- Programming Language: C#
- Engine: GStreamer
- Age: 5 years
- Pros: Fast, large development community; many features
- Cons: Abstraction-oriented UI; few utilities; a little pokey on large libraries
Banshee was, in its early days, a laughable competitor even to Rhythmbox. It lacked, among other things, such basic features as a music browser or album list (lead developer Aaron Bockover seemed to think that searching was music was sufficient). Then, by the time I performed my second GNOME Audio Player Shootout, the client had just seen a major rewrite, a rush of young blood in the form of a thriving developer community, and had finally become one of the most powerful and feature-filled clients available for the GNOME desktop.
Fast forward two years and the “unstable” series of Banshee sits at 1.7.4, and has become one of the most well-known audio clients, as well as the default player for some distributions (openSuse, and one can’t help but expect that Ubuntu will follow suit sooner or later). The User Interface has not changed dramatically since the tremendous 1.0 release several years ago, but some additional bits are visible: a new album view piece which displays covers rather than a list of albums is the default for 1.7.4; in previous unstable releases, one could toggle between views if the album view was not conducive to quick scanning, but I can no longer seem to find that option.
The biggest change to the interface comes in the form of the Meego plugin, which allows the user to toggle between Banshee’s usual interface and a compact one more suitable for mobile devices like netbooks. Odd design decisions aside (why is there a large blue bar at the bottom solely for closing the program?) this extension has a lot of promise, and emphasizes that the Banshee team puts a lot of work into their interface.
I say that with caveats, however, since there are still many parts of Banshee’s UI that are inconsistent or confusing, not least of which is the disappearance of some options between releases (yes, I know this is an “unstable” series). As well, though right-clicking produces context menus in the navigation pane (far left), it acts the same as a left-click in the music browser. When I right-click on an artist in hopes of discovering additional options, Banshee instead selects that artists and changes the other UI panes.
Like most most GNOME players, Banshee sticks to a strict column layout: the columns themselves are configurable, but horizontal space is at a premium, and it doesn’t allow for grouping like the excellent foobar2000. As well, although Banshee is capable of understanding data tags like “Composer” and “Conductor” (I have an extensive classical music collection), it lumps them all under “Unknown Artist” in its browser pane, and one has to choose for the “Composer” column to be active—which is fine for classical, but wasted space when I listen to modern music which has no Composer.
One of Banshee’s strengths is still its tag editor, which is a custom engine which uses Taglib#. In fairness, most of the tagging options are a direct clone of iTunes’ tagging screens—the sorting panel in particular reveals just how little original work the team did in that regard. In fact, you could argue that Banshee is really attempting to be the iTunes of the Linux world: the searching, the new Amazon MP3 store integration and other hooks to music sources, and the heavily abstracted UIs all indicate the developer focus. I can’t call this bad in and of itself, though given the relative surfeit of “easy-to-use” music players for GNOME, what I’d really like to see is one that approaches the level of foobar2000.