From Rdio to Xamarin

Last week I gave a talk on Vernacular at MonkeySpace in Boston. As Wednesday concluded, so did my last day at Rdio after nearly two years. In that time I had the pleasure of working with very bright people on creating the best streaming music service available on Mobile, Web, and Desktop.

From the introduction of the Windows Phone app, to the launch of the new Android app, Rdio 2.0 for Web and Desktop, and finally the Android and iOS refresh betas, Rdio has been and will always be close to my heart. I wish everyone at Rdio the best — keep on being excellent!

I originally intended to simply take a few weeks of vacation time after leaving Rdio to focus on Cat Overflow, beer drinking, and cycling (funemployment!), but after spending a long weekend in Florida for a wedding, I find myself headed back to Boston. A simple Monday and Tuesday at home in Raleigh is all I’ve afforded myself in terms of vacation, since today I start at Xamarin!

While I’m determined to actually take some real vacation in the near future, I was enticed to join Xamarin as soon as possible to begin bootstrapping work on an exciting new product. I’m looking forward to working with new and familiar faces!

Perhaps I’ll start blogging again as well, after nearly two years of silence. I certainly owe a follow-up post about Vernacular. For starters, here are slides from my talk last week, cats included. Video of the talk should be up at MonkeySpace soon as well.

Vernacular Slide

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 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!

Banshee 1.5.3 and the return of OS X support

The Banshee logo

The Banshee community is proud to announce the availability of Banshee 1.5.3! With a slew of new features and bug fixes, and a fully refreshed Mac OS X build, this is another solid release on the road to 1.6 (due out on March 31st).

Gabriel highlights a number of new features and improvements on his release announcement blog:

  • A new sync device from playlist option
  • Audiobooks library extension
  • Library-folder watcher extension
  • eMusic importer/downloader extension
  • GIO file backend supporting non-local files

Additionally, 75 bugs were fixed since the last release. Read the 1.5.3 release notes to learn about additional new features and improvements.

Mac OS X Release

What’s particularly exciting to me is the return of the OS X releases. I have completely overhauled our OS X build, and we no longer take a framework dependency on Mono or GTK – these dependencies are bundled as part of the binary distribution of Banshee on OS X.

If you have OS X 10.5 or newer (Intel only), you can simply download and run Banshee – nothing else needs to be installed.

Banshee 1.5.3 on Mac OS X 10.6

This gives us greater flexibility to refine and polish Banshee for OS X. For instance, I started working on a new GTK theme that uses the flexible Murrine engine. Currently the Mono framework installation uses Clearlooks.

There’s still a lot to do on the OS X build, so if you’re interested in hacking on the platform backend, it’s now easier than ever to do so:

  • Install XCode
  • Clone Banshee from GNOME git
  • Run ./bootstrap-bundle at the top of the checkout

This process will magically build everything that Banshee requires, and from there hacking on Banshee is just like it is on Linux. I recommend using MonoDevelop of course to get real work done though.

Enjoy!

Update: There was a lame bug preventing startup of Banshee 1.5.3 on OS X. This has been fixed and the DMG image has been respun. If you had problems running the release, download the updated image. My bad ya’ll!

Banshee Grid View

Spread out over a number of hours over the last few weeks I’ve been working on making our high-performance list view in Banshee also handle grid-style layouts.

That is, all the benefits of our polished list widget with a new look and feel! I’m making the widget more clever and abstracted about layout and rendering so it can be more inviting to users. In fact, you can even live-toggle between layout modes (e.g list and grid) without losing any state.

This effort provides a more visually immersing and space-conscious view for your collection of albums. This big step forward is the groundwork for presenting other media collections in a friendlier way — video thumbnails, movie box covers, audio books, photos…

Screenshot of Banshee's new grid layout for albums
The new grid layout mode for the album browser.

There are still a few quirks to work out regarding interaction (different maths for keyboard navigation), and some more polish to add on the rendering side of things, but I am very close to merging this work to master in git.

The code is being developed in the grid branch in git for those who would like to try it out. Poke me on IRC if you find problems, but I probably am already well aware — again, it’s not merged to master because it’s not RC worthy yet — but it’s ready for some broader testing!

Thoughts? Suggestions? Complaints? Hopes and dreams? I’m super excited about finally having this land, and it’s been an enjoyable hack to implement.

Mono 2.6 + MonoDevelop 2.2 on openSUSE 11.2

Fantastic news — Mono 2.6 and MonoDevelop 2.2 are out! Be sure to read the detailed Mono 2.6 release notes.

