Apple's iTunes has a very cool feature that I would like to have and that I still have not yet noticed in any of the Linux music players (be them rhythmbox, amarok, quodlibet, audacious etc).

The feature is the following: Apple's iTunes player has the possibility of playing CD-DA, with the information about the tracks (in computer jargon, metadata) taken from on-line databases like Gracenote's CDDB.

The Free Software that I use doesn't have problems with this, at least regarding audio CDs. They check some free on-line databases (like gnudb.org or freedb.org, which, by the way, have CDs in their catalog that aren't available in the commercial CDDB).

But the nicest feature that iTunes has is the ability to burn MP3/AAC CDs taken from playlists composed by the user, neatly organized in a filesystem structure of the format:

<artist>/<album>/<song>

It also generates an XML file with the contents of the MP3 CD in a way that makes it playable just like a CD-DA, but with remarkable characteristics:

  • it doesn't need a connection to the Internet to grab metadata (which is, of course, stored both in the XML file and in some file's metadata). This means that no network connection is necessary to have information about songs and the XML file acts like a cache to avoid the program reading the whole CD to show the information in a user-friendly fashion.
  • the MP3 CD is treated like a CD-DA, but with a much longer capacity (say, 12 hours, depending on the bitrate of the songs and their lengths).
  • the songs don't have to be imported into playlists and not even queued for playing. Just selecting the first song to be played is enough for it to start plaing things (and, of course, it is not always that we want to import songs to our library).

In particular, I think that this would be a great thing for the GNOME Desktop (and for others too), since it would increase the interoperability with other Operating Systems.

Not only iTunes can create such CDs, but it can also create DVDs containing MP3/AAC files, which, of course, means that the capacity of such "CDs" is huge compared to that of usual audio CDs and it is also a convenient way to carry the discs around.

In my experience and workflow, it would be really nice to be able to play such CDs/DVDs with rhythmbox/amarok/quodlibet, as it would represent both a handy feature and a nice interoperability factor (and convenience).

In the case of Free Software players, more formats could be considered, of course, than just MP3 and Low Complexity AAC. Vorbis, Speex, MP2, AC-3 and other less-known formats would be possible (well, even Window's WMA files, as they are playable by a lot of set-top boxes and car players).

If, in addition to playing such CDs/DVDs, those programs could also create such CDs (say, by passing the responsibility to another program), then everything would be a dream come true and many other friends of mine would be one step further from being tied to Mac OS X or Windows and closer to Free Software.

I hope that this shows to be an improvement for the Free Software Desktop environments like GNOME and KDE.

P.S.: The same thing applies to Photo CDs created by iPhoto. It would be really exciting to have them be recognized by F-Spot or other similar Photo organizers.

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