Another day, another music player for Linux. At least, that’s how it sounds. If there ever was a program for which absolutely no shortage existed, it would be Linux music players. There’s VLC, MPlayer, Totem, Xine, SMPlayer, Banshee, Rhythmbox, Listen, Exaile, Amarok, Clementine, Guayadeque… and a whole lot more. Not all of the players mentioned above are strictly music players of course, as many also play videos, as well as streaming audio from the Web, and some are aimed at being music library managers in the style of Apple iTunes (Banshee, Rhythmbox, Listen, Exaile, Amarok, among others). But they all play music, and not a day goes by when yet another player isn’t released.
Lately I’ve noticed a trend (I’m sure I’m not the only one!), of having simpler music players with a focus on looks and usability, as opposed to throwing in every single feature possible. A lot of Linux players are featuring designs similar to the Elementary Project, which strives for simplicity and usability. The subject of this article – a new player called Pogo – rests firmly in that camp. It will never be confused with a more full-featured application, but it’s also incredibly fast and easy to use, if a bit short on configuration options at the moment. And it also plays all the music types I keep around: Ogg Vorbis, MP3, FLAC, and AAC (MPEG4), as well as Musepack and Wavpack.
I mentioned that Pogo was inspired by the Elementary Project, and this is not hidden by the developer:
“Pogo’s elementary-inspired design uses the screen-space very efficiently. It is especially well-suited for people who organize their music by albums on the hard drive. The main interface components are a directory tree and a playlist that groups albums in an innovative way.”
So, there you have it. Inspired by Elementary. But how does it work, what can it play, and is the relative lack of features “worth” the pared-down interface? After using it for a bit, I think it will depend on the type of person using it. For fans of Amarok and Banshee and iTunes and Rhythmbox, Pogo probably won’t be a favorite player. Unlike those players, which offer music stores and video playback, Web integration and podcasts, Pogo offers… music playback. It doesn’t create a library of your music; instead it relies on you to keep your music organized, as the only way to browse your music is with a file browser. You navigate the hard drive your music is on, then right-click to add folders or individual tracks to your playlist.
It’s actually pretty nice, and as I used it more I found the absolute lack of bells and whistles to be… a good thing, actually. I didn’t need to worry about setting up Last.fm scrobbling, or how often it should check for new podcasts. I didn’t need to set up my music store account, or my preferences for anything, really.
The first time you start Pogo, you’ll see a two-paned window. On the left is the file browser, which starts at the root of your hard drive. From here, navigate to your music. Double-clicking on a song adds it to the playlist on the right (but doesn’t start it playing). To add an entire folder of music to the playlist, right-click and choose the Append option. You can also choose the Refresh option if you’ve made changes (added or deleted music), since you last loaded the folder in the file browser.
To start playing music, simply double click the song you want to play. Pogo will then work its way down your playlist, in album order (assuming everything is tagged and named correctly). The playlist display shows six things about the music in it. First is the album a particular song is from. Next is the artist, then the tracknumber, the song title, then finally the track length. Songs are treated differently if they were added one song at a time or a folder at a time. Songs added individually have the following format:
Arist – Album – Tracknumber – Title [Song Length]
If a folder of albums was added, that folder is displayed as an album, then the songs within it are shown in the same format as above, but without the album name following the artist.
Playback controls are incredibly simple. There is a previous track button, a Play/Pause button, a next track button, and a slider that displays the playback progress. There is also a single button to access either the Pogo preferences or the “About” screen.
Pogo’s preferences area is as simple as the program itself. You have a single window, with three options: Covers, Desktop Notification and Equalizer. The Covers option allows you to set whether or not cover art is shown (in the bottom-right corner of the Pogo window), while a song is being played. You can set Pogo to look for cover art inside the folder that contains the music (and what the name of the cover art will be), or whether it should download artwork from the Internet. In the Desktop Notifications options, you can set how the pop-up display is formatted, and how long it should appear on screen. Finally, the Equalizer option allows you to choose from standard equalizer presets, or create your own, to get your music sounding the way you want it. Each of these features can also be turned off, if they don’t interest you.
And that’s pretty much it. There is one other option to Pogo that I didn’t notice right away, and that is the option (in Nautilus, while using GNOME Linux), to right-click on a folder and have that folder played in Pogo. I love this! It’s something I wish more players would support, as it makes it simple – especially with a program like Pogo (or VLC or Totem) – that doesn’t offer much in the way of library management. It makes it easy to “try out” a folder of music before adding it to your regular music library.
There are, however, a couple things I’m not a big fan of at the moment. First is that there is no tray or panel icon. This means that when I hit the close button, Pogo actually closes. I know, that seems like it would be the logical result from clicking the close button, but so many music programs in Linux support tray or panel icons that I’m used to hitting the close button actually minimizing the player. The music keeps playing, but the player itself disappears from view. It’s a nice feature, and I wish Pogo had it. The only other thing is that Pogo doesn’t automatically start playing my music when I add it to the playlist. It doesn’t do it when I double-click a song in the file browser pane, and it doesn’t start when I add a folder of music (either from the file browser pane or from the desktop). I wish it would. As it is, it just feels like a bit of wasted motion. I’ve already added the music to the playlist, why not play it?
Still, Pogo is currently at version 0.2, so it’s a very young project. Things seem to be changing quite regularly with it, and I have hope that it will manage to remain simple, but add a few features that would – in my opinion, of course – make it better and easier to use. I look forward to following Pogo’s development.