In this week’s installment, our resident Linux newb goes on the prowl with one thought in mind: To find the best-of-breed FOSS music player for GNU/Linux.
The Linux Gadabout
I’ve decided to take a break from swimming upstream. Sure, I enjoy the puzzles presented by limited RAM and weird popcorn sounds that happen when caging Ubuntu MATE in a rickety Sony Vaio laptop that’s more than a decade old. I love the creative solutions the FOSS Force community shares in a concerted effort to get me back in the saddle and on my way. But I think Christine Hall summed it up best when commenting on my last column via Facebook:
“Poor Robert has been spending so much time with his hardware that he hasn’t had a chance yet to see what Linux and FOSS can do.”
She’s right. I began this journey in an attempt to refurbish a piece of obsolete machinery that had been collecting allergens in my closet for ages. In the process, I discovered that RAM purchased for less than a tank of gas in Oklahoma and the installation of some version of Linux should be able to turn it into at least a single-purpose piece of technology for the household. But perhaps an even more important discovery was that Linux — at least Ubuntu MATE — isn’t something to be scared of. I’d even go as far as to say it’s less scary and more stable than Windows circa 2016, and this is coming from someone who’s used Windows as his primary operating system since the early ’90s.
Now that that’s sorted, I’ve decided to install Ubuntu MATE on a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 with 8 GB RAM that was kindly given to me by Chris Pirillo a couple of years ago — quite the upgrade compared to what I was working with. While I’m still determined to pinpoint the cause of the weird popcorn noise that vexes my Ubuntu MATE-installed Sony Vaio (and report my findings in a future column), I’m so far really enjoying the smooth swiftness of Linux on a system that’s not on its last hinges.
At the suggestion of Matt Hartley, my first real FOSS foray is going to be a comparison of a few of the most popular open source iTunes alternatives. iTunes used to be my go-to app of choice for playing what had, by the mid-2000s, become a pretty unwieldy collection of music files ripped from CDs and transferred from cassettes and vinyl over the years. But when I discovered the magic of streaming media, I gave iTunes — and my own music collection — a break for a while.
When I had the inclination to revisit iTunes, it had changed into some unrecognizable, bloated (and it’s always been a bit of a bloat) beast. Where I had once considered it straightforward and intuitive, it was now an agent of sensory overload. It had changed for the sake of change and its new and “improved” interface left me feeling lost. I had abandoned it, and in turn, it had abandoned me right back. I suppose that’s fair.
For my purposes, the Spotify interface has been doing well enough as a music organization replacement for iTunes on my Windows machine. But now that I’m seeing what options the world of Linux presents, there’s no better time to find out if there’s anything even better.
Not sure if I’m ready to call her my darling yet, but Amarok-adapted Clementine seems to have potential. I was initially excited when I saw there was Spotify integration (I’m a subscriber), but adding the recommended plugins isn’t working as of this writing. I no longer get the error message telling me to install the plugins, but Spotify songs added to a playlist simply flash as if beckoning me to an untimely demise, proceeding no further.
Aside from the disappointing omission of Spotify, I love that I can create playlists within Clementine allowing a mixture of additions from SoundCloud, Magnatune, Dropbox, Google Drive, and a sizable list of other services out there along with my own collection.
The Ghostbusters don’t always know what they’re talking about — sometimes it’s perfectly fine to cross the streams.
Rhythmbox installed along with Ubuntu MATE, and it seems fine enough for playing my own collection — but it crashed the first time I tried to search for songs on SoundCloud. And the second time. A third time might be the proverbial charm, but I don’t feel like pushing my luck right now. It seems to be due to a faulty plugin and not Rhythmbox itself, but no error message pops up to tell me this — it just freezes up and crashes without telling me why.
I was going to mention that a search in Rhythmbox for a specific podcast resulted in nothing, but I neglected to add a space between two of the words in the title. When I realized my error, the show I was looking for popped up right away. Still, a dialogue telling me no results were found would have been more helpful than the visual equivalent of crickets chirping.
Rhythmbox definitely subscribes to the less is more aesthetic, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. It’s as no-frills as iTunes used to be (but not quite as no-frills as the Wesley Willis-inspired WinAmp).
It’s funny. Just as I was reminded of WinAmp, Audacious was next on my list of iTunes alternatives to check out. If Rhythmbox is like a no-frills iTunes, Audacious is like a more-frills WinAmp. It’s cute. It doesn’t take up a lot of screen space, and it suffices for small playlists of local files.
Audacious really hearkens back to the not-so-distant age when listening to CDs directly from the CD ROM drive was about as complicated a task one would expect from audio playback software. In its simple, unassuming nature (contrary to the software’s moniker), I really found nothing to complain about. It didn’t promise anything it couldn’t deliver, and I didn’t try to make it do anything outside of its comfort zone.
Kind of a perfect relationship for the Monday morning that finds me writing this.
If I’m to pick a favorite from just these three, I suppose it’s going to be Clementine. Sure, it might be a bit more resource intensive than the other choices and a little broken in places, but I still prefer it to what iTunes has become. As far as the differences between trying new software in a Windows versus a Linux environment, I’m not going to lie: finding my way around Linux is taking some getting used to. And that’s okay — I expected as much. Just as I’d expect trying to haggle in Portuguese might be a bit rough at first if I’m just learning the language and I’ve only known English until now.
Luckily, Christine Hall has been kind enough to pass along what look to be excellent resources for furthering my competence with Portuguese…er…Linux; I hope to attack my next column’s project with a little more insight. If all goes well, I might even be able to listen to a mix of my favorite streaming music services and local files in a Clementine playlist while I’m doing it! My fingers are crossed and I remain undaunted.
“Bob” Fogarty was the editor-in-chief at Chris Pirillo’s LockerGnome.com for nearly 12 years, and has written for ReadWrite.com and TheArtofCharm.com. He lives in San Diego with his wife and a medium-sized menagerie of beasties great and small. Follow him on Twitter: @Fogarty