Mandi Goodsett
Essay #1: Comparing Media Player and Organizers

    While almost every free, open-source media player and organizer that a person could download will offer many of the same basic features, there are some key differences between the most popular ones that can make choosing a media player challenging. To get a sense of which media players could provide the best service to a music collection owner based on his or her needs, I evaluated three media player/organizers: iTunes, Winamp, and Jaangle. I made judgements about these players based on visual layout/display, organization, importing/burning/sharing options, playback features, and other special features, and from my results I decided which player best handled elements from each category, ending with an overall recommendation for the average media player user.

Visual Layout/Display
    A major element of a media player is the way in which it displays a user's collection. Looking at the display in each media player, I was especially impressed with the variety of skins available for use in Jaangle. In addition to the lengthy list in the display options window, Jaangle offers access to an online forum of skins created by users which is constantly being updated ("Overview"). Jaangle also offers the best mini-player--well-designed and packed with features, the mini-player remains useful without cluttering up a user's screen ("Overview").
    Winamp also allows some flexibility in color scheme, although not as much--its strength is in the number of smaller windows a user can manipulate within the larger application window. Although very overwhelming at first, Winamp gives users the ability to completely customize their player window, hiding and showing sections of the window, displaying artist and album information, and showing different facets of an artist or album in different sections of the larger window ("Player Features"). In this way, Winamp provides the best the organization capabilities, especially for music collection owners who want to have a lot of control over their player display.
    iTunes does not allow users to change its color scheme, (although it does give options for displaying or hiding album covers) and it doesn't give the user very much control over his or her player layout ("What is iTunes?"). iTunes strength when it comes to layout is its simplicity--users who want to easily store and retrieve their music without worrying about customization would find iTunes most valuable. Overall, when it comes to display, although Jaangle provides a beautifully simple and visually pleasing layout, Winamp offers the best layout options with the most flexibility for the average user.

    In order to effectively retrieve and sort materials in a media collection, a media player user needs to have strong organization tools and the ability to customize his collection in a way that suits his needs. In evaluating these media players in terms of organization options, I looked at their playlist features, ability to add and sort folders and metadata, and their search options. All of the media players provide easy ways to create playlists, name them, and export them onto a disc, and all of them allowed users to switch organization by artist, album, genre, and song, etc. The players offer varying levels of thoroughness when it comes to metadata, however. Both Winamp and Jaangle access the internet as a song is being played to give the user information about the artist, album, and/or lyrics of that particular song. Jaangle even goes so far as to provide lyrics for songs when available ("Overview"). The metadata offered by iTunes, provided by id3 tags, gives the user important information about the album, but falls short of providing the other background information that some media collectors might be interested in seeing.
    For search options, both iTunes and Winamp provide a single keyword search bar. Jaangle, however, has an "Advanced Search" option that allows a user to search her library by up to four facets at a time: artist, title, album, and location. You can also search by rating, latest added, and lyrics in Jaangle's advanced search feature ("Overview"). In spite of this added search tool in Jaangle, I think that Winamp has the best organization features, because its display (the many smaller windows within one larger one) make organization more customizable and precise, and its ability to access internet information about artist and albums gives the user extra metadata for files in his library.

Importing/Exporting/Sharing Options
    When it comes to maintaining and adding to a media library, the importing, exporting, and sharing options of a media player play a big role. While all of the media players I reviewed could accommodate just about any kind of media or video file, some made sharing and exporting media files to a portable media player easier than others.
    Jaangle, being unique in its lack of software for connecting to a portable media player, obviously falls short compared to the other two players. However, for those looking for a player that is quick to download and that doesn't bog down a computer's operating system, Jaangle could be useful as a media player on a user's desktop. Importing songs into Jaangle, then, is extremely easy, but the player wouldn't be a good choice for sharing files with others or with a portable MP3 player ("Overview").
    Winamp has developed the capabilities to allow users with iPods and other Apple products to use this PC-based product ("Player Features"). However, when it comes to easily purchasing and downloading songs and other media files into a user's library, iTunes is the superior player. Its easy access to the iTunes store make purchasing a wide variety of media products extremely easy, and exporting those files onto a disc or an Apple MP3 player is also hassle-free("What is iTunes?"). Those users who do NOT have an iPod product, on the other hand, will find using iTunes to export songs nearly impossible. My overall evaluation is, then, that for those users with an iPod, iTunes is the best choice for importing, exporting, and sharing media; for those with other brands of MP3 player, Winamp will be the player to choose.

