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Open-source iTunes rival launches

Songbird music player is only in proof-of-concept stage, but it shows new vision for Web music.

A San Francisco start-up released an early test version of its open-source Songbird music software Wednesday, with which its ultimately hopes to undermine the dominance of Apple Computer's iTunes.

Pioneers of the Inevitable is hoping to create "the Firefox of MP3," a reference to the open source Web browser that has eaten into Microsoft's Internet Explorer market share.

Songbird is indeed built on some of the same open-source technologies as the Firefox Web browser, and hopes to tap into the community of independent developers that has helped add features to Firefox.

The company, which is led by digital music veteran Rob Lord, has cautioned the open-source community not to expect a full-featured music player from this first release, which they are calling only a "proof of concept" for now.

The developers wanted to prove they could build a functioning music player on the Mozilla Foundation's open-source technology platform, and wanted to have something that other programmers could look at and build on, they said.

"We wanted to put a stake in the ground, and define what it means to 'Play the Web,'" Lord said. "I think we've done that."

Indeed, the first version has a tendency to crash occasionally, and lacks some of the more advanced features of an iTunes or Windows Media Player. But it does show off the company's vision of a music player that is focused on the Internet, rather than on a computer's hard drive.

Lord has said that his vision for Songbird is software that makes little distinction between songs that happen to be located on a local drive and music that is online. As an early example, the software contains a Web browser that lets listeners browse sites such as Pitchfork Media, and which automatically creates a playlist out of the MP3 songs that are stored on that Web site.

The player could also be used to tap into online music services such as RealNetworks Rhapsody or Yahoo's music subscription service, Lord has said. Before starting the Pioneers of the Inevitable, Lord was one of the product managers for the launch of Yahoo's service.