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Linux multimedia plays catch-up

After years of lagging behind in multimedia applications, Linux vendors are catching up fast. With a bevy of new media choices, Linux has never sounded or looked so good.

After many years of running far behind, Linux is catching up on support for multimedia. The latest Linux releases from vendors such as Red Hat and SuSE have improved a lot, especially for detecting and configuring sound and graphics hardware. In addition, multimedia applications have matured a lot in recent years.

While the extra hardware support is great, Red Hat, at least, took a step backwards with Red Hat Linux 9.0. With the 9.0 release, Red Hat doesn’t include players for MP3 music or MPEG or other movies. You have to download and install separate applications.

Downloading applications isn’t that hard to do, and with the RPM package managing support across most Linux distributions, installation usually requires just a single command. But users of modern operating systems expect more. The following applications can help round out your Linux desktop.

XMMS, the X Multi Media System plays most music and sound formats. It is equivalent to Winamp on Windows systems and supports MP3-formatted music, along with lots of other formats. I use XMMS as my primary music player. Zinf provides another music player that can be download from its Web site. Formerly known as FreeAMP, Zinf specializes in playlist management. Zinf has been ported to Windows along with Linux.

For music CDs, the Gnome-CD program automatically launches when you insert an audio CD in the drive under the GNOME desktop. In addition, the program connects to the online CD database (or CDDB) by way of Gracenote or other free alternatives such as FreeDB or MusicBrainz. All of these databases allow a network-connected workstation to pull up artist, song and title information when you insert a CD. This is nothing revolutionary (until you consider the fact that it’s possible to keep track of all the CDs you play), but it’s quite handy. This program is part of the GNOME desktop and comes with most versions of Linux. So do Kaboodle and Noatun, two music players for the KDE desktop environment.

For movies, you can download XMovie, a very good multifeatured player, or XAnim. XAnim, though, has not been under active development for a few years, so it might bring you mixed results.

The best movie player I’ve seen is MPlayer. MPlayer is simply amazing, and it supports many hard-to-find formats, including more recent AVI codecs, RealPlayer movies, QuickTime, Windows Media Video, and MPEG files. I’ve had better luck with MPlayer than any other player running on Linux.

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