My new music player of the moment is iTunes

I have a strict requirement when it comes to my music playing software: It has to support unicode. To support unicode, in this context, is similar to saying my music player has to support non-latin characters. In my specific case, because I listen to a lot of Japanese music, I want my player to not crash the moment it tries to load an MP3 file with Japanese characters in the filename and/or in the ID3 tag.

Winamp, probably the most popular player for Windows, does not satisfy this criteria, and it doesn't sound like they plan to either. Russ, a moderator at the WinAmp forum, writes (scroll near the bottom) "They [the Winamp developers] are not ignoring 90% of the world's population [...] Who they are ignoring are the 0.5% or so of people who are using one charset and playing files with tags in a different charset - such as someone with an English locale playing songs in Russian or Hebrew." Russ is responding to an argument that over 90% of the world population does not speak English (probably a statistic pulled out of thin air), so Winamp should support Unicode. Russ is saying that Winamp support charsets, meaning if you set your Windows XP to use to "Japanese" charset (and reboot so that changes can apply), then Winamp will be able to load your Japanese mp3s. If you then want to listen to Russian mp3s, you have to set your charset to Russian, reboot again, and then you can listen to your Russian mp3s. He claims only 0.5% of the people would want to listen to mp3s containing characters from more than one charset.

I don't have statistics to back me up here, but I suspect that most people in the world are bilingual, if not multi-lingual. The official languages of Canada are English and French. I think a good portion (though not the majority) of Americans speak Spanish in addition to English. And as for the rest of the world, because of globalization, a lot of people speak English in addition to whatever their local language is. As such, it seems to be that probably a lot more than 0.5% of the computer-using world population might be interested in setting the charset of their computer to be a particular language, but also be able to access data in at least one other language.

But this is all moot, because Winamp support for charset simply doesn't work. My Japanese girlfriend Meiko has, on her laptop, the Japanese version of Windows XP, with a 「スタート」 button instead of a "start" button. Her charset is set to Japanese. And yet Winamp still fails to properly load MP3s with kanji characters in them. And this is Winamp 5.08, the latest one (at the time of writing).

As far as I know, only two music players properly support Unicode. One of them is foobar2000. I gave foobar2000 a try, and it's damn painful to use. It has a confusing playlist system which makes it easy for me to accidentally erase my current playlist by double clicking on an mp3, and it's columns system, while very flexible, is quite difficult to use, and contains very little to no documentation: I had to search forums, rather than the non-existant "built in help", to figure out how to put leading zeroes in front of the track numbers. Foobar2000 also has a "true random" mode, which is a bad thing. What Winamp does is to take your playlist and shuffle it, so that you won't encounter the same song twice in a row. Foobar2000 just picks the next song randomly, so there is a chance you might here the exact same song twice in a row, and that is very annoying. I think if you like Linux, you'll like foobar2000. I wanted a music player "for the rest of ustm".

Apple has a music player called iTunes, and yes it runs on Windows. It seems to support Unicode just fine, and it a (not surpringly) intuitive interface for going through your music collection. Also, in its shuffle mode, it has a little checkbox that says "Play higher rated songs more often", which of course only works if you actually bother to rate your songs (I do). It also has a "SoundCheck" program in which it prescans all your songs to find their volumes and then normalize the playback for you. The only thing I don't like about iTunes is that it seems to take up a lot of system resources (using 38MB of ram right now, 87MB peak; after right clicking, it can take up to 2 seconds for the menu to appear), it pops up a message asking me if I want to burn an audio CD when I put a blank CD in the drive (there's a "don't ask me again" checkbox), the visualizations kind of suck (not a big deal for me), the "What should I do when you insert an audio CD?" dropdown box doesn't have the option "Nothing" (only stuff like "Play it" or "Rip the audio tracks to AAC"), and it doesn't support Ogg Vorbis without a plugin (which isn't officially supported by Apple).

The Ogg support is kind of shaky (the plugin is still in beta), so, for example, dragging and dropping an ogg file onto the player doesn't work the same way that dragging an mp3 file onto the player works. Unfortunately, Apple is trying to push its own codec, so I don't think they'll be too willing to add Ogg support.

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