I use a laptop, and while it’s not an ultra-powerful machine, I like to think it’s up to most jobs I’d throw at it. And yet, sometimes my computer seems to lag when doing something simple, like watching a video on YouTube or Hulu. Some of this is because of other tasks I might be doing at the same time (compiling software or encoding video), but some of it can be blamed on Flash. Flash is the Adobe product used in Hulu and YouTube, and for other things such as websites, online games and even streaming music. It’s this last bit I’m going to focus on in this article, in particular the Pandora website.
Pandora is a fantastic music streaming service that asks you to name a favorite song or artist. Based on your answer, Pandora creates a never ending radio stream that includes only songs that match characteristics of that song or artist. My main problem with it is twofold. First is that I’m not a big fan of the interface. Pandora can only officially be used by going to Pandora.com and using the interface there. The interface is fine, but I’d rather not be locked into using a web browser “just” to stream music. Second is the fact that the main Pandora interface uses Flash, so in addition to the overhead from using a web browser, I’m throwing Flash into the mix.
As I said, my laptop is powerful enough that running Pandora really isn’t a problem, but for people who use netbooks or other less-powerful notebooks (or even older desktop computers), Flash can cause real issues. In the past I’ve used a program called Pithos which offers a great Linux interface for accessing Pandora, but for something even lighter, there is Pianobar. Pianobar, in addition to being used by Pithos, is a commandline program (run solely from the Terminal using typed commands), is insanely lightweight. It uses no Flash, and is at the moment (I’m listening to Pandora as I type this), using less than 3 percent of my processing power (and that’s just one of my dual processors), and only about 40 MB of my 2 GB of RAM. In other words, it’s absolutely lightweight, and in this case, that’s a good thing!
Pianobar is available for both Linux and Mac (assuming a Mac user comfortable using MacPorts, which allows Linux software to be run in an X11 environment in Mac OS X), and once installed is easy to use. To start it up, simply type “pianobar” (without the quotes), in the Terminal. You’ll be asked to enter your Pandora username and password, and then shown a list of your existing stations. Each station has a number to the left; to play a particular station type that number, and in a couple seconds your music will start playing. To change stations, just type “s” (again, without the quotes), and while the music continues playing, you’ll be shown the same list. Type a new number to start a new station, or hit the Escape key to leave the station list.
For such a tiny program with such a minimal interface, Pianobar packs a full feature list. To see it, type a question mark at any time. With Pianobar, and using only the keyboard, you can “love” or “ban” a song. You can modify your current station by adding a new music type (song or artist) to it. You can create a new station, delete an existing one, and view your song history. You can view the upcoming songs, skip the current song, rename your current station, change to a new station (as mentioned), plus a lot more.
Again, Pianobar, while powerful, is a commandline-only program, so won’t be comfortable to a lot of casual computer users. It’s user-friendly, even if it doesn’t appear to be at first glance, but for people unfamiliar or unused to the Terminal (and this was me when I first started using Linux a few years ago), anything without buttons, menus and progress bars was kind of alien. So I’d expect it would be similar for many users. But for users willing to roll up their sleeves, Pianobar is not only easy to use, it’s powerful and a lot quicker than the Web interface, and much more lightweight, and definitely a good choice.