I want my MP3

Unlike many people at Cambridge, I don’t really visit the libraries except to pick up the odd paper that I can’t find off the web. I certainly don’t work in libraries; the atmosphere feels intolerably stifling, as if you’re being forced to work by the mere presence of dozens of your peers’ eyes upon you. I need my own space. Plus, I don’t like the fact that I can’t listen to music in the library.

I’m not ‘into’ music in the traditional sense – I don’t watch MTV, listen to the radio or know pretty much any of the songs in the Top 40. My mp3 collection grows slowly yet steadily based solely on the recommendations of friends and music that I hear from films. Still, I do have 1400 songs and the fact that I have an iPod speaks volumes about how seriously I take my listening experience.

So when Winamp 3 died on me after a Windows Update, I was understandably upset; how was I supposed to do anything at the computer without any music on now? But, I reflected, this presented an opportunity for me to get away from the tyranny of Winamp.

I’ve been a long time Winamp user – Winamp 2 served me well, and it did pretty much everything I wanted except for multiple playlists and a media library. Winamp 3 handily added those features, but the thing was (and still is) a huge, bloated and slow thing that just doesn’t work properly; the Media Library does help organise music, but it’s full of bugs. The player itself has actually had functionality removed from Winamp 2 for some unfathomable reason, and ever since I’ve been using Winamp 3 I’ve been a bit dissatisfied.

So instead of reinstalling Winamp 3, I deleted the offending piece of garbage from my computer and installed the latest version of Winamp 2. As I expected, it was extremely zippy and nice, but Winamp 3 had gotten me hooked on my Media Library and playlists, and Winamp 2, while good, just couldn’t cut it. I’d have to look further afield.

I considered RealOne, Musicmatch and Windows Media Player 9.

RealOne isn’t too bad; I have a friend in America who uses it religiously, and it seems to work well. However, it’s a resource hog, it pops-up irritating adverts and windows occasionally and it just doesn’t feel right. I’ve gone right off Real ever since they started using spyware and running unwanted programs in the background. So this wasn’t an option.

I’ve never used Musicmatch before, and I haven’t seen it in action either. I gather it’s pretty good, although also a resource hog. It appears to have all the features I want, including a nice autoplaylist function. However, the full version costs $20, and of course I rather wouldn’t pay for something that I could get for free.

(Question: Why isn’t there a really decent open source MP3 player for Windows? This could really be a killer app).

Finally, there’s Windows Media Player 9. This is most likely not the version of WMP you have on your computer right now – you have to manually upgrade. I have a mild conditioned aversion to using proprietary Windows software unless it can be avoided, since they are usually lacking in power and options; I expected the same from WMP 9.

To my utmost and pleasant surprise, WMP 9 is actually a really decent piece of work. It has all the features that I want and more (the autoplaylist function is the most advanced I’ve seen) and visually, it doesn’t look bad. It takes up moderate resources, and the only problem that I can see with it is that it can’t minimize to the system tray (thus eating up valuable screen real estate). Clearly WMP 9 was developed in response to Apple’s iTunes 3, and I’d say that it’s probably on par with it overall.

So I’m currently using WMP 9 for all of my music, and I would recommend it to anyone else who takes their music listening experience seriously and has a large library of mp3s.

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