If you are running openSUSE 11.2, it’s quite simple to safely update your entire Mono stack and stay up to date with any 2.6 updates:

  • zypper ar -f -n Mono http://ftp.novell.com/pub/mono/download-stable/openSUSE_11.2 repo-mono
  • zypper mr -p 10 repo-mono
  • zypper refresh
  • zypper dup -r repo-mono

Those instructions will change the Mono distribution from openSUSE to the upstream Mono repositories.

I highly recommend installing MonoDevelop 2.2 (zypper in monodevelop), though if you already had it installed, the above will update you to the 2.2 release.

MonoDevelop 2.2 Integrated Debugger
Integrated Mono 2.6 soft debugger in MonoDevelop 2.2

A huge congratulations and thank you to the Mono team for another exceptional major Mono milestone!

UPDATE: apparently there is a problem on the x86_64 build in the openSUSE Build Service. This appears to be an OBS bug, but for this reason, it’s recommended that you use the repositories at http://ftp.novell.com/pub/mono/download-stable.

Exciting updates on the road to Banshee 2.0

At the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit last week I demoed my new work-in-progress Netbook-focused interface to Banshee called Cubano.

Cubano: Experimental new Banshee Interface

Cubano is designed with the Netbook in mind, but is certainly not limited to such a device. I prefer this clean and simple interface to the more traditional Banshee interface already, even on my desktop. Cubano is more about experiencing your music than managing it.

I am aiming to introduce visual metadata (photos, colors) and simple whitespace as UI elements to separate and emphasize content instead of the hard lines from traditional toolkit widgets.

However, even with a minimal interface you don’t lose any of the power to which you may be accustomed from the traditional Banshee interface.

Cubano: Experimental new Banshee Interface

I must stress that not all of the UI concepts here are solidified or indeed implemented. A few quick things to note about what will change in the very near future:

  • The painful source combo box will go away, don’t worry! It was just a widget that already existed in Banshee that I was able to easily reuse to connect the dots.
  • We’re working on a grid view for artists and albums.
  • I don’t care for the header either — it will receive much attention in due time.

Feel free to checkout Cubano’s source code, but you’ll also need clutter, clutter-gtk, and clutter-sharp from Clutter git master, and Banshee from GNOME git master. Bleeding edge!

Lastly, let me further stress that Cubano does not replace Banshee as we know it today. It only augments it. Cubano simply provides a different user experience on top of the existing Banshee platform.

Platform you say?

Trendy, I know. Banshee is in its third generation now. It’s been designed to be completely extensible, and major components are abstracted and organized in reusable ways.

As such we’ve fostered the development of many Mono/.NET libraries, most of which are not specific to Banshee and can easily be reused in other projects.

We essentially glue everything together with Mono.Addins, and build user interfaces on top of it all. What this means is the traditional user interface we’re used to in Banshee is an astonishingly small 875 lines of C# code.

Therefore, it’s conceivable, and even quite easy to think of Banshee as not just an application, but a platform for building new applications and user experiences. Ergo, Cubano.

A quick overview of the Banshee platform building blocks

For those interested in some of the wider details of the design and utility behind Banshee as platform, I recently had lovely a discussion on the topic with Scott Hanselman — Senior Program Manager in the Developer Division at Microsoft — for his podcast, Hanselminutes.

F-Spot

A major take-away from this platform discussion at GCDS last week is talk of re-basing the core of F-Spot — the wonderful photo management application — on top of Banshee itself.

The goal is simply to allow F-Spot to benefit from Banshee’s mature and maintained core, which provides many of the underpinning necessities in F-Spot, and allow the F-Spot developers to focus on the more interesting task of organizing and manipulating Photos.

While nothing is set in stone, I have a simple proposal:

  1. Re-base F-Spot’s non-UI core on Banshee’s non-UI core.
  2. Implement basic photo importing, tagging, and viewing as a Banshee extension (an optional feature). This would mean showing photos in Banshee like we do for videos.
  3. With Banshee/Cubano supporting basic photo management, grow the F-Spot user interface and experience to be more like that of professional tools such as Adobe Lightroom — an experience missing today on the Linux desktop.

GCDS Slides

The talk I gave at GCDS covered the above and a bit more. The slides are available here, but may be a bit terse if you weren’t in the audience. I’m not sure if my talk was recorded or not.

Nevertheless, for your perusal:

Slides from GCDS 2009 talk

Mono 2.0 wins developer product of the year award!

Congratulations to the Mono project for winning the Developer.com Product of the Year Award in the .NET Tool/Add-in category!

"It is no surprise to see Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) take the prize for technology of the year; however, seeing the open source project Mono 2.0 grab the honors for .NET tool is a surprise," stated Bradley Jones, Senior Executive Editor of Internet.com’s Developer Channel.

Very exciting!