Moving Bits Around

I’ve decided to change how I post software reviews on BG: Rather than having a page dedicated to the reviews themselves, I will write more in-depth reviews as individual posts, which I will link to on the new “Software Review Archive” page. This is more like how I do the “My Code Archive” page, and it cuts down on the number of images that have to load if you’re only interested in one piece of software.

I also updated the BG site header to something more interesting than the default. Hope y’all like it!

Please note that the said “Software Review Archive” page is currently content-free, since I haven’t posted any reviews yet! That said, there are numerous reviews from the old “Software Reviews” page, so the remainder of this post is the archive of the old reviews. Enjoy!


Want to know my opinion on the different pieces of software I’ve wandered across during the making of this blog? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Table of Contents:


Operating Systems

I’ve been playing with computers since I was a kid — I remember being on my dad’s old Commodore 64 trying to learn BASIC and LOGO, and of course playing some Radar Rat Race and Castle Wolfenstein 🙂 .

I’ve used many different OS’s as my main operating system (Mac OS System 6-7, MS-DOS 6, Ubuntu 10.04, Windows 3.1, 95, XP Home/Pro, and Vista), and have played around with plenty others for experimentation (BeOS PE 5, FreeBSD 5, various Linux distros, Windows NT4 and 2000), and I have a few others I’d like to play with some day (AROS, various BSDs and other Unices, Haiku, Mac OS X, OpenSolaris, Plan9, ReactOS). I always hope to learn more about computers when trying new OSs out (even Windows), and maybe someday I’ll do something really crazy to fuel my OS experimentation bug.

Operating Systems » CentOS

CentOS 5.5

CentOS 5.5 on Frankenstein

CentOS 5.5 on Frankenstein

CentOS is fairly user-friendly, especially compared to other security/enterprise-focused distros. The install was a nice, mostly graphical affair, and the RPM-based update system wasn’t too awful a shock for my .deb-loving heart.

CentOS includes many good tools for server apps, but it also has options for desktop use, so don’t write it off as “only” a server distro. GNOME is the default GUI as ever, but KDE and XFCE are options as well. You can go X-less if you like, too. Throw something like Webmin on there, and you’re ready to go!

I’ve only tested Samba file sharing on CentOS, but it worked like a charm, so I don’t doubt that other server functions are equally polished. It will be a welcome addition to our office when we (finally) get a server in here!

Operating Systems » Linux Mint

Linux Mint 9 KDE

Linux Mint 9 KDE

Linux Mint 9 KDE on Limited Edition

As Mint is an Ubuntu derivative, installation was similarly easy. First impressions are everything, and Mint 9 KDE does not disappoint with its beautiful color scheme, great desktop integration, good apps — just overall minty freshness 🙂 .

I’m glad that Mint 9 KDE came with proprietary codecs pre-installed, since it saves me the trouble of doing it myself. The default programs are great, especially Amarok, Dolphin, OpenOffice.org, VLC, and Wine. Also really awesome was the inclusion of the GetDeb repositories (though disabled by default).

Linux Mint 9 is also very fast (though I’m sure it could always be faster, right? 😉 ), and much more enjoyable to use than Windows XP (or any other Windows, for that matter). It is super-slick, very customisable, and very beautiful. Hats off to you, Mint!

Operating Systems » Ubuntu

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx) Desktop Edition

dreamer6 all decked out!

Ubuntu 10.04 (with some extras) on dreamer6

Installation was a breeze, taking only a few preliminary clicks before the automated install was done. Works admirably as a live USB install. The default Gnome desktop is really well integrated and themed, with the dingy orange-brown color scheme finally gone, replaced by a nice black-purple that is quite easy on the eyes.

The bundled software is really quite nice, including such big hitters as Evolution, OpenOffice.org, and Firefox. Copyrighted/proprietary codecs (e.g., MP3, AAC, Flash) are not installed by default, which may confuse some users, but it is relatively painless to install them yourself.

Overall, I find that this release achieves its goal of user-friendliness, speed, and accessibility. It is slow as compared to other Linux distributions, but still faster than Windows XP/Vista/7, and far faster than earlier releases.


