With each year that Apple continues its dominance in digital music, the chances of a viable competitor seem increasingly remote. But if a true challenger to the vaunted iPod ever does emerge, some believe that it may come from a camp known for a level of fanaticism that can rival the fierce loyalty of Mac addicts: the open-source community.
A few months ago, a company called Neuros Audio for input by open-source developers. This week, a small San Francisco start-up called the Pioneers of the Inevitable led by digital-music visionary Rob Lord launched Songbird, an open-source alternative to Apple's iTunes service.
Early reports on Songbird in the blogosphere are mixed. Granted, it's early on, and most people haven't had much time to tinker with the new software yet. But this isn't the kind of software that is meant to knock users' socks off the first time they use it. What will make Songbird successful is how involved the open-source community gets with it and whether user-created extensions, which will be supported in the near future, help it mature and take advantage of the traits that give Songbird an edge over iTunes, namely that it's not limited to Apple's music store.
While the Neuros Audio project may not have been the revolution some were expecting, open-source software is a whole different ballgame. And Songbird could be a real game changer. In the end, user-designed extensions may be just the thing that elevates Songbird above seemingly unshakeable iTunes. Does Apple have reason to worry about this plucky start-up?
Blog community response:
"Songbird's Mozilla roots are a core part of its appeal, because the program's primary selling point is the fact that, unlike iTunes, Songbird can interface with almost any online music service...Songbird can use web pages as playlists, and can be configured to automatically grab music in a variety of formats from a web page or site and play them. This high level of Web integration is ultimately intended to make it very easy for Indie artists and labels to create their own online music stores for Songbird-using customers."
"I gave Songbird a shot today and really disliked it. I found it slow, confusing, and uncooperative. When I put it on shuffle, the playlist includes my video podcasts, and Songbird apparently doesn't know how to play MP4s...Thumbs down for now."
"With the exception of the VERY dark interface, I like where they're going. I'm still a long ways from giving up iTunes though."