Tuesday, 11 August 2009

1 Year Ago: Amarok 1.4.10 Review [Oldies but Goldies]

Almost one year ago, on August 13, 2008, the last version of Amarok 1.4 for KDE3 was released. Since Amarok 2 for KDE4 was launched, bringing a completely redesigned interface and changing mostly all the major design concepts, users of this great player divided into two groups, the ones who still like 1.4 better and the ones who look forward for a complete Amarok 2.x (which still lacks many features from the old 1.4).

Edit: This is by no means an Amarok 2.x critique, you can see I barely mentioned it here. It's just a nostalgic review of a great audio player.

Amarok is the most popular audio player on Linux, no doubt about that. Amarok 1.4 reached a level of maturity and completion which few (if any!) audio players ever reached. It had any possible feature available, it was easy to use and, once the codecs were installed, it could handle any audio file type.

Features in 1.4 - countless
One of the strongest points of Amarok was the powerful and complete music collection management, which allowed the users to easily organise their music using the default SQLite database, or MySQL or Postgresql for large collections, since the latter two are faster. Amarok 1.4.10 included a cover manager, automatically fetching of covers from Amazon.com, lyrics fetching, Wikipedia information, various playlists (including smart playlists), support for podcasts, Internet radio, tags, Last.fm song submission, scripts, powerful and fast playlist, file browser, drag-and-drop, OSD (on-screen display), themes, font customisation, Last.fm streams, support for audio CDs, support for iPods and other MP3 devices, Magnatune integration, statistics, equalizer, visualizations, ratings, update and rescan collection options, real-time file watcher, global shortcuts, system tray integration and... did I mention all of them? I'm sure I missed a few.

The interface was basically divided into two widgets:
- the playlist, which offered plenty of sorting fields, including artist, album, track number, bitrate, filename, location, play count; all of these could be arranged in any order and you could choose which of them to be displayed and which not

- the side panel, which included tabs for the current playing track, lyrics, Wikipedia; a collection tab which could show the music collection sorted by several rules (for example by Artist/Year - Album); the playlists, files, devices and Magnatune tabs were also available here

At the bottom of the playlist the usual Play/Pause, Stop, Next and Previous Track buttons were available. You could also change the volume and the analyzer type from here. Repeating the album, track, or entire playlist was also available, and the playlist could be shuffled at any time. You could also undo changes to the playlist.

Music collection
Amarok 1.4 used by default the SQLite database for managing the music collection, but the Wiki also offered a detailed guide on how to simply enable support for MySQL or Postgresql databases. Amarok offered the possibility to scan specific music directories and keep track of any changes in these. You could set ratings for every song, save lyrics, show only songs played in the last few days or weeks, view the music in the Collection tab using the flat, tree or iPod view modes, and including options to sort them using a specific order. Besides those, Amarok 1.4 also had a statistics system implemented, which would show what are the favourite tracks or albums, what are the most played tracks, newest items and favourite artists.

Cover manager
The cover manager could fetch all the covers from Amazon.com or browse in the song's directory for files with names like cover.png or front.jpg.

Script manager
Amarok supported scripts in languages like Python or even Bash, some of those being the popular WikiLyrics or the playlist2html ones. I once wrote a (rather CPU intensive, but that's not the point) simple script to dcop Kopete to change the avatar's picture using the currently cover of the album playing in Amarok. And that was in Bash, in a few lines.

Powerful and productive tag editor
Amarok introduced an awesome tag editor, which allowed the user to edit the tags for several tracks at once. For example, if you had an album you could edit all the artist, album and year fields in one command, instead of for each track individually.

File browser, iPod support, Magnatune and Last.fm integration
Amarok 1.4 had an integrated file browser from which you could drag and drop audio files to the playlist and instantly play them. There was even a Konqueror sidebar available for Amarok. One of the great features for those who needed to synchronise their music with their MP3 player was device support. Magnatune integration (a music shop for free music) was another plus, and the Last.fm radio and Last.fm song submission really made it an even more awesome experience.

Lyrics and Wikipedia
There were several scripts for fetching lyrics from various websites and show them in the Lyrics tab. There was even a script called ConTEXT, which could retrieve album reviews, HTML and TXT files from the local folder and display all that info inside Amarok. Wikipedia integration was also a great addition, finding info about your favourite artist, album or song being one click away.

10-band Equalizer
Amarok's equalizer included 10 bands and presets, so you could instantly choose default presets like Full bass, Treble, Reggae, Pop, Rock, Party etc.

Amarok 1.4 allowed to tweak its interface by using themes, changing the colours and fonts. It also offered the option to enable/disable scores and ratings; use song crossfading and fadeout; resume playing when starting Amarok; a highly configurable OSD, configuration of the sound system and media device handling.

I think to cover all of the Amarok 1.4 features in detail would take a 50-page book, which is not the scope of this article. Amarok 1.4 was probably the best player ever created, at least for the Linux platform. Looking forward to 2.x, which takes big steps towards implementing all the features his older brother had.


Rant Ahoy! said...

*sigh* Yeah, I'm still using the good ol' 1.4. Sure it was ugly, some features were far from brilliantly implemented (last.fm radio, horrific database handling, constant crashing of scripts etc); still - it was functional, easy to use, had some advanced features (smart/dynamic playlists) and was neat to organize, filter, sort and mix your collection to the fullest extent of your desires.

Last I checked amarok 2.x (a few months ago) it was in a bewilderingly incomplete state: import of my 1.4-database failed miserably, filtering was not implemented for the playlist, playlists were hard to organize and sort, the UI was chaotic with no option to hide panes, large ugly buttons, my FLAC files were arrogantly ignored, it was ard to get overview etc etc ad infinitum. The only good thing about it was the refreshingly excellent implementation of last.fm. Apart from that though...

To say the least I was disappointed. But no worries - as long as have my trusty 1.4, I guess I'll survive.

Also: You seem to be anxious to point out that this is not to be interpreted as critique of Amarok 2.x - like it's a holy grail of some sorts. Why? What if someone *was* criticizing the 2.x branch? Why should it be sanctified? The reason you are still reviewing 1.4 on your blog just proves the point that 2.x is far from being adequate. And the developers need to hear that. How else will we non-coding users get our message across?

Anonymous said...

While it's a great media player. 1.4 was awesome and the new 2.xx player is great too. But, 1.4 turned me off to amarok completely. It was the crappy sound quality and even crappier equalizer.

XMMS, audacious, totem, mplayer, winamp, exaile, etc. all have noticeably superior audio quality compared to amarok.

Everyone should just use exaile.

Airencracken said...

I much prefer the 1.4 branch to the newer 2.X stuff. They really screwed the pooch on the UI and a lot of the features. I suppose I'll likely start using Exaile or just install 1.4.10 on my computer when I finally get around to upgrading from Ubuntu 8.10.