Some time ago I wrote that Linux needed “golden applications” to succeed on the desktop. My reasoning was that as it was single-platform applications keeping some people on Windows, perhaps Linux needed a few best-of-breed applications that would only run on Linux to help people decide to migrate. But I was wrong.
You won’t see me say that often so enjoy it while it lasts.
I realised this a few days as I was salivating over the prospect of being able to run Amarok 2 on Windows. For some time (years!) I’ve been trying to break my unholy tie to WinAmp. I use it, a habit of good file-naming and Windows’ Explorer as my media system and while it’s worked for me in the past, I’ve grown green with envy seeing the features in other systems.
To me, all the Windows audio-playing applications have some fatal flaws:
Winamp — Been using it forever. I’d love to use the media library but it’s just too ugly, too slow and generally just too unusable for the number of artists and tracks I’ve got.
iTunes — Bleurgh. Criminally poor port to Windows and it just doesn’t do what I want it to. Have to admit I like its podcasting section but that’s a job I’ve pushed out onto my Nokia n95 with great success — Well done Nokia.
Foorbar 2000 — I gave this a glance when I saw a really cool skin for it on Digg. The skin *was* cool but it was a complete usability nightmare. I spent 3 or 4 hours hacking things around, downloading customised dlls, adding random fonts and even then it wasn’t stable and still didn’t have the features I needed.
Windows Media Player 11 — Yeah… I have to say that they’re moving in the right direction but it’s still miles behind other media players.
I think the hardest part of all this is a) there’s so much choice and b) I’m a fussy bastard who wants his cake and to be able to eat it. I want a slimline player that has awesome library functions. Amarok fits the bill so thoroughly that I’ve moved to Linux (and been here for some weeks).
I’ve got the features of a “big” player:
It has a superb library that doesn’t slow down that I can even push off onto an industrial strength database if I’ve got that much music.
It can handle lyrics and grab Wikipedia for artist exploration. Listening to music has become an interactive activity, allowing me to see what the bands are up to, what their new music is and sing along easily.
It hooks into Last.fm to pull back suggested artists (in my library) so I can pick a mood and migrate around — something that is quite exhausting if you organise and select your music through your file-browser…
It interfaces with my iPod well unlike many other players that claim to do the same. It can even grab music from plugged in iPods, beating the neutered state of iTunes.
It even has a store where you can explore lesser known artists and actually have a proper preview of what their music is all about. Magnatune isn’t the best store in the world but with some love and attention, it could really go places. You get full, high quality previews and you choose how much you pay. The artist gets 50% of that figure while Magnatune takes the other half.
But even with all that functionality, I can reduce it to a tiny icon in my system notification tray and even control it from there either through hotkeys or via the icon directly: middle click to play/pause, mousewheel for volume, right click for more options.
But getting back on topic: this is how Linux and open source platforms will take over: superior apps. You slowly hook people onto apps that are cross platform and when they re-evaluate their platform choice, they’ll notice they don’t need the cumbersome stain (that is, Windows) slowing their computer any more.
You can see echoes of this in Firefox, Thunderbird, Evolution, OpenOffice — targeting apps, building up a solid development base and cranking it all the way up.