Chris, playing an electric guitar

Zinf Is Not FreeAmp, but it isn't any good, either

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This is from an email conversation with Mark, originally talking about eMusic, but then about whether there is any music playing software which is, to put it bluntly, any good. (There isn't.)

[Zinf] which used to be FreeAmp, IIUC.

Ah, I hadn't spotted that. I'd assumed it was some other commercial piece of tat, but no, it's free software tat. (Themes? I don't want no fucking themes. I want a fucking piece of software which looks like at least one other program out there -- NB WINAMP DOES NOT COUNT! I prefer mpg123 -- total user interface: you can hit ^C if you don't like a track -- to some piece of graphical shite cobbled together by morons who think that WinAmp is a good model of user interface design.)

OK, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh there. And it's a long time since I tried FreeAmp and it's too late to go to the pub. Uncharacteristically, I am going to give it another chance....

First impressions:

  1. Configure script written by morons (always a bad sign):

    WARNING: GTK+ was not found on this system. This means you won't be able to use any of the graphical user interfaces. That's a bad thing, so go get the latest version of GTK+ from

    Hmm.... That machine has at least two versions of GTK on it. It oughtn't to be too hard to find.

  2. The thing is absolutely fucking gigantic. It's 2Mb of source plus some dumb XML thing which is another 2Mb or so. Gak.

... so now it's compiled. It's just as ugly as ever -- there are three themes which come with it, which range from unusable (``ZinfClassic'') through merely aggravating (``Zinf'') to possibly the ugliest pixels ever comitted to screen in the name of a user interface (``Aquatica'').

First attempts to actually play a track result in an instant segmentation fault. A second attempt results in total silence, at a guess because it's having a fight with ESD. Attempts to close the program using the little `X' thingy in the top-right of the window -- NB not where my window manager would have put it -- have no effect, leading me to resort to the one bit of its user interface which it shares with the infinitely preferable mpg123.

Ah. Killing ESD makes both playback and quitting work. This leads me to suspect that these bozos don't understand threads, or nonblocking IO, or some other thing which could plausibly produce these results. It's possible to make it use ESD by selecting a plugin -- what the fuck? -- called `esound.pmo'. Naturally figuring this out for itself would be too hard, even though mpg123 manages it without trouble.

Another user interface complaint: before you can even obtain silence or segmentation faults from this program, you have to answer an inane question:

Music files normally associated with Zinf have been associated with another application. Do you want to reclaim these music files?

I have no idea what this means. I don't run a `desktop environment' here; none of the running software on my machine maintains any sort of mapping between file types and applications, except for Netscape/Mozilla.

Now, upon reading the source code, I discover that it's actually talking about .mailcap files. I suppose I should have guessed that. It's nice the way that it mentions the term `.mailcap' in the message, so that the technically competent user has some idea what the fuck it is on about, isn't it?

OK. That was an extended rant about a pretty crummy piece of software, and really I shouldn't bother. I might send a copy to the authors but they'll just whine and wail and give me stick about being some kind of apologist for something they don't like (non-free software, Microsoft, globalisation, mpg123, I don't know). I could even try to fix the bugs but I'd still be left with a lame piece of shite which I wouldn't want to use. It's not, I think, even possible to give it a theme of `just look like an actual GTK program in a proper window' because its themes are just pixmaps with clickable rectangles. Madness.

And -- maybe this is just that the version I'm running is prehistoric -- have you noticed how completely useless the GTK stock `open file' dialog box is? It's worse even than the Windows 3.1 one. I give up.

[RealPlayer] My nomination for Most Irritating Software In The World, ever.

Oh god don't start me on fucking RealPlayer. At least I'm not running it under Windows so there are no filetypes for it to reclaim, and judging by its hopeless flakiness, they don't understand UNIX IPC well enough to have put any spyware in that version. But it's an unremitting pile of arse. They earn a place on the Come The Revolution list, as do the BBC for using their stupid streaming format.

Did you see

-- it's a pretty bog-standard rant but there's a vaguely funny photo at the bottom.

Update: January 2003

Another fucking annoying thing about Zinf: when you try to play an HTTP stream, it doesn't use the Content-Type: to figure out what sort of stream it is. I had to rewrite all my scripts to accept `.ogg' on the end of the URL so that Zinf could guess it right. A brief look at the code suggests that it would be a bitch to change it, which suggests that whoever wrote the thing in the first place was asleep at the switch.

Update: September 2003

Mark has written a piece on what a good Windows music player would look like

You should also read... Jamie Zawinski's comments on getting video playing on Linux. (``Give up now'', basically. I'm sticking to MPEG-1.)

Copyright (c) 2002 Chris Lightfoot. All rights reserved.