Changing Roles

About 6 years ago I started working for Novell to develop Banshee into much of what it has become today. I’m quite fond its evolution, but perhaps more proud of its community. As is likely obvious, I have not been too technically involved with Banshee over the past year. The last major thing I developed to production was the Amazon MP3 store integration and downloader, which was over the summer of 2010 (and is currently bringing in a respectable amount of revenue to the GNOME foundation!); yet Banshee has kept on growing – at a fantastic and exciting rate. This is all thanks to the numerous people actively and passionately involved in the project.

Over the last two years I found my duties leaning much more towards the Linux distribution side of things at Novell – specifically engineering of SUSE MeeGo this year, and SUSE Moblin the year before. My hands were in pretty much every aspect of the projects, and I found myself working closely with so many great people, many with whom I had not previously worked. This includes talent from both Novell and Intel.

Out of the MeeGo project arose an opportunity for Banshee as well. Working closely with the team at Intel, it became the default and integrated media player not just for our SUSE version, but also for Intel’s reference version of MeeGo for netbooks.

Recently I found myself faced with an opportunity to work with a new set of talented people on something fresh. Today was my last day at Novell, and next week I will be starting at Rdio, where I expect to take Banshee into yet another new direction. I’m excited about the possibilities ahead, but will save my thoughts for another time.

I’ve been a happy Rdio user for quite some time, and have been very inspired by its fresh and unique take on a few aspects of media playback and management. And while there’s much I’d like to do in Banshee that Rdio is already doing, there’s perhaps even more I’d like to see Rdio doing that Banshee does. It will be an exciting time to come, and I’m eager to jump in.

I intend to continue to be involved in Banshee as an application and community. I am looking forward to again spending more time in the project. Similarly, you won’t find me leaving the GNOME and openSUSE communities I’ve grown quite fond of over the years. Apologies for that!

As I write this I am headed to FOSDEM, and I am very much looking forward to seeing so many great people again, and I look forward to the times in the future where we will continue to meet, preferably over copious amounts of beer!


Miguel calls this the new "abock lolcat."
The only problem is that it’s a dog! But this is fine with me…

Announcing Banshee 1.7.3

The Banshee logo We’re very proud to announce the release of Banshee 1.7.3, which brings some much anticipated WebKit goodness: the Amazon MP3 Store and the Miro Podcast Directory integration. Amazon MP3 downloading is fully supported, separate from the integrated store itself. There are also a handful of other smaller new features and enhancements, and a good deal of bug fixing as well.

Download Now

Amazon MP3 Store

This new extension provides a source from which users can browse, search, preview, purchase, and download music from the Amazon MP3 store in all countries where it is offered: United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan.

Amazon MP3 Store in Banshee
Watch the Banshee Amazon MP3 Store Screencast!

Music that is purchased through the new integrated Amazon MP3 store will automatically begin downloading and importing into the Banshee music library.

When previewing music on the Amazon MP3 store in Banshee, the previews will play through Banshee, showing up in the header, and not through Flash.

Amazon MP3 Downloader

The support for Amazon MP3 is not limited just to the store. If you decide to purchase music through your regular web browser, Amazon MP3 will provide a .amz file, a sort of playlist that indicates how the MP3s can be downloaded.

Banshee now associates itself with these .amz files and will download and import the MP3s referenced in them.

Banshee Amazon MP3 support

The Amazon MP3 Store and Downloader extensions are entirely separate. This allows you to pick your preferred user experience for purchasing music through Amazon MP3. The Amazon MP3 Store extension can be disabled if desired and the downloader will still work with an external web browser.

Other ways to download .amz files include opening manually with your operating system’s file manager, the Import Media dialog available through the Media → Import menu, or the command line client distributed with Banshee: $ bamz foo.amz. Bamz will download the .amz contents in the current directory, and will not import the MP3s into the Banshee library automatically.

For more information on the Amazon MP3 integration in Banshee 1.7.3, read my previous blog posts on the two separate extensions:

Miro Podcast Directory

Miro Guide Screenshot

Building on the same new WebKit integration in Banshee 1.7.3 as the Amazon MP3 Store, a new Miro Podcast Directory extension has been implemented. The source integrates with miroguide.com, allowing users to discover, stream, and subscribe to podcasts in a way never before possible in Banshee.

Much more work for tighter integration with the Miro Podcast Directory will come in future releases.

Bulk Metadata Fixup Extension

A new tool is available from the Tools → Fix Music Metadata menu item that allows for bulk metadata fixing. This feature proposes to merge artists and albums that vary only by case, & vs and, etc.

Other Enhancements

  • Visual separators were added in the source view between categories of sources: special (Now Playing, Play Queue), local media, and online services.
  • Item counts in the status bar are now culturally formatted (e.g. in en_US show 1,000 instead of 1000).
  • Improved downloading and visual refreshing of new cover art.
  • Visual tweaks to the grid view album artwork hover effect.
  • Developers:new Banshee.WebBrowser API for creating embedded WebKit web browsers and sources. Currently used by the new Amazon MP3 store, Miro Guide, and the Wikipedia context pane.
  • Developers:new Hyena.Downloader API for performing downloads and easy HTTP operations: HttpFileDownloader, HttpStringDownloader, etc.
  • Distributors:the webkit-sharp dependency was dropped, and instead we now take a dependency directly on libwebkit 1.2.2+ for the new Banshee.WebBrowser API.

