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When an unexpected re-encounter with a scent from the distant past brings back a rush of memories, it's called a Proustian Memory, named after Marcel Proust, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. In the opening chapter of Swan's Way he describes how the smell of a madeleine cake dipped into a lime-blossom tea unleashed a rush of brilliantly-clear memory:

"And as soon as I had recognized the taste of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me ... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set ... and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine."

The same thing happens when I hear a song from the past. I remember forgotten people, moments and places. This phenomenon is likely named something else by a doctor who spent his entire life studying the close ties of music to memory, but I'd like to give it a different name–The Banshee Effect.

There are many of us out there. Music lovers. We manage libraries of albums and songs, read Spin Magazine and define ourselves by what's playing on our iPod. Until Banshee, there was no good option for the music lover who also felt an allegiance to Linux. Sure, we could manage our libraries on iTunes but that certainly introduced difficulty on our Linux environment. But in October 2005, Aaron Bockover, maintainer and founder, presented Banshee at the GNOME MIT Summit and changed everything.

What is Banshee?
Banshee Project–a Linux-native audio player, is built on top of Mono and GTK#–although it plays just fine on the KDE desktop, too. It actually didn't originate with Mono, but when Bockover looked into Mono he became addicted and rewrote the code. Banshee ships with Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 but runs on all major Linux distributions including:

  • SUSE/OpenSUSE 10 (Installed by default–repository available)
  • Ubuntu Breezy/Dapper (Universe repository)
  • Foresight Linux (Installed by default)
  • Mandriva Linux (mandriva.com, 2007 release)
  • Gentoo Linux (Portage)
  • Fedora Core 4

What does Banshee do?
If you've been working on a Windows machine, managing your music with iTunes, Banshee will deliver a smooth transition to Linux with similar functionality and an intuitive interface. If you have been working on Linux all along (bless you) you'll notice dramatic benefits. Now you can get all the tools associated with managing music in one application. Gone are the days of having multiple apps on your machine–one for ripping CDs, one for playing your tunes and one for importing music.

Whether you want to rip, organize, listen, burn, import, share, sync to your iPod (or other portable music device) or create a playlist–you can perform all these tasks with Banshee. Hackers will enjoy a host of APIs that allow them to hook into Banshee's core functionality and write plug-ins to perform specific and custom tasks. (See the plug-in document on banshee-project.org).

Does Banshee Require a lot of futzing?
Banshee can play all the most common music formats including Apple's AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. Behind the scenes, Banshee uses Gstreamer to play, encode and decode all formats with one exception–AAC. RealNetworks Helix media framework does this one.

I know what you're thinking now. How does Banshee interact with my iPod–the one I've been managing and syncing with iTunes until now? One word: Brilliantly! You can expect a seamless experience with your iPod or other MP3 player with no lengthy "getting-to-know-you" process.

Once you've installed Banshee, simply plug-in your iPod through a USB connection and Banshee will open up automatically. Notice your device will appear in the left pane and the library will populate the screen. The interaction here is almost exactly what you're used to with a few major improvements. Aside from the quality search tool, sorting capabilities (by album, title and artist), and album artwork (yup, it's there at the bottom left), Banshee comes with various stock plug-ins you'll soon wonder how you did without:

Multimedia Keys: lets you create shortcut keystrokes to enhance your manageability.

Audioscrobbler: creates an account on lastfm (the social music revolution) and updates your profile to show what music you're listening to with most frequency. Here you can see your listening history charted; you can post these charts on your blog along with data feeds to share your music preferences with friends, view recommended artists based on your own history, interact with the lastfm community and create your own radio station based on the music you like. A nice companion to Audioscrobbler is the Music Recommendations plug-in available in the 0.11.x series of Banshee.

Metadata Searcher: allows you to automatically search for missing and supplementary metadata and cover art for songs and albums in your library. If you have mismatched tracks, missing titles and/or album art, the metadata searcher plug-in actually recognizes when data is missing and will go looking for it on its own.

Notification Area: this gives you a quick mouse-over way to view the album and track you are currently listening to. This is helpful if you are working on a document and don't want to click away to view Banshee full screen.

Banshee Effect
Easy: I've spent hours in iTunes making playlists and managing my music and syncing my iPod, as I'm sure you have. But with Banshee, most tasks are quicker and easier than you've experienced yet. Let's walk through a few common tasks you might perform regularly with iTunes.

Creating a Playlist: Before I put albums on my iPod, I always create a playlist that includes the artist's name and the title of the album. The typical steps to do this in iTunes include clicking on File, New Playlist, typing the name of the artist and album, selecting the tracks in iTunes and copying them into the playlist. All you have to do to create a playlist in Banshee is select the album out of your audio library and drag it to the left pane. Banshee automatically creates and names the playlist by artist and album.

Transferring Tracks: Transferring tracks from the audio library to your iPod is extremely simple. You'll see your device displayed in the left pane. Select your Music Library in the pane and highlight the tracks you want to transfer to your iPod icon in the side pane; do this with a single drag-n-drop. Select your iPod and choose Synchronize iPod (or other device), in the upper right corner of the application. If you just want to synchronize individual tracks, click Save Manual Changes. If you want to synchronize your entire music library, click Synchronize Library. You can now enjoy your tracks on your iPod or MP3 player.

Choice: Archiving your old music catalogs? You can choose from lossy or lossless compression algorithms to store your music. Banshee lets you encode your audio CDs to MP3, OGG, FLAC or WAV files. FLAC and WAV are lossless compression algorithms. Lossless compression does not degrade the audio quality; however, file sizes are larger.

Dynamic: As you can imagine, development on Banshee is moving rapidly, with new features, plug-ins and improvements added all the time. To get the latest Banshee offerings, built for SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, add the following external repository to your Software Updater or Installation Sources: repos.opensuse.org/Banshee/SLE_10. There have also been minor fixes and updates to podcasting that continue to enhance what Banshee does best–give you all your favorite tools in one application.

Music is such a great motivator, it can keep you company when you're all alone. It can accompany you as you run the last few miles of your triathlon. It will keep you awake on a long road trip or gently sing you to sleep once you reach your destination. And if you are lucky enough, it will surprise you with your own Proustian memory–hopefully drumming up the sweet memory of your first kiss or the first time you took your new car out on the road and really opened it up! red N

Banshee References



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