Audio & Video Players

I love music, but I love podcasts and audiobooks more 🙂 . I also am a former iTunes addict, so I have a fairly large number of enhanced podcasts and M4B audiobooks. Because of this, my evaluations of music players will be… biased. As for movies, I have all kinds, ranging from clips to full-length movies, so I think I can speak fairly well for the experience as a whole there.

Audio & Video Players » Amarok

Amarok 2.3.0

Amarok 2.3.0 on Limited Edition

Amarok 2.3.0 on Limited Edition

Amarok just seems to fit to how I listen to music. It doesn’t handle video, but Miro works for my video podcasts just fine. Also, even though the interface is a major break from the columnar style of most modern audio players, I see Amarok 2’s interface as a callback to Winamp, only Amarok is way more configurable than Winamp ever was with custom playlist layouts and information display. I’ve used Winamp since 2004, so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for it and its cousins.

Wishlist of features not yet in Amarok 2:

  • Variable-speed playback option for podcasts and audiobooks
  • Podcasts kept INSIDE the music folder (rather than hidden in ~/.kde/share/apps/amarok/podcasts — seriously guys?)
  • Enhanced AAC chaptering support
  • Built-in audiobook functionality similar to iTunes
  • Support for embedded album artwork (and better tagging capabilities while we’re at it)
  • Fix the horrible layout breakages when resizing the playlist plasmoid!

Some of these things can be fixed/alleviated with Amarok’s amazing script extension system, but not all. Still, Amarok is by far my favorite music player for Linux, and I will be using if for a long time to come.

Audio & Video Players » aTunes

aTunes 2.0.1

aTunes 2.0.1

aTunes 2.0.1 (Gnome theme) on Limited Edition

aTunes seemed a promising choice, as it has statistics gathering, a host of options, and multiple ways to bulk-update your music info. However, “host of options” descends into lack of usability and cleanliness. Making aTunes use Gnome’s system theme helped, breaks the look-and-feel in several places (menus not themed, menu text not themed, playlist buttons not fully displayed, inconsistent coloration, tray icon). This wouldn’t be a big problem if it could handle M4B audio files, but aTunes positively won’t play M4B, though it loads them into the playlist. Though AAC/M4A files add and play just fine, so I’m not sure what the issue is. aTunes has a ways to go before it can tackle the likes of my library.

Audio & Video Players » Audacious

Audacious 2.3

Audacious 2.3

Audacious 2.3 on Limited Edition

I like Audacious for its similarity to Winamp, but unfortunately for my media library loving heart, it’s more like Winamp 2 than Winamp 5. It plays MP3, MP4/M4A, and even M4B files quite well, but has no chaptering/bookmarking functionality. That said, it seems a solid application for its purpose, though it did have weird issues with the equalizer in Ubuntu 10.04. I appreciate the plugin-centric mentality, which could probably alleviate at least some of the drawbacks for my audiobook/podcast-heavy library.

I think it’s something I would have used happily back in 2004, but it disappoints me in 2010. If you manage your music library by hand and don’t care about audiobooks or podcasts, Audacious could be for you.

Audio & Video Players » Banshee

Banshee 1.6.1

Banshee 1.6.1

Banshee 1.6.1 on Limited Edition

Banshee is slow. And fat. It took up nearly 70MB of RAM with my ~20k songs/videos loaded into the library (mostly podcasts), as opposed to, e.g., Rhythmbox at 53MB. Even then, after multiple tries, Banshee didn’t load about 3000 files for no particular reason. Other inconsistent and awkward points are:

  • Banshee will let you add files to the library that it cannot play, but fails to mark them as unplayable (a la iTunes’ grey exclamation mark), even after trying to play it several times.
  • Album art is for some reason not loaded with all the other metadata — you have to play at least one file in an album before it will recognize it.
  • There’s a weird bug which randomly rates songs at five stars, even though I’ve never rated or even played them in Banshee.
  • Speaking of rating, it seems almost impossible to discern what clicks will actually let you make (or heaven forbid, clear) a rating — why is this so hard to do?

Some parts of Banshee I like (separate audiobook section, cool hover effect on album artwork), but it overall feels like the application is focused on eye candy instead of performance, power users, and consistency. Sorry Banshee, you look good, but don’t cut the mustard with me.

