

Other changes occurred under the hood. CD-ripping enhancements include on-the-fly database checking and the ability to rip selected tracks, as opposed to an entire CD, in the "Rip Audio CD" dialog. There's also new built-in support for Windows Media and RTSP streaming, eliminating the need for those plug-ins. The "edit" menu works on the current selection as opposed to the active playlist, and Preferences sees the introduction of the basic but necessary OK/Cancel/Apply buttons and new menu layouts. Multimedia keyboards should work better with the new Foobar2000, and the portable version--which comes from the same installer as the full version--will retain library folder paths relative to the install folder.

When you first launch Foobar2000, it's definitely a bit sparse. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Foobar2000 uses tabs and panels to help the user navigate its plain, but functional, user interface. You can customize the interface using several layout options. Menu options and recognizable command buttons reside at the top of the window. Two panels, each with tabbed menus, reside on the left side of the window. From there, you can view the album list and the properties of a selected artist or song. You'll also find tabs for viewing a spectrogram, a spectrum, and VU meter of music currently being played. The largest panel displays track lists. Using the menu options, we were able to successfully pull music files from a CD, load them into the player, play them without issues, and save them as MP3s or WAVs. You can also display album art, and synchronize with portable players including iPods.

The jukebox supports a massive number of add-on components, including advanced decoders, track taggers, and even entirely new interfaces.

Both novice and advanced users will appreciate this program's easy navigation and straightforward style. Although many people might prefer a jukebox that looks more like iTunes, Foobar2000 is highly recommend.