What’s New with Banshee

The Banshee Project released 1.5.3 on January 27th. This release brings a slew of improvements to the already impressive media player that gives iTunes a run for its money, if not hype.

The Banshee Project released 1.5.3 on January 27th. This release brings a slew of improvements to the already impressive media player that gives iTunes a run for its money, if not hype.

What is Banshee?

For those not familiar with Banshee, it’s a media player written in C# on the Mono platform, started by Aaron Bockover. Since its debut in 2005, Banshee has seen contributions from nearly 100 developers. Banshee is Free Software, licensed under the MIT/X11 license, and has been packaged for all major Linux distributions as well as recent releases for Mac OS X. The most recent Mac OS X release removes the requirement for the Mono and GTK frameworks, bundling everything in one binary for installation on Mac OS X. Note that Mac builds are beta quality and may be missing some features present in Linux releases, or may not be quite as stable.

Initially designed for music, Banshee took on video support with the 1.0 release. Banshee uses GStreamer as its backend, so its support for formats depends on what GStreamer packages are installed on your distribution.

Banshee supports music sharing over a network using DAAP, the protocol introduced by Apple for music sharing. Unfortunately, Apple has modified the protocol since its introduction and now has broken compatibility with Banshee in iTunes 7, so sharing music between Banshee and iTunes is no longer possible. However, users with several computers in the house can enjoy streaming music between instances of Banshee.

The version numbering might be a bit confusing for newcomers. On the Banshee site, the 1.5.x series carries a parenthetical version number of “1.6 beta x”—so, for example, Banshee 1.5.3 is tagged “aka 1.6 beta 3”. This shouldn’t be taken to read that the release is actually beta quality. It’s an indicator that most of the new features are being added in the odd releases (such as 1.5.x and presumably 1.7.x once the 1.6 series is out) and that the 1.6 series will be mostly bugfixes and performance enhancements.

Speaking of performance, one of Banshee’s key features is its speed. Banshee can read in a media library in the tens of gigabytes in minutes. My music collection consists of more than 60GB of audio, and Banshee is able to import the library in just a few minutes.

Banshee also works with most popular MP3 players and devices like the HTC Android and Nexus One. Unfortunately, Banshee doesn’t work with iPhones and iPod Touches because they’re not standard storage devices and can’t be mounted the same way as iPods. However, most other MP3/media players work well with Banshee.

Banshee sports a very clean, uncluttered interface that is easy to navigate. In 2009 the Banshee team worked a bit on a mobile interface for Banshee called Cubano. Some of the interface enhancements for Cubano are making their way into mainline Banshee to help improve the player for not only netbooks, but also for standard desktop users.

You don’t need to have a vast music library to enjoy Banshee. It sports support for podcasts, so you can get all the episodes of your favorite podcasts via Banshee, or just stream some tunes via Last.fm or Internet radio.

What’s New in 1.5x?

A lot of improvements have been introduced to Banshee in the last year in the 1.5.x series. The first release in the 1.5 series came out in June of 2009. It brought improvements in media importing and handling, by allowing users to migrate from Rhythmbox and providing for separate library locations for music, video, podcasts, and so on. The 1.5.3 release adds support for organizing audiobooks separately from the music collection to make it easier to find books.

You’ll find quite a few handy features to make it easier to organize your music and create playlists, or shuffle music to avoid what we used to call “train wrecks” in radio: Songs back to back that don’t belong together. Who wants to hear Brahms segue into R.E.M.?

Banshee can detect the Beats Per Minute (BPM) of songs in your library to help sort, search, and create playlists based on the BPM of your songs. It also has shuffle modes that will take into account your scoring of songs and play back your favorite songs more often. Don’t want to take the time to rate songs on your own? Banshee can automatically assign scores based on whether you skip songs or not and how often they’re played.

If you don’t feel like loading your play queue manually, Banshee has an Auto DJ feature that allows you to fill the queue by artist, album, song, rating, etc. This way, Banshee can jam out tunes all the day long without any need for user intervention.

With the 1.5.3 release, Banshee will also generate smart playlists to sync music to your player, or you can pick your music manually as always. The latest release also allows Banshee to make use of the GIO file backend, so Banshee can import non-local files off of network shares.

Finally, the Banshee team has been putting a lot of effort into accessibility (a11y). The 1.5.x series includes improvements in focus handling, button naming, and so on. According to the release notes for 1.5.2, Banshee “should now be fully accessible.”

Try it Out

Banshee is installed by default on openSUSE if you install the GNOME desktop. Users on Ubuntu and other distributions can find Banshee in their package repositories.

What’s in the repos may not be the most recent releases, though, so be sure to visit the download pages and see if there’s a more recent version of Banshee for your preferred distribution.

About the Author

Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier is a longtime FLOSS advocate, and is GNOME PR team lead. Brockmeier is a freelance consultant and author. Brockmeier has worked as a community manager for openSUSE, and prior to that was Editor-in-Chief of Linux Magazine, and has also written for Linux.com, OStatic, Ars Technica, IBM developerWorks, LWN, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, Enterprise Linux Magazine, and many others. You can learn more about Joe or contact him here.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on February 5, 2010, in February 2010. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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