Audio & Video Players » Clementine

Clementine 0.4

Clementine 0.4

Clementine 0.4 on Limited Edition

I am really digging Clementine. I like the way it structures music more like a filesystem hierarchy with customisable tabbed playlists, even more than I like iTunes’ library/playlist management (though I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste). Clementine does not have support for chapters in enchanced AAC files, but it otherwise plays them normally.

Downfalls of Clementine: no (obvious) method of handling podcasts or audiobooks, no (inside the file) album art support, no recollection of playcount/last played/etc kind of data, and no support for automatically organizing your music files.

I may consider it as a music-only iTunes replacement, and use separate programs for podcasts and audiobooks.

Audio & Video Players » DeaDBeeF

DeaDBeeF 0.4.1

DeaDBeeF 0.4.1

DeaDBeeF 0.4.1 on Limited Edition

Well, it isn’t anything like an iTunes killer, but it’s my favorite barebones-y Linux music player yet. DeaDBeeF is like a mixture of the best aspects of VLC and foobar2000, only more delicious-looking than either, and with the most awesome equalizer in all history. The only drawbacks (for me) of using it as a barebones player are its lack of support for M4B. Classic name, cool EQ, feature-packed, small size — DeaDBeeF is definitely a keeper if you don’t need or want a media library, or even if you just need it for odd jobs and don’t want to fire up a big music client.

Audio & Video Players » exaile

exaile 0.3.1.1

Exaile 0.3.1.1

Exaile 0.3.1.1 on Limited Edition

I like exaile. I like its layout, extensibility, and simplicity — but unfortunately it’s a memory hog that has a bit too much simplicity for my tastes. Strikingly, exaile used more RAM than any other player I’ve tried on Linux (with the exception of Miro), but it was still extremely responsive despite (because of?) this.

The more I used it, I though to myself, It works like DeaDBeeF with an iTunes skin. exaile does what it does really well, but there’s a lot more work to be done in the details (like tagging, album art, memory management, etc.) to make managing a large library practical in exaile.

If exaile can crank out some quality changes to those details, I’m sold — even if they can’t get memory usage down, I’d be sold! The exaile team has made a great player, but it’s still a bit rough ’round the edges. You know, I’m learning Python — maybe I’ll chip in some time in the future 😉 .

Audio & Video Players » JajuK

JajuK 1.8.4

JajuK 1.8.4

JajuK 1.8.4 on Limited Edition

JajuK… where can I begin? I really, really hate pretty much everything about it — the interface, the hyper-complexity, the lack of podcast or audiobook support per se, the fact that it’s grotesquely slow, the fact that even the rating system just didn’t work — so it’s completely out of the picture for me.

However, there are a few things that I like very much about JajuK that I’d like to see in other players:

  1. Statistics. This is awesome. JajuK even has cool pie charts and graphs for you to see, and integrates those statistics so that you can make your own computer a kind of personal last.fm.
  2. Multiple Modes. I don’t use any program for just one thing, so having distinct, clearly labeled, and easily accessible modes for listening to music, each of which is customisable by itself, is a really cool feature.
  3. Multiple Library Locations. A quick abusing of the library location folder made it apparent that I can watch multiple folders for music. Why is this cool? Because I can share music in much more flexible ways. Having just one library location is great if you only have one computer — but most of the people reading this page (author included) will have more. Multiple libraries lets you share your most-listened-to music without tying you down to any one machine (especially helpful for families who don’t all share dad’s affection for live Simon & Garfunkel or what have you 😉 ).

Still, JajuK is a loss. Ultra-messy, Java-heavy, randomly broken, and just noy my style.

Audio & Video Players » Miro

Miro 3.0.3

Miro 3.0.3

Miro 3.0.3 on Limited Edition

Miro was an intriguing possibility for me. It was like iTunes, only with BitTorrent integration! Not so. Miro lacked any form of audiobook support, or even anything resembling a conventional media library. While Miro doesn’t work as an iTunes replacement, it does have strong points for Internet media consumers (read podcast lovers, Youtube addicts, and RSS hounds). This may just be my Podcast catcher of choice if they add PMP support like they promised, and I really like how you can tell Miro “fill my hard drive, but leave a little bit free”, which is great for post-vacation podcast updates, I’m sure.

Side note: I found that Miro is a huge memory hog if you try to load a large non-feed library into it — over 220MB for ~20k songs and videos! It probably scales much better when it’s used as intended, though 😉 .

