23 November 2009

Amarok 2 revisited

Considering the sort of negative person I am (I'm sure scientologists would classify me as "suppressive personality" in zero time), it doesn't come as a surprise that one of the most popular items on this blog is a rant about Amarok 2. Having recently upgraded my Linux laptop, however, I found that Amarok was also upgraded to release 2.2.1, and I decided to give it a go. The experience was, overall, a positive one, so I thought I owed to the developers a follow-up to my previous rap.

Amarok 2.2.1 finally addresses 99% of the problems and regressions that plagued 2.0. The terrible default layout is now highly customizable (click on View -> Lock Layout to unlock the widgets, then drag&drop them where you want), so you can recreate the much-saner 1.x disposition. You can also customize the top toolbar (which by default is wasting so much screen real-estate, you could probably display three different applications in the same amount of space) to be more compact, by selecting View -> Slim Toolbar. Support for radio and podcasting is now first-rate (I don't know about external disks/mediaplayers), and plugins for various Internet services are quite good. MySQL is back to being an optional back-end for the internal music catalog. In short, if you still are on 1.x and can upgrade to KDE4/Qt4, you should probably give it a go.

So, 18 months down the line, Amarok is basically back to where it was in release 1.4, plus some eyecandy and (we are told) a better, more modular infrastructure. In order to achieve this, developers endured a year of bad publicity and hate-mail from their own users, lost market share, and basically looked hapless at prioritizing features and designing interfaces.

Was it worth it? To me, it still looks like another proof that benefits of "big rewrites" are dubious at best, like Joel Spolsky said so many years ago. I suspect we will eventually come to say the same about the whole KDE4 process, but I guess the jury is still out on that one.


Davide Alberani said...

Nice to hear that they fixed some issues, but... way too late, at least for me.

Amarok 1.4 was the best player I ever had, now I'm trying to get used to MPD + GMPC.

By the way, I've written some (poorly coded and throw-away) scripts to migrate a music collection from Amarok 1.4.x to Rhythmbox 0.12 and MPD 0.19 + GMPC 0.15.
They can be found here: amarok2rhythmbox and amarok2gmpc.

Passing interest said...

Sorry to disagree with this article, even now Amarok 2 is junk. 2.4 beta is out right now and two of the big features of it are writing playcounts and cd covers to the actual media files because they clearly cannot manage a database: how many Amarok 2 users out there can honestly say that they have not lost playcounts, covers and even the odd album (especially when it comes to compilations).

Adding on top of that not only the constant crashes (yes, this still really does happen a lot - I have Amarok on my Gentoo box and my Debian based laptop, but have also found issues with it on kubuntu, Arch and Fedora), but the odd quirks of the UI that appear every so often - the latest one for me (amarok 2.3.2) is the play/pause button fails to work. Then there's the sheer enormity of the footprint and how about - what was the killer feature for me at least - the lastfm similar tracks smart playlist. Sure, there is one in Amarok 2, but for some obscure reason something like one in every ten tracks is completely random, which tends to completely alter the flow of the following tracks.

Amarok 2 is a shadow of its predecessor and that is unlikely to change in the near future, however there are other media players that will fill the gap. Clementine and Exaile are the two most promising, although DeaDBeeF (awfully like foobar2000) would also be a contender if it had a media library plugin.

The king is dead.