With all the hoopla that has been surrounding KDE 4, I’d almost forget there’s another major piece of software working on a milestone release. Okay, maybe not as major as KDE, but Amarok is arguably the best and most popular media player on the linux desktop. KDE’s move from QT3 to QT4 pretty much forced all other independent QT applications to do the same, but obviously the Amarok developers didn’t want to stop at merely porting their media player. Amarok 2 will use the new KDE 4 technologies, “like Phonon for audio and Solid for device interaction, along with extensive use of SVG and Plasma for the new interface” (quote from Wikipedia). It’s shaping up to be as radically different from Amarok 1.4 (the current stable release), as KDE 4 is from KDE 3.5. And that’s a very good thing indeed.
Keep in mind that, at the moment, Amarok 2 is in very heavy development. The current release is Alpha 2, which means nothing has been finished yet; not the feature list, not the looks, and there are still a lot of bugs to be squashed. That means that sometimes it works surprisingly well, and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, in the nightly build of August 5th I lost the ability to add anything to the playlist (I didn’t build it myself, but it was available in the KDEmod “playground” repository). I solved it by deleting all the configuration directories. Another thing: I can’t make a song stop. It just fades out, then restarts. I blame Rihanna, because the first time I noticed it happening, Amarok was playing “Don’t stop the music”. Fair warning: use it at your own risk, and don’t expect it to be a replacement for 1.4 just yet.
Let’s start with the looks. Amarok 2 has chosen an unusual 3-pane layout. The left pane depends on what tab you’ve chosen on the left side, and can be your sorted collection, various internet services like Magnatune and Last.fm, your playlists, or a file browser. Anyone who ever used Amarok 1.4 should be familiar with this.
The middle pane is new though. It’s called the Context View and provides information about the music you play. By default, it shows some standard information about the current song, like the Artist and Album tags, how many times you’ve played the song, the rating you gave it, etc. But you can add applets here, like a Wikipedia applet or a Lyrics applet, or whatever people can think of. You can have different Context Panes too. When one is full, the next applet simply gets added to the next. You switch between them using the monkey wrench button at the bottom. At the moment, there aren’t many applets and there are even less that actually work. Of course, at the time of the release this will be fixed.
The right pane holds your playlist. In Amarok 2 it groups songs of the same artist, or album together. This saves space, but that means that all your mp3s which have a “Various Artists” or “Unknown” tag are thrown together too. The old way of showing playlists will be available too, but at the moment it’s not quite finished yet. Something that also didn’t work for me was importing my old .m3u playlists. The only way I could save them in “My playlists” was to click “Add Media…”, open the m3u file, then save the playlist again.
Amarok 2 also expands on the Dynamic Playlist feature that is already present in the current stable release. In Amarok 1.4, it can populate your playlist with completely random songs, or add new ones that match the current playing one (as far as I can remember, it uses last.fm for that). The new Biased Playlists (link points to the developer’s blog) take the whole concept even further, and even works with propability percentages. For example, there can be a 50% chance that the next song is RnB, 30% that it’s Gothic Rock, and the remaining 20% that it’s a song by Dusty Springfield. Or maybe you want a mix of French songs with country music and songs that have “dawn” in the title. It’s all possible.
For more information, there’s the Amarok 2 FAQ. At the moment, it’s definitely not better than the current 1.4 release, but it certainly will be when it’s finished. According to the webpage, that will be somewhere between KDE 4.1, and 4.2, and it will be available for Linux, OS X and Windows. I’m looking forward to it.