Playback Features
    Although organizing and displaying a media library is important, possibly the most essential feature of a media player is its ability to play back music and video at the highest standards. For this section, I evaluated players based on their special playlist features and radio options. All of the players have some kind of special "DJ" mode that plays songs on random with special attention given to the ones it has determined to be the user's favorite based on her playback tendencies. iTunes also provides some additional playback features including one called the Smart Playlist, which creates playlists based on rules set up by the user limiting media type, genre, etc. ("What is iTunes?"). iTunes also has the Genius player, which creates playlists made up of songs from a user's library based on a single song chosen or a genre that is common in the music library ("What is iTunes?").
    Winamp does not have as many special playback features as Winamp, but it does have the widest variety of plug-ins, which is often cited as one of its primary features (Tarik). These plug-ins have been a feature of Winamp nearly since its creation in the late '90s ("Winamp."). These, in addition to the wide variety of radio stations available through AOL Radio, nearly bring Winamp to the level of excellence that iTunes has reached with its playback features.
    Jaangle, while lacking in the special playback features provided in both Winamp and iTunes, does offer simplicity to its users. The basic playback functions of a media player are easily executed on Jaangle and for users that want simplified, easy-to-use playback functions, Jaangle would be the way to go. However, for the average media collection owner, I would suggest using iTunes if playback features are very important to you.

Other Special Features
    There were several other features in each player that I observed in my evaluation that made the player unique and valuable for certain kinds of users. These features also play an important role in helping a user choose a media player and organizer.
    The obvious special feature for iTunes is its connection to the iTunes store. The store provides users of iTunes with a significant number of extra tools, beyond just the ability to easily purchase media content. The store keeps track of user purchases and can make recommendations of music to buy; makes free music, videos, and apps available weekly; and gives users access to its social networking element, Ping ("What is iTunes?"). Users who are interested in purchasing media often or even in just following what albums are newly released or popular would find this feature of iTunes very useful.
    Besides being free and extremely customizable, Winamp also provides additional features for users when an upgraded version (called Winamp Pro) is purchased. Winamp also tries to keep up with the features of the iTunes store by providing a Song of the Day, a Podcast directory, and other online services (Tarik).
    Many of Jaangle's unique features have already been mentioned (such as the skins forum and the advanced search option), but this media player was also the only one that seemed to have a games option. The games are modeled after ones found on an iPod, but can be played directly from the media player interface ("Overview").

    After carefully considering these three media players from the point-of-view of various media player elements, I would suggest Winamp for overall quality and customization abilities. While Winamp lacks the advantages of the iTunes store or the simplicity and colorfulness of Jaangle, it dominates in organization and layout, as well as in its ability to provide lots of data about artists and albums. While each media collection owner must decide for himself what media player best fits his needs, Winamp provides enough solid, exemplary features to please just about anyone looking to organize and store his music collection.

"Overview." Overview: Jaangle. Artificial Spirit, 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <http://www.jaangle.com/>.

"Player Features." Winamp Help. Nullsoft, 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. <http://www.winamp.com/help/Player_Features>.

Rizar. "Best Free Music Player and Organizer." Gizmo's Freeware. Gizmo's Freeware, 20 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/best-free-music-players-and-organizers.htm>.

Simon, Michael. "The Complete iTunes History -- SoundJam MP to ITunes 9." Mac|Life. Future US, Inc., 11 Aug. 2009. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <http://www.maclife.com/article/feature/complete_itunes_history_soundjam_mp_itunes_9>

Tarik. "What Is Winamp?" Winamp Blog. Nullsoft, 19 Aug. 2010. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://blog.winamp.com/2010/08/19/what-is-winamp/>.

"What Is iTunes?" Apple. Apple Inc., 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www.apple.com/itunes/what-is/player.html>.

"Winamp." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winamp>.
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