Audio & Video Players » Quod Libet

Quod Libet 2.1

Quod Libet 2.1

Quod Libet 2.1 on Limited Edition

Quod Libet was something of a wild card for me. I had heard of Quod Libet years ago while browsing teh Interwebs, and what I heard seemed good — highly capable integrated tag editor, fast database, great file support — but were the rumors true? Mostly.

Quod Libet is a really fine piece of software, but it really hogs memory (~85MB). Also, Quod Libet’s famed tagging system is, while super capable, not very intuitive or swift for one-song or couple-song type edits.

However, Quod Libet really shines with its album-art-browsing-display (shown in the above picture), with its huge list of plugins, and with its super snappy response to searches. I wish Quod Libet had a progress bar that displayed by default, though.

Maybe I’m just missing something, but I just don’t feel Quod Libet clicking with my media library like I want it to.

Audio & Video Players » Rhythmbox

Rhythmbox 0.12.8

Rhythmbox 0.12.8

Rhythmbox 0.12.8 on Limited Edition

Well, if I stick to Gnome, Rhythmbox is going to be my media library of choice. Even with my full library of ~20k songs loaded, Rhythmbox shone in efficiency, never topping 55MB (once library refresh was over). Rhythmbox works, and there is surprising depth to its seemingly simplistic interface. The developers really knew what they were doing here.

However, Rhythmbox does slow down once you load it with tons of music, and scrolling is a jerky affair, though everything else is responsive. Also, I still would like better tag editing, and there is nothing resembling good album art support.

Rhythmbox is cool, fast, sleek, and well-designed, but I may have to go to Amarok to really do my music library justice (it really kills me to say that, you know).

Audio & Video Players » Songbird

Songbird 1.4.3

Songbird 1.4.3

Songbird 1.4.3 on Limited Edition

Songbird seems to be a player that conjures mixed emotions in the Linux crowd, especially after support was dropped. Personally, I wonder why they didn’t look at the numbers and drop Mac support, which makes more sense than dumping a highly tech-oriented audience, but that’s just my two cents.

I’ve dallied with Songbird on XP before, but was really disappointed by the super-slow player. Songbird has perked up since then, and I like the dark iTunes interface, but something is really missing here. I mean, Songbird would have a much better chance at ruling the roost if they would at least include (somewhere obvious) podcast support. They did get tag editing right by following Apple’s lead, though.

Songbird just didn’t sing for me. Everything has an unfinished feel about it, and knowing that there is no support for it anymore means if I want Songbird’s functionality, I’ll be using Nightingale when (if?) it comes around.


Miscellaneous

These are programs that don’t fit into one of the main categories I’ve made, or that don’t fit into any particular category at all. Who knows what you’ll find here!

Miscellaneous » Zim

Zim 0.48

Zim is a really awesome desktop wiki. It sounds like a ridiculous idea, but using a wiki as a desktop note-taking tool/organizer is a really helpful thing. the formatting is simple, mostly text-based, and the simplicity of the thing really lends itself to flexibility. I have used it for: drafting articles, outlining program flows, keeping a list of my favorite programs, snippets of custom settings for web development in Joomla! and Drupal, random notes to myself, and a few other odds and ends. Basically, you are limited only by your imagination. Give Zim a whirl — it’s addictive!

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One thought on “Moving Bits Around

  1. Thomas

    Hi,
    I’m on my yearly ‘see if there’s an alternative for iTunes’ tour. 2008, ‘09, ‘10, and counting. I hope you don’t mind my lengthy comment. You’re top 5 btw for “songbird podcast support” on google.
    I get back here if I ever try to use my Ubuntu Netbook again for serious listening. I’m basically on a Mac, early MacBook plus a radio/mp3 player (Sansa Clip rockboxed!).
    Same on OS X, podcast is the key feature no other player supports in a similar fashion.

    “I mean, Songbird would have a much better chance at ruling the roost if they would at least include (somewhere obvious) podcast support.”
    Well, I won’t argue about tech savviness.
    But I fully agree. It just makes no sense for me to use a audio manager without it. iTunes is far from perfect (scripts, tools and hacks help a lot). Even if it were, it’s a shame to have no functional alternative. Dito that they dropped (official) support of any of the big three.
    Mh, I guess I give Miro another try.

    Reply

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