Banshee Let’s You See the Future!

It’s true–and what this young gun media player can do, I have yet to see with any other FOSS equivalent on the Linux desktop.

I’m talking about Last.fm streaming in Novell’s Banshee media player. If you need any information on the internet music service Last.fm, head over to its wiki to get educated. If that’s not necessary, then you likely know that Last.fm works like any other internet radio station, when you toss aside the fact that it’s a website, and it attempts to guess what you like, and also that it can be narrowly tailored to your liking.

For constant Firefox users and Add-on fanatics like myself, there’s even a Firefox toolbar called Fire.fm that beats being chained to the Last.fm website, every time. It can start a station when you open your browser, and keeps playing wherever you roam on the net. No more “Shit, I’ve closed the wrong tab. Looks like I need to visit the page again and restart my station. Too bad I’ve been dying to hear that Stones song for the longest time, and now it’s gone…”

At the present, most if not all full-fledged media players for Linux offer some type of Last.fm support. What I haven’t seen until Banshee is the wonderful ability to see several songs at a time, almost like a temporary playlist, from which you can choose your next song. It’s like your music library has been extended and made even more dynamic, by bringing in the internet to your desktop.

Anywhere else, including Last.fm’s own website, the playback only shows you the current song. Rhythmbox does this, and so does Amarok. See the screen grab to get a better idea of what Banshee is doing instead:

Let’s say you’re a Last.fm user (if not and you’ve been feeling limited by your library lately, and don’t buy too many cd’s, like me: this is a good reason to start using it) wouldn’t you prefer this type of playback? This functionality changes the whole game for Last.fm, it’s no longer a boring stream you have little control over, like internet radio. This is a whole other playlist your plugged into thanks to the internet. But can Last.fm’s website even do this? No. Two points to you, Banshee team.

But hold on, that’s just Last.fm

I’m thrilled about this feature I stumbled upon, that has drawn me away from Pandora and back to using Last.fm again. However, with more dedicated use of the Banshee player (which by the way, also plays video–take that Rhythmbox) I have a few things I have to nitpick. Keep in mind that the tested release of Banshee was version 1.2.1…

  1. From the first use, Banshee tried to be nice and help me migrate from my other media players which I still use. And I keep around Amarok, Rhythmbox (favorite), and Xfmedia. When Banshee tried to pull my playlist info from Rhythmbox, it dumped the playlist in the Music Library in a rather haphazard way that needs to be immediately fixed. Songs were ordered descending by track number, and despite many clicks and checks into the Preferences, no other sorting was possible. Also, ‘browsing’, or narrowing by Artist or Album criteria, was totally broken, too. There is a solution–don’t import from other players. Do it from scratch and tell Banshee which directories or devices to look to for your Media Library. All is fixed with that.
  2. Secondly, and quite possibly what irks me the most about the Banshee player, is the illogical and troublesome way it handles Albums . Case in point–I have a compilation called The Second Wave that I snagged when I worked at Starbucks, and many artists are on the album such as Joy Division, Roxy Music and The Smiths. I’m often an album-listener, so I might try to narrow my playlist to just that album and enjoy it’s Post-punk/New Wave goodness. But as they say, I can “fuhget about it.” Know what Banshee does? It lists the album name several times, once for each artist that belongs to it. That does not make sense! I solve this by sorting my entire Library by Album name and playing through an album unshuffled. Alternatively, you can make individual playlists that include songs from that Album. It shouldn’t take that long to hear my albums.

Those problems (and possibly others) aside, I think Banshee is a nice media player. I had to throw some rocks at it, but I am happy that it offers video playback in the same app as music, podcasts, internet radio and Last.fm. I can’t speak to it’s podcast playback as I haven’t loaded any new ones, and Banshee lumped my old iTunes podcasts (from my Win XP install) together with regular music files.

Another great feature that I have yet to use is the disc burning that’s available straight from Banshee, provided that you have Brasero Disk Burning. However, I see no way to choose a different burning program if you don’t use Brasero.

I also read in Linux Format that iPod support in the current release is pretty solid. One thing that caught my eye was the way Banshee shows your iPod’s disk usage–just like iTunes does. Check out the screenshot I found.

As soon as Banshee cleans up its act which it likely will do in the near future, Rhythbox et al may get a run for their money. This may be to iTunes what OpenOffice is to Microsoft Office–a near drop-in replacement for an old app left behind in the jump from Windows to Linux. I use Banshee 1.2.1 frequently to learn my way around it and discover little faults like those I described above, but for now I have run back to Rhythmbox, and I feel much better using that. For the future of Banshee on SUSE releases and your own desktop, things are looking pretty good.

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