Practical Technology

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Banshee — the next best thing to Linux iTunes


I want an audio player that will do everything that Apple’s iTunes does — including working with my iPod — and do it natively on Linux. That’s a tall order. I’ve tried many fine Linux programs — KDE’s amaroK, RealPlayer 10 for Linux, Xine, etc. — but none have scratched my itch.

So, I’ve been running Windows iTunes 4.9x running atop CrossOver Office 5.01. Apple’s favorite audio program runs decently on CrossOver Office, but I wanted something that worked better and was a “real” Linux program.

Although I haven’t quite found exactly what I want in a Linux app, Banshee comes pretty darn close.

To start with the basics, Banshee can play all the most common music formats, such as Apple’s AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), MP3s, and Ogg Vorbis. Better still, the tracks I’ve burned from my CD collection sound pretty darn good on the old bookcase JBL J2060 speakers.

You can also use the program to rip and burn CDs. When you burn CDs, you can do it either as MP3s or as conventional audio CDs.

Unlike many audio programs, controlling Banshee is as easy as pie. Want to add your collection, point at the appropriate directory and watch it build its library. Want to display your music in artist order? Album order? Make a playlist? No problem.

It also supports iPod synchronization. I was able to bring tunes in from my iPod and to put new songs on the iPod. I could also place my music on a network drive and then use iTunes to play them when I’m on my Mac or use Banshee to listen to them when I’m on one of my Linux systems.

For that matter, Banshee can also work as both a DAAP (Digital Audio Access Protocol) client and server for sharing music on a SOHO network. While there are reports of Banshee’s DAAP not working, it worked for me.

I now run Banshee on several systems. My primary test system, though, was my faithful old SUSE 10.1 workstation. This PC is an Insignia 300a with a 2.8 GHz Pentium IV, 512 MB RAM, and an Ultra ATA/100, 7200 RPM, 60 GB hard drive.

With this system, I had no trouble bringing Banshee up. That’s not surprising, since Banshee is included with SUSE.

I was also able to bring it up on a Ubuntu system with a little work. Other supported Linuxes include Mandriva and Fedora Core 4. You can, of course, build it from source.

Banshee is a Linux-native audio player that is built on top of Mono and Gtk#. Experts will realize that Banshee is a GNOME program. However, speaking as a KDE 3.51 user, I can assure you that it runs just fine with the KDE desktop.

Behind the scenes, Banshee uses Gstreamer play, encode, and decode Ogg Vorbis, MP3s, and most of it other supported audio formats. The major exception is Apple’s AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format. To play those, Banshee relies on RealNetworks Helix media framework to do the AAC decoding.

Since the AAC is a proprietary format, Helix includes a license for it. Because of this, you’ll need to agree to install this non-open-source based software. The relevant files are banshee-engine-helix-0.10.9-21.i586.rpm and helix-dbus-server-0.2.2-6.i586.rpm, which are available on SUSE 10.1 with the distribution’s useful Add-On, Non-OSS CD.

If you already have RealPlayer 10.x or Helix 1.x, you should already have the necessary Helix files.

Even with these files installed, you will not be able to play any songs you’ve downloaded from the iTunes music store. That’s because Banshee doesn’t support the iTunes DRM (digital rights management) scheme. There is, however, a Banshee project working on solving this problem.

In addition, one of the things I like most about iTunes is the access it gives me to live music streaming from the Web. In particular, may I bring Boot Liquor Radio, music for saddle-weary drunkards, to your attention?

However, the functionality is already in Banshee, and the interface to access it should be available soon.

So it is, that while Banshee isn’t quite everything I want it to be yet, it’s already closer than anything else out there. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a stable, simple-to-use, iPod-compatible Linux-based audio player.

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.

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