Music Management on Windows

Before I begin, let me reiterate what it says off to the right there: “Not intended to be objective, anything posted here is my opinion and is subject to change without notice.”  I bring that up because this post only reflects my personal usage, your mileage may vary.

Music management on Windows has long been a sore spot of mine.  There are loads of available “jukebox” style music managers/players available.  However, I have found, that for my personal usage, they all have problems.  Not being satisfied with my music management tools I dutifully install each new release in the hope that this will be the one that provides management nirvana.  Up until now, Media Monkey has proven to be the most apt, but it has bugs and quirks that still bother me.

So with the release of iTunes 10, I downloaded and installed it.  When you download and install iTunes you also get (without asking) Apple Updater, Quicktime, Bonjour, iPod driver, iPhone driver, MobileMe,  and Apple Application Support.  You also get 4 persistent processes.  So iTunes has a heavy disadvantage to overcome before you even import your music files.  The problem with iTunes for music management is that it does not allow you to manage your files.  As odd as it sounds, there is no way to re-sync your iTunes database with your music directory if you make changes.  Like most things Apple, it is either Job’s way or the highway.  After turning off the store “features” in iTunes, getting rid of the unusable (s.l.o.w) cover flow, and disabling all the distractions (genius, dj, radio, movies, apps, podcasts, etc…), it was basically useful as a mp3 player.  But for management of a large music collection, it still falls far short of being useful.  After uninstall, you have to go uninstall 5 applications that Apple left splattered on your system.  This pretty much makes iTunes malware in my book.

Windows Media Player has its own issues.  WMP 12 is the best ever version of media player, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.  With Windows 7 libraries it is cool to have adaptive real time loading of music.  But in practice, this leads to balky behavior on WMPs part.  Too often when I want to navigate to something, I am stopped while WMP looks for changes or loads information.  A responsive interface is a basic requirement of a usable application, WMP drops that ball too often.  I still use it as a default music/video player, I just don’t use it to manage my collection or listen to my library.

I saw that Songbird was up to version 1.8, so I decided to give it another shot.  So I downloaded, installed, and loaded up my music.  Holy cow, it is terrible, how did this get released?  The interface literally takes 10 seconds to change views.  Click…wait…wait some more…interface changes.  And it does not matter what you are doing, everything is slow.  The only consolation, unlike last time, Songbird did not destroy my mp3 tags.  Being a masochist at heart, I will likely try it again in a future release (I like the idea of Songbird, it just sucks in practice.)

After my experience with Songbird, I decided to forgo experimenting with doubleTwist this time around.  Not more than a month or two ago (when they released their Android app) I gave doubleTwist a try.  To me it seemed like an alpha release, and I will give it time to mature before trying again.  Like Songbird, I like the idea of doubleTwist.

I also didn’t give the Zune player a try this time around…I don’t have the urge to “get social” with my music listening.  Actually I do get social, but it is with, not Microsoft.

I’ve seen that Foobar 2000 gets a lot of geek cred, so I checked it out for the first time.  My finding is that it is geekier than I am.  Customizable and fast are two of its best features, but it takes too much diddling to make it usable and its tag management is basic at best.

Which brings me to my biggest surprise, Winamp.  Yes that Winamp, the one I used as my first music player before I had files to manage.  I think I first used Winamp 2, then graduated to Winamp 3 before switching to something more full featured (Musicmatch Jukebox).  To my surprise, Winamp is quite good as a music manager.  It does not lag and is the most responsive player amongst any that I have tried.  It ships with a couple of decent themes and many more are available, tagging is full featured and robust, it syncs with the library, and it is easily customizable.

With all of this in mind, I’ve decided to give Winamp a longer term trial.  It may take up to a month to know if Winamp will replace Media Monkey as my music management and player software.  It claims to sync with the iPod so I will see how that works at some point…that may be the deciding point.  It seems more stable and snappy than Media Monkey, even if it has far fewer features.

After my trial, I will write up a comparison between Winamp and Media Monkey, currently the best media player/managers available, on any platform (the last statement is only true because Amarok botched its re-write so badly.)  And for the Apple defenders, iTunes on Mac will not make the running until it learns to respect and make use of the changes that are made in other applications and the file manager.

Edit: After posting this I noted that KDE for Windows had added Amarok back to its installer, however I was unable to get it to install…I think there is a bug in the 4.4.0 installer.

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