8 Free, Open Source Tools for a Better Digital Music Experience

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 26, 2009

Sure the world of digital music is loaded with copyright sharks, DRM and other undesirables, but it's also increasingly teeming with cool, free open source tools and applications. Do you want to sync iPods and iPhones to any computer anywhere? How about playing Doom on your own customized OS for iPods or most other music players? Do you need customized music library management for multiple platforms, including Linux? Would you like to mix and record original music online with other musicians? How about a free, streaming radio application for your phone that will automate interesting playlists for you? Here are eight great resources for doing all of this and more.

Synching iPod and iPhone Libraries Anywhere. One of every iPod user's nightmares is having a computer with an iTunes library on it crash beyond repair--when there is no backup of the library. With the free, open source application iPodDisk, (Mac only) you can quickly recover your library from your iPod itself, and here is how to do so. You'll also find an excellent step-by-step tutorial on using iPodDisk and other free apps for synching an iPhone or iPod with any computer, no matter where you are, at TheAppleBlog. Especially check out the easy steps for getting (non-DRM) music from other computers.

Cross-Platform Libraries, Plus Extensions. For a well-liked, cross-platform application for playing and managing music libraries, try Songbird. It's out in a new version 1.0, and is based on open source Mozilla code. You can get it for Windows, the Mac and Linux. Like Firefox, Songbird takes advantage of extensions, such as this one for instantly getting lyrics to songs you're listening to, and this one for managing your album art. You can also bring your existing iTunes library into Songbird. Check out our screenshot-driven tour here.

Roll Your Own Operating System. Lisa covered Rockbox a little while ago, and it's out in a new version 3.1 now. Rockbox is an open source firmware replacement for the standard-issue firmware found on music players ranging from the iPod to players from Archos, iRiver, Olympus and others. Check out the many players that it works with here. Many people swear by Rockbox, and it can breathe life into old MP3 players. It's essentially like having a more robust operating system on your digital player, and you can even play Doom and other games on it. There is an installation utility from Rockbox, plus a QuickStart Guide, and installation is easy.

Banshee and Amarok Across Platforms. The Banshee open source media player and library manager was released in a new version 1.4 in November. You can use it with Linux and on the Mac. Banshee can play, import, and burn audio CDs, and supports lots of media players, including the iPod and Creative's ZEN players, as well as the G1 Android phone (complete with one-click Amazon music purchasing). In addition to your tunes, you can manage podcasts, album art, streaming radio from Last.fm, and much more.

Amarok is a very popular player and media manager for Linux, and there are ports for Windows and the Mac (though support for them is not declared official). It makes use of core components from KDE but is released separately from it. It plays music from many popular formats, and you can manage podcasts, free audiobooks from Librivox, and Last.fm streaming radio with it. Check out Kristin's thoughts on Banshee and Amarok here.

Up and Coming iPhone/iPod Touch App. PwnPlayer is an open source media player application for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It's currently in beta, but has a lot of features people are lusting after, and Kristin wrote a good piece about it here. The source code isn't quite available, but is coming soon, and you can get the player now.

Last.fm for Android. If you're a fan of Last.fm streaming radio and you have a G1 Android phone, check out this post. Via the free music service, you can get Last.fm free on any Android device, and let the Last.fm application build automatic, customized playlists for you. Artist and tour information are also available, and you can get impressive photo libraries, artist news, and video libraries. The Android application for Last.fm has one feature not found for many other mobile devices: background streaming. On phones using Android, it's possible to browse the Internet or use other mobile apps while music plays in the background. If you've ever shut down the service just to check e-mail, you'll like this. Last.fm credits its open source developers for making the Android app robust. You can also put Last.fm on the iPhone and many other platforms.

Global Jam Session. Are you a musician? Do you want to collaborate in global jam sessions, mixing and recording original music with other musicians? We covered Bojam here, and you can see a video of how it works here. It's in beta, but you can join, and maybe you and a few other distant musical partners will write and mix the next big hit.

We have more coverage coming up on open source digital music resources, and we hope some of these tools and applications help you.