Amarok Is Easy OSS Listening
Linux provides more than one way to listen to music collections. The bare-bones solution is to click on a music file from within a file manager app. The high-end approach is to playback music with Amarok.
Amarok is a sound-system-independent audio player with a flexible interface that uses a browser-like design. Amarok does what a simple file manager cannot do. It lets you create playlists to maximize your music listening activities.
The latest version, Amarok 2.3.0, was released on March 15. It contains enough improvements over version 2.2.2 that it well deserves another look if you tried it earlier and did not like it.
The new interface is highly configurable. This unlocked layout makes Amarok a good choice on small screen laptops and netbooks.
Amarok now runs in tabbed mode. Or better yet, unselect Lock Layout from the View menu. This lets you close or move any of the panels and the toolbar.
I started using Amarok when I switched to the Ubuntu Linux desktop. I was happy with the performance of version 2.2.2 compared to an alternative app, Listen.. Listen is very similar to Amarok, but Amarok has a slightly better feature set.
So unless you run Kubuntu or another KDE-based Linux distro, a little finessing is needed to get Amarok to run on the Gnome desktop. It's not complicated to do -- just add the missing libxine1 library package to get sounds to play.
Do this with the following command entered into a terminal:
<< sudo apt-get install libxine1-ffmpeg >>
This will add to your system the MPEG-related plug-ins used by libxine1. This includes the media player library the Xine engine uses and the ffmpeg plugin for Xine to access audio and video codecs.
I was impressed with the high level of improvement built into version 2.3.0. The earlier version was fine as it was, but this latest version is well worth the upgrade.
One big change is the performance optimization. The Playlist is much faster, and the process of fetching cover images works much better.
Version 2.3.0 has some nice new features such as the Automated Playlist Generator, a Similar Artists and Upcoming Events finder and better support for podcasts and saved playlists.
Amarok sports a new main toolbar and a file browser that is much simpler to use. I liked the slim toolbar used in the previous version; that's still in version 2.3.0 as a drop-down option.
Clearly, I like the new look and feel of the file browser. It makes use of breadcrumb navigation, so it is much easier to track where I've been within my music collection and return there.
Another feature that is easy to like is the context menu of tracks in your playlist. It now has the ability to show media sources. This is a handy way to return to the same track in the collection browser for editing, moving or deleting the file.
I spend considerable time listening to podcasts as a source of news. Amarok doubles as my app of choice for managing podcasts.
Amarok makes it easy to change the update interval and the location to store newly added files. I can save podcasts grouped by source.
Also, I can merged views the same as I can with any other local music collection. When a new source of podcasts is available, Amarok turns off the merged view and instead shows a collapsible list of the new listening sources.
Managing podcast collections could not be easier. I can drag and drop podcasts and podcast channels to add them to the device or service.
More Key Features
Amarok is a pretty slick music playing package. Its library runs on a built-in light version of MySQL. Plus, it supports multiple backends such as GStreamer, xine, NMM, MAS (media application server) and aRts.
The 10-band equalizer cranks out an awesome sound quality. It is limited only by the richness of the computer's speakers.
Cover art is automatically downloaded from Amazon services. Full lyrics are a click away as well.
Much of the new interface is easy on the eyes. The screen is divided into three primary viewing panels. The media sources section is the file manager for navigating to the hard drive tree, Internet sources or the local collection. The second section is the playlist panel. The center section is the context panel.
Within the context panel is the choice of viewing the current track, the lyrics or the Wikipedia information extension. Clicking one of the three tabs at the bottom of the viewing panel switches the content.
Across these sections on the top portion of the screen is the player progress bar. Two buttons at either end of this progress bar provide instant access to play/pause and volume settings. All of the audio controls are accessible from the drop down Amarok menu.
All program options are reached from the other drop-down menus. These provide access to View, Playlist, Tools and Settings.
Don't look for much help, however, That drop-down category just tells you about the program. For first-time users, some basic quick start steps would be a big help.
Additional file management tools are nestled in the right-click menus. The options change based on whether the pointer touches an individual song title or a full album. The choices range from editing and deleting tracks to organization files and playlists.
Amarok is one of the most integrated and complete music playing systems available in Linux. What it contains is state of the art. What it does not offer probably is not found in any other program.
This package is well designed and easy to use. It has a link to the Magnatune.com online music store. But the purchase and synchronization features are not nearly as rigorous as options in Windows and Mac-based platforms. So if you can't exist without an iPod or Zune device tethered to the computer for musical replenishment, you will need a work-around.