Many Linux users consider Amarok to be the greatest media player of all time. Amarok has earned this title through its integration of lyrics, streaming radio, podcasts, Last FM stats, user developed scripts, and more, and by helping users to "Rediscover [their] music."
The current version of Amarok, 1.4.5, was pushed out earlier this year, and development of Amarok 2.0 has been underway ever since. I was curious to see how development is coming along, so I compiled KDE4 and Amarok2 from SVN to get a sneak peek.
While it's obvious that much is left to be done, it's also obvious that a lot of hard work is going into the redesign. First off, the new splash screen is much easier on the eyes than the muddy blue "Fast Forward" screen I've been staring at for the last half year:
After Amarok loads, the change that is most apparent is the new emphasis placed on the context elements. Instead of the playlist being the focus of Amarok, the context data such as lyrics and wikipedia info take center stage. The playlist now occupies about a third of the screen width on the right. Unfortunately, in the current build the context elements aren't entirely functional, but you can see where they will be placed in the future. Much of the context interface will be implemented in the form of widgets. Previously there had been talk about doing away with the tabs and laying all context items side-by-side, but as you can see they either have yet to implement this, or decided it wasn't a good idea and kept the tabbed interface:
When running Amarok 2.0 in Gnome (using the KDE4 libraries of course), Amarok inherited the collection info from Amarok 1.4.5. It even kept the custom images that I had set for most of the album covers. It is nice to see that (so far) backwards compatibility is a non-issue, as it shouldn't be.
After the context redesign, the next most obvious change is the playlist. Currently, the playlist area is split horizontally in two. The upper area acts like the classic playlist, while it seems that the lower area is used to show all tracks in the current album. At this stage in development, the playlist displays information in exactly the same way as it did in 1.4.5, but the plan is to have it be dynamic and show only relevant info. For example, if a certain track has the title and artist fields filled in, but there is no info about the album name, then only the available information will be displayed, and there will be no empty space where the album name would have been. This can be seen best in the mockup on KDE.news. Here is the playlist in its current state:
Another interesting change is the addition of an internet menu. So far it doesn't do much, but it will be interesting to see how this is used. It would be nice to see it used in a similar manner to Songbird, but it will likely be something more benign.
One change that can't be shown in pictures is the Phonon backend. Typically, Amarok uses Xine or GStreamer as a backend, but now Phonon is included as an option, and will probably become the default in the future. Phonon is an abstraction to Linux sound engines. It performs interactions with Xine and GStreamer (among others) so that Amarok only has to implement the Phonon interface and not a different interface for each engine.
Finally, one of the greatest new features in Amarok 2.0 (although obviously not in this Linux build) is Windows and OSX support. This is wonderful news for those of us that choose to, or have to, use another platform, but don't want to leave their music player behind.
For more information about the future of Amarok, see this article about Amarok 2.0 plans, and an interview with Jeff Mitchell about Amarok 2.0 development on KDE.news.