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A Firefox for music?

Posted by: , 16:24 AEDT, Mon December 26, 2005
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If digital-music veteran Rob Lord wanted to court controversy with his new open-source start-up, he probably couldn't have done much better than to compare Apple Computer's iTunes software to Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser.

Lord's new five-person company, the ambitiously named Pioneers of the Inevitable, is building a piece of digital-music software called "Songbird," based on much of the same underlying open-source technology as the Firefox Web browser.

With their first technical preview expected early next year, the programmers want to create music-playing software that will work naturally with the growing number of music sites and services on the Web, instead of being focused on songs on a computer's hard drive. That's where iTunes, which plugs only into Apple's own music store, falls short, Lord argues.

Apple's iTunes is "like Internet Explorer, if Internet Explorer could only browse," Lord said. "We love Apple, and appreciate and thank them for setting the bar in terms of user experience. But it's inevitable that the market architecture changes as it matures."

An Apple representative declined to comment.

It is undeniable that music software and services are moving increasingly off the hard drive and onto the Web. But if Songbird is to be the "Firefox of MP3" when it's done, it has a long way to go.

Indeed, analysts question whether a world awash in music-playing software from Apple, Microsoft, RealNetworks, Yahoo, Sony and others really needs another digital jukebox.

Among those giants, Microsoft's Media Player accounts for 45 percent of all PC music playing, Apple's iTunes captures 17 percent, and the rest fall off sharply from there, according to U.S. statistics from the NPD Group.

But even with those odds, Lord has enough of a pedigree to make the industry stop and take notice. A co-founder of the Internet Underground Music Archive, an online music site predating the MP3 boom, as well as one of the first employees at Winamp creator Nullsoft, he was most recently a product manager for the launch of Yahoo's music software and subscription service, after his last start-up, Mediacode, was purchased by the portal. Credit and more info: CNet News


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