Tarballs – Why?

More and more I begin to wonder why we generate tarballs at all these days. Is it just because it’s easy – a function of “make distcheck”? There’s certainly value in the actual distcheck process to ensure you have a sane build, but why actually distribute the tarball? What’s the meaningful difference between a tarball and a git tag?

Now, I won’t even touch on the subject of how badly I want to throw autotools in the trash, but we’re so entrenched in its ways, and are comfortable with its quirks that energy is better spent on actual improvements, so for now the distcheck process is here to stay. For now.

So I ask a very serious question, others have asked as well – why publish tarballs? Most users get their packages in binary form from their distribution. Most users who build from source I would argue are using git already, or have git installed on their system, or can easily do so. Providing instructions on cloning/checkout out the tag/building using autogen/autoreconf/etc can be provided easily and clearly.

I migrated Banshee to Linode and consequently from Apache to lighttpd about a month ago. The logs start on June 20, 2010:

    $ grep -E 'banshee-1.+\.tar\.(gz|bz2)' \
        download.banshee.fm.access.log | wc -l
    7066

So in one month, we’ve only had 7066 tarball downloads, and that accounts for any and all released versions of Banshee over the past 5 years. Certainly the bulk of those downloads would be version 1.6.1, since that was the newest available tarball over the last month. 284 of those downloads were version 1.7.3, released less than 24 hours ago. I could generate better statistics, but that’s not the point here. The point is that number is pretty small compared to the reach of the distributions.

I roughly estimate the average size of a Banshee tarball (bzip2) is 3MB. Eliminating tarballs would save us 20GB/mo in bandwidth – and that’s during a quiet time in development when the servers are less active (1.6.1 was released in May). We’ll be seeing a spike I’ll be monitoring around 1.7.3.

So, if we ditched tarballs, how would you be affected? Would you care?

Update: to clarify a few things, you would still build and install like normal. For instance:

$ ./autogen.sh --prefix=$HOME/local --disable-whatever \
    && make && make install

Packagers would however have an additional minor burden. If their package system (e.g. rpm) requires an archive (e.g. can’t build directly from git), then the packager would be responsible for creating an archive. They could either just archive the git clone directory, or actually run their own “make distcheck” from their clone. It would be up to the packager to best integrate the git clone into whatever system they are using.

Amazon MP3 Store in Banshee

The Banshee logo I’ve landed a new extension in Banshee — an integrated Amazon MP3 Store source. This source allows you to browse, search, preview, purchase, and download music from the Amazon MP3 web site.

Building on last week’s announcement of the Amazon MP3 downloader extension, the Amazon MP3 Store extension allows for tighter integration and a better user experience — music can be explored and purchased all from within Banshee.

Amazon MP3 Store in Banshee
Watch the Banshee Amazon MP3 Store Screencast!

I employ no gimmicks. The extension is very simple, just embedding a WebKit GTK web browser, and integrates with a few hooks:

  • Intercepts audio/x-mpegurl content, to stream previews. This provides natively integrated music previews that play in Banshee, not in the web page via Flash.

  • Intercepts audio/x-amzxml content, the playlist (or “download queue”) that Amazon provides after a purchase, and load through the Amazon MP3 downloader extension to immediately begin downloading the newly purchased music. This eliminates the need for Amazon’s external downloader. Everything happens from within Banshee.

  • Set a cookie ahead of time so that the Amazon MP3 web site is aware that a downloader is installed (Banshee), making the purchasing experience faster and less confusing.

  • Search the Amazon MP3 store from the usual Banshee search box.

  • Provide basic web-browser navigation controls: back, forward, refresh, home.

Amazon MP3 SourceAs simple and obvious as this approach may be, the reality is that this integrated experience was previously unseen on the Linux Desktop. This approach levels the music purchasing playing field — no extra software to install, no browsers, file managers, or mime systems to configure, and no more manually importing externally downloaded music. Just click, buy, and enjoy.

The code is all committed and available for immediate use in Banshee’s git master branch. It will be available in the next release for packaging: 1.7.3.

Remember, Amazon MP3 music is all DRM-free, and there is tons of free content on Amazon as well for you to try the extension out if you’re not up for purchasing more music just now.

Banshee on Linode

The Banshee logo I recently migrated all of the Banshee web server stuffs to a Linode 768. We were previously running on an incredibly slow, unreliable, and expensive dedicated co-lo machine that once hosted a number of Novell community projects. As part of the migration, go-oo (Novell’s edition of OpenOffice) has migrated to openSUSE infrastructure, and I’ve taken F-Spot with me to Linode.

