September 2006

Songbird 0.2 (Almost)

There's a new kid in town, Songbird. Imagine if Firefox mated with iTunes, and somehow the gray and brush metal interfaces formed a midnight black child--that would be Songbird. Songbird is an attempt to use the XUL design framework from Mozilla Firefox to create a user experience similar to Apple's iTunes program. While some have said that Songbird is nothing but a direct rip off of iTunes, Songbird brings new ideas to the media player realm. Like iTunes (and most media players), there is a library with the typical sorting features. However, instead of only providing a single source for new content like iTunes has with iTMS, Songbird uses the whole internet as its "music store." Any site with open media content can be part of Songbirds "music store," as Songbird auto discovers tracks on the site. Songbird uses services from Amazon, Creative Commons, eMusic, and dozens of others. Podcasts and streaming radio are easily accessible sources of content in Songbird. A nice feature is the Wikipedia plugin (make sure to install it during the Songbird installation), which shows the Wikipedia page for the currently playing artist.

After testing the latest release (a "beta" of 0.2), I found Songbird interesting and refreshing, but at times slow. When adding content to my Media Library, I found the process to be slower than Winamp 5's process. The worst part came as I started to scroll through my music, when Songbird started loading in the ID3 tags for all the songs. This process took several minutes on top of scanning the directories. However, this process only occurred the first time I used Songbird, since then I have had no complaints about loading ID3 data. Overall the program does at times feel a little sluggish (on a Athlon 3000+ with 2.3 GB RAM). I'm not yet holding the Songbird team at fault for this one with a beta of their 0.2 release. Yet, one may question whether using the XUL interface will ever be as quick as a program like Winamp. But, I must admit, Songbird still seemed like a racehorse compared to Windows Media Player 10. The sluggish-ness is only noticeable when loading web pages or changing views in the player, song quality was perfectly fine when I just let it play. I definitely suggest keeping your eye on this program as it evolves.

Firefox 2.0 beta 2

The new version of Mozilla Firefox is out--grab a beta copy now! There have been doubts if Firefox can keep making inroads against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, given the fact that IE 7 is now out in beta and has many of the features that the internet community has come to expect from a "modern browser" (tabbed browser, feed integration, etc.). However, it appears as if the Mozilla team is going strong with the latest preview of Firefox and will beat Microsoft to the market in the latest round of the browser wars.

New Firefox Features:

  • Search engines - the simplistic search tool has been given an update, especially with the ability to natively remove engines from Firefox.
  • Tabbed browsing - a tab-close button now rests on each tab, making the closure of tabs more intuitive. The tabs are now able to me moved around, without an extension.
  • Spell Checking - form boxes are now checked by Firefox. A nice tool for anyone using form boxes for blogging software.
  • Options Menu - the ever evolving option menu gets a face lift again, this time with some new features.
  • Feed Integration - Live Bookmarks are taken a step forward--Firefox can now put a feed into your RSS program and various RSS web readers. Also, once a feed is clicked, a nicely formatted page is displayed instead of the raw XML.
  • Anti-Phishing Tools - Firefox checks the page against Google or a precompiled database to help users know if the website is authentic.

The only issue I ran into during nearly a week of testing is that my current antivirus program (AntiVir Guard) identified Firefox's anti-phishing tool as spyware. This identification occurred repeatedly, even after chosing to ignore, delete, or quarantine. Firefox did not suffer when losing this file, however, it is expected that the anti-phishing tool will not work as accurately, if at all. Mozilla's forums indicated that this was a known issue, so hopefully AVG will adjust their rules accordingly before Firefox is released in late October.

Smithsonian Quickly Drops Pluto

The International Astronomical Union has decided that Pluto no longer is considered a planet. This distant body has been reclassified as a "dwarf planet," along with two other bodies, Xena and Ceres. While some may feel cheated, losing one of their beloved planets, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum was quick to adopt the new standard. Within a week and a half, the museum had begun making changes to the solar system exhibit. The symbol of Pluto, which had been in a list of all the planets, was hidden behind a black plastic square.

Also, next to a detailed description of Pluto and Neptune a temporary poster had been set up explaining the recent change by the IAU and its effect on Pluto.

Looks like the Smithsonian has some work ahead--adding several new dwarf planets to the models and descriptions.

Downfall of DRM?

There has been a lot of buzz this week in the anti-DRM (Digital Rights Management) camp. Engadget posted that Microsoft's PlayForSure had been removed by a program called FairUse4WM. While Microsoft almost immediately pushed a patch out that broke version 1.1 of this program, within the week version 1.2 was released, which according to its author should be much harder for Microsoft to break. Meanwhile, in the iTunes arena, a new version of QTFairUse6 has been released which removes the Apple's previously uncrackable DRM, FairPlay for iTunes v6.

It will be interesting in the next few weeks to see how this arms race turns out. Will Apple and Microsoft create new DRM models or just try to tweak a few settings to break the current anti-DRM programs, as Microsoft did this past week? Microsoft, and the sites that use its PlayForSure technology (Napster, Ruckus, etc.), seem to be in a much more dire situation, since they utilize a business model that allows users to download an unlimited number of files. So users of Napsters and such services will likely be able to download mass numbers of files and strip all DRM from those files. Apple has less to use because their pay per download model means that users of iTunes will still have to pay for every track that they remove FairPlay from.

Should Microsoft and Apple force the RIAA to accept DRM free downloads? With a business model such as Napster, DRM is somewhat more of a necessity, since having DRM free downloads would be nothing more than a legitimized Limewire or Kazaa. But with a model such as iTunes, wouldn't making the consumer happy by allowing that 99 cent track to play on any system with an MP3 codec be better? While its legitimacy is in question,, has made many people very happy by allowing downloads of DRM free tracks. Engadget has an interesting plea to Microsoft.

New Site, New Host

Welcome to the new After having hosted the website for the past 3 years on an old computer in my apartment, it was time for a change to a hosted solution, where I wouldn't have to worry about my internal network being compromised. After quite a bit of research, I have settled upon DreamHost--besides multiple glowing reviews, their prices and features are highly competitive.

In addition to switching hosts, I have finally decided to try out several packaged web-software packages. I have thought about switching over to WordPress for about a year and a half now, but I have always enjoyed creating my very own layout and code for my site. But hopefully with WordPress I will be able to focus more upon the content of the site and less with the actual code.