What Songbird’s Flight Means for FOSS

If a canary’s song serves as a warning to miners, what does a Songbird’s flight say about FOSS?

That was the question on many bloggers’ minds in recent days, as news of open source iTunes clone Songbird’s decision to drop Linux support made its away across the forums.

“While our Linux users are some of the most passionate, do some killer development, and always provide tremendous input as to whether we’re on the right path or not, we simply can’t continue to support a Linux version as we have in the past,” wrote Georges Auberger, vice president of engineering, on the company blog earlier this month.

“And, like you, we can’t stand to see our Linux product be anything less than outstanding,” Auberger added. “Unfortunately, we can’t make that happen right now. Trade-offs are hard, and this is one of the most painful decisions in the history of the company.”

‘A Sign of Things to Come?’

Coming so hard on the heels of Sony’s decision to abandon Linux on the PlayStation 3, the news was particularly difficult for Linux geeks to bear.

“Disheartening” was what Linuxologist blogger Rami Taibah called the decision.

“A sign of things to come?” was the suggestion on the TestFreaks blog.

Hundreds of comments on Digg and elsewhere echoed those sentiments.

Linux Girl knew there was no choice but to investigate further. Does the news really bode ill for FOSS?

‘It Bodes Ill for Songbird’

“I think it bodes ill for Songbird,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told LinuxInsider. “You can run the real iTunes on Windows and Mac.”

Similarly: “This bodes ill for Songbird,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “They will drop support for GNU/Linux while supporting MacOS, even though they have more users and contributors from GNU/Linux than MacOS. Who voted for that decision?

“The trolls have been saying businesses do not support GNU/Linux because only 1 percent of users run GNU/Linux,” Pogson noted, but “the data on Songbird’s site show differently.”

It looks like a case of a company that “took a turn without having a good vision for the road ahead,” he concluded. “This is the year of ARM, and their product will not run on it if they do not support GNU/Linux.”

‘It’s 10.9 Percent of Their Market’

Indeed, “it seems they are making the mistake of looking at their overall market rather than their own customers,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out.

“So what if Linux is only 1 percent of the overall market? When you add up the 32 and 64 bit users, it’s 10.9 percent of their market,” Mack told LinuxInsider. “Do they really think telling 10 percent of their users to take a hike is a good business move?”

The Songbird situation “is a perfect example of the Catch-22 that is Linux Product Viability,” Slashdot blogger yagu opined. “The Linux option is attractive technologically but, ‘bidnez is bidnez,’ and when a company makes those (read: ‘financial’) decisions, Linux often goes out with the bathwater.”

‘One More Mixed Signal’

Songbird should be given credit, however, yagu added: “Songbird is open source, and they continue to commit to nightly builds and availability to the source. Try getting *that* from a sunset commercial product!” he pointed out. “Songbird on Linux in that regard remains viable and won’t disappear.”

All in all, “it’s one more mixed signal in the Linux world, but I still prefer to think the glass half full,” yagu concluded. “There remain too many examples of excellent and solidly established Linux applications to consider this any kind of omen.”

The story is “of overrated importance,” Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider. “Songbird, being open source, will either survive via community effort or will not. There are no two ways about it, and the company is continuing to provide unofficial support for Linux, at least for now.”

It is very difficult to make money in the consumer market on Linux, Travers noted.

“Most of these areas are ones where unofficial support really is the best way to go for businesses, and I see Songbird as no exception,” he added.

‘Why Would Anyone Care?’

Even more so: “Why would anyone care, exactly?” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asked. “If you have used Songbird on Windows, you know it is probably the slooooowest media player around, by far.”

When the technology first came out, “I was really jazzed about having a FOSS alternative to WMP, but frankly with each version it has gotten slower and more of a PITB,” hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “Finally with Windows 7 I gave up and went back to WMP 12, which is actually nice.

“For XP I recommend Kantaris, and if anyone truly wants a cross-platform FOSS media player that is actually fast and good, I would heartily recommend recompiling it for Linux,” hairyfeet added. “Since it is based on VLC, which already has a Linux port, it really shouldn’t be too hard.”

‘I Don’t Use Any of Them’

Certainly, in a market with multiple alternatives, the impact will be minimal, agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“I’ve got over two dozen media players installed under Linux, and I don’t use any of them,” asserted Hudson, adding that her recent Slushdot post on the topic summarizes her opinion.

“I tend to use platform-specific stuff only when it’s really good,” Slashdot blogger David Masover said. “When it’s not, well, there’s always Gaim.”

In this case, however, “just as Songbird is dropping Linux support, Amarok is becoming cross-platform,” Masover noted.

‘Several Good Alternatives’

Then, too, “there’s Rhythmbox — not cross-platform, but works on Linux,” he pointed out. “If that fails, there’ll be something else.

“Most programmers, even open source ones, _do_ listen to music, browse the web and edit text, so I think we can expect those things to always have several good alternatives,” Masover concluded.

Indeed, it is in that diversity that the real strength of free and open source software lies, Linux Girl would agree. The news may be a blow for Songbird fans — probably a minor one, at that — but there’s no doubt FOSS as a whole will keep going strong.

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