The performance and reliability so far has skyrocketed, and the flexibility we now have is very welcome. The Banshee web site is powered by openSUSE 11.2, lighttpd, MySQL, and WordPress. The new Linode backup service is a huge relief, which we are using in addition to daily cron-based on-system backups. I’ve been a huge and loyal fan of Linode since 2005, and am happy to bring Banshee along!

I’m also excited to note that I’ve switched our “main” domain name to banshee.fm, a domain I’ve owned for Banshee for about a year but have done nothing with. A number of people seem to love the new domain name, much preferred to the old banshee-project.org. What do you think?

Linode - Linux Virtual Servers

If you are thinking of signing up for a Linode (and if not, you should be), you can help the Banshee Project out by signing up using our referral code: 5ea2a167caa5bec58b16800303350173e3dd094

Three cheers for Linode, and for better web performance for Banshee!

Amazon MP3 downloader support in Banshee

The Banshee logo I’m very excited to announce I have just landed support for downloading and importing your Amazon MP3 purchases into Banshee.

It is a simple extension that understands the download queue file that Amazon delivers after a purchase is made. Linux Desktop integration is provided so that your web and file browsers associate Banshee with the download queue file.

Banshee Amazon MP3 support

Further improvements are on the way, but I’ve downloaded many albums in Banshee at this point (and subsequently burned a decent amount of money!) Of course, there are a number of free downloads that Amazon offers, which were good for testing. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to look for these until I had finished the feature.

In addition to the integrated Banshee extension, there is a command line client called bamz. It requires Banshee to be installed for support libraries, but does not integrate with your Banshee library in case you are into that sort of thing. By default, bamz downloads the tracks into your current working directory with the following structure: $PWD/<Artist Name>/<Album Title>/NN. Track Title.mp3.

bamz command line client

I will be merging the Amazon MP3 support into the 1.6 stable series, and it is currently available in Banshee’s git master branch. Enjoy!

Banshee for MeeGo

Banshee for MeeGo After lots of intense work and collaboration, the Netbook profile for MeeGo 1.0 has been released today. As such, I am particularly pleased to announce in conjunction that Banshee is the default and integrated media player for MeeGo.

Currently, MeeGo 1.0 features the latest stable Banshee release: 1.6.1. As new Banshee versions are released, we’ll be providing updated packages for MeeGo.

The Media Panel

In MeeGo, most tasks are performed through panels that slide out from the top toolbar. This is how you can chat with friends, get lost in Twitter and other social network feeds, quickly browse and play your media, access the web, and launch and switch between applications and zones.

MeeGo Media Panel
Media Panel in MeeGo

In Banshee, the MeeGo integration extension provides a panel that integrates into the MeeGo toolbar. From the Banshee panel, you have quick access to your music and play queue sources. The new grid view introduced in Banshee 1.6 is quite prominent here as is the track list and now playing display.

When you’re just in music consumption mode, the panel is really all you need – quick access to entertainment.

A Richer Experience

While the MeeGo Media Panel is great, there will be many cases where a more traditional media player interface is desired. For this the more familiar and feature-full Banshee interface is a click away – it can be launched from the Myzone or Applications panel (it’s an out-of-the-box favorite), and of course, from the Media panel.

Launch the Banshee Media Player

The traditional Banshee interface will feel familiar, especially if you’ve used Banshee before, but there are a few customizations exclusive to MeeGo:

  • Optimized for smaller screens
  • No main menu – all actions are contextual or available through a quick-access menu at the top right of the toolbar
  • MeeGo look-and-feel
  • No status bar

Traditional Banshee Interface for MeeGo
Traditional Banshee Interface with MeeGo Customizations

From the traditional interface, you have all the power of Banshee at your disposal: Last.FM radio, video playback, podcasting, etc.

For Developers

All the code to build the MeeGo profile of Banshee is available in the regular Banshee git tree on both the master and stable-1.6 branches. There are no hidden repositories or forks. All the code has been developed as an extension to Banshee in our regular upstream tree.

There are two main MeeGo pieces:

As such, you can easily build Banshee for MeeGo (and you don’t even need to be running MeeGo). Assuming you’re already familiar with building Banshee from source, just pass the --enable-meego configure flag. For convenience, you can also use ./profile-configure meego to configure with a selection of other flags that best match how the Banshee packages for MeeGo are built.

You will also want to touch /etc/meego-release to trick your non-MeeGo system into taking some MeeGo specific code paths. This is quite handy for development.

When running the MeeGo extension to Banshee on a non-MeeGo system, the panel interface will simply appear as another window.

The Future

Banshee 1.6 for MeeGo 1.0 is just the beginning of the adventure in this space. We’ve got a lot planned for the next MeeGo release and certainly Banshee in general.

Foremost, there will be a continued focus on performance improvements and core/UI splits. Expect a bigger main interface overhaul as well in the near future.

With MeeGo 1.0 for Netbooks out in the open finally, expect to hear more exciting details around Banshee and MeeGo in general. Fun times are ahead!