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Banshee 1.8 Brings Amazon MP3 Support Back to Linux

Users sick of waiting on Amazon to provide current downloaders for Linux will be pleased with Banshee 1.8. Just released, the new version can browse the Amazon MP3 store and act as a downloader for Amazon's .amz files, plus a number of other new enhancements and features.

Linux has plenty of great Media players, but Banshee’s support for Amazon MP3 downloads may put it at the top of the heap.

A couple of years ago, Amazon became a favorite for many music lovers because their Amazon MP3 service had a similar pricing structure and depth of catalog to iTunes, but without the DRM and non-standard format. This was even better news for Linux users, because Amazon was providing downloaders for Linux. Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, and Debian were all supported. And they’re still supported, if you happen to be running ancient versions of those releases.

Amazon has failed its Linux audience pretty badly by providing a client that depends on very specific libraries for each distribution, but doesn’t provide updates. So if you’re still running Ubuntu 9.04, openSUSE 11.1, or Fedora 11, you’re great. If not, too bad for you. And, stupidly, Amazon MP3 depends on the downloader for more than individual MP3s. So Linux users are stuck.

Ubuntu has been providing MP3 sales for its users via Ubuntu One, but the obvious problem there is that you have to be running Ubuntu (or an Ubuntu derivative), and have to sign up separately with Canonical. Plus, the Ubuntu One music store doesn’t have Amazon’s free track deals and samplers. Amazon makes a lot of music available for free on a weekly basis, and I’ve discovered some interesting new artists via the free compilation albums.

Lately I’ve been using Clementine, the fork of Amarok 1.4 that builds on Qt4 to provide an alternative to the new Amarok 2.0 interface. I was a long-time fan of Amarok, but not so much the new interface. With the old interface restored, I’ve been enjoying Clementine quite a bit.

Banshee 1.8 might just lure me back. As small as it may sound, the Amazon MP3 feature may be enough to push it right over. As far as I know, Banshee is the only media player on Linux that supports this. There’s still an open bug in Rhythmbox to get a plugin for Amazon, though Canonical have put in the work to do the plugin for the Ubuntu One music store.

More in 1.8

Naturally, Amazon support isn’t the only feature in Banshee 1.8, nor the only source of new music. Banshee also has excellent support for Magnatune, you can browse and get music from the Internet Archive’s vast collection of music that has been made freely available. Those aren’t necessarily new, but if you want to grab music that’s new to you, Banshee is hard to beat.

The new release also features a directory of podcasts hosted by Miro. This puts a lot of podcasts right at your fingertips, and the release notes promise better integration with Miro in future releases.

iPod, iPad, and iPhone users will be happy to know that the Banshee team has picked up better support for the Apple family of devices via libgpod. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with iPods, because Apple actively works against support on other platforms — rather than helping to support their devices. That’s the hate. Unfortunately, Apple still makes the best music players on the market. I still haven’t found anything comparable in price, size, and capacity to my 120GB iPod Classic.

It also includes support for more non-Apple devices like the Droid X. Works beautifully with my Nexus One so far.

If you have a largish music collection, you probably start noticing that your metadata is a bit wonky for some albums. Banshee 1.8 has a new Metadata Fixup Extension that goes through the music library and tries to help you fix metadata and merge albums or artists that vary by case or other minor differences. So “Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians” and “Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians” should be merged, for example.

I’ve only had time to play with 1.8 for a bit, but it looks like a very solid release so far.

Getting 1.8

Unfortunately, “released” and “actually available on current distributions,” are two different things. See the download page for distro-specific information. The Banshee project points to openSUSE, Ubuntu, Foresight, Fedora, Debian, and Mandriva specific info. It also, of course, offers a source tarball. You’ll also find a link to Mac OS X packages, but the most current one for Mac OS X is something like 1.5.3 — so there’s a bit of a lag there.

The Banshee team has a Personal Package Archive (PPA) on Launchpad, but it’s not up to date with 1.8 yet. The daily or testing builds are also behind. openSUSE users should be able to get up-to-date packages pretty quickly, since some of the Banshee team works for Novell and they tend to be sure that packages in the openSUSE Build Service are current.

I went ahead and compiled 1.8 from source, which worked fine. Unfortunately, a few dependencies are missing or old on Ubuntu, and I couldn’t get the iPod support because it was missing libgpod-sharp.

Keep an eye out for 1.8 packages from your favorite distro, and give Banshee 1.8 a try. It’s a top-notch media player, and with Amazon support under its belt, it’s one of the best choices for users who love music and want to keep adding to their collection.

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