2006-05-22 1836 Review: In the beginning there was iTunes, and it was good. I rejoiced in it's dynamic playlists, in it's efficient interface and ability to search my (veritable) music collection quickly and easily.

AmaroK the Kasbah

In the beginning there was iTunes, and it was good. I rejoiced in it’s dynamic playlists, in it’s efficient interface and ability to search my (veritable) music collection quickly and easily.

But iTunes was not without fault. It transferred files to my iPod at a snail’s pace, despite all other programs copying files and music over very quickly indeed. More importantly, it did not run on Linux, so it was cast out in shame.

Then came AmaroK.


AmaroK is not just as good as iTunes, it’s 1,000 times better, for too many reasons to count. But I’ll try.

Firstly, it runs on Linux which means that our 11Gb-ish music collection is available under one application again, and in an app that doesn’t suck the lifeblood out of my computer’s memory. It also continually monitors the directories holding the music – add a track in by any means, and it’s immediately in AmaroK. With iTunes, I have to tell it to search the folders, every single time. AmaroK does everything iTunes does, including transferring files to the iPod, building playlists, updating podcasts, etc.

But it also does much, much more. For starters, AmaroK isn’t tied down to being a Closed piece of software – it’s Open in the best possible meaning of the word, using other resources both online and on the ‘net to make a best-of-breed music experience.

Here’s a real example.

I’m listening to “Love to Hate You” by Erasure using AmaroK. It’s already pulled a picture of the album cover off the ‘net, and filled the ID tags for the song via musicbrainz. I click the Lyrics tab, and they’re found online and displayed. Clicking the Artist tab pulls information about Erasure from wikipedia and displays it, still in AmaroK. There’s a song list suggesting other music in a similar style. This is much, much more powerful than iTunes’ “search by genre”, but relies on last.fm‘s excellent abilities. It gives me songs by the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and Duran Duran – nice. I add those to the playlist with a single click. Here’s the kicker – some of this music isn’t even on my computer, but on last.fm. AmaroK seamlessly pulls those into the playlist too, streaming them directly on demand.

It’s used resources outside !Amarok itself in ways that iTunes just can’t because it’s Closed Software. The mentality is all wrong. If Apple wanted to provide lyric or artist information, they’d provide it themselves and hard-code it into the interface producing something even more huge, slow and bloated.

AmaroK isn’t without minor niggles though. The Ratings are a bit too abstract for my liking. It’s calculated automatically based on how often you listen to a track. I prefer iTunes manual “click on a star from one to five”. That’s being fixed with the next release, as is it’s (already very good) podcast and iPod handling. It also has nothing like iTunes’ turgid Music Store. Ooh. Shame.

AmaroK is one of the ‘must have’ programs for Linux, and it’s not often I’ll say that about anything that’s GUI rather than command-line driven. It puts iTunes in the shadow and really does open up your music collection.

A well deserved Ten ouf of Ten.

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