ExtensionFM: a (p)review

At present ExtensionFM is still in pre-release*, so whether what follows constitutes a review, a preview, or a preview with a silent ‘p’, I’m not wholly sure. On the other hand, let’s leave ontology to philosophers, it’s just a blogpost.

ExtensionFM, as you might guess from the name, a) plays music, and b) is a widget you can add to the Chrome browser. What makes it different is the way it builds its library: whenever you visit sites hosting audio files ExtensionFM instantly adds the songs (and their locations) to its library – meaning, first of all, that you can try out any track on the page immediately, but second, that even when you’ve left the site, you can still stream any of the tracks whenever you like.

Or to put it all a little more visually:

And how well does it work?

Very nicely, for the most part. There’s a small drop-down player, accessible from an icon on Chrome’s main menu bar, as well as a full player (with more information) that opens in a tab – both are quick, responsive, easy to navigate, and add album artwork almost instantly. Anyone who uses Songbird or iTunes should feel instantly at home. There aren’t any playlists yet, however, but tracks can be queued (though once queued the order can’t be changed, aside from removing tracks).

On web sites, you’ll find that ExtensionFM has handily overlaid any embedded audio links with a play button; and in a particularly neat touch, to keep its library fresh and well stocked, ExtensionFM will keep updating itself with new tracks from the sites you’ve visited (you can turn this off on a site by site basis, though, if you prefer). Last.fm users are catered for with an option to integrate audio-scrobbling; plus, there’s some kind of integration with Tumblr (but I don’t have a Tumblr blog, so I’m not quite sure what that achieves).

However, being pre-release, there are – understandably – a few glitches and limitations (though just a few):

– As yet, there’s no shuffle button – imagine being able to go to an MP3 blog, click shuffle and see what comes up – wouldn’t that be a pretty handy music discovery tool? Happily, the developer agrees: looking at ExtensionFM’s Google Groups forum, shuffle’s very much in the pipeline.

– The occasional track will cause ExtensionFM to crash; but in pre-release you’d expect the odd compatibility issue. And, this being the Chrome browser, a crashed extension at least doesn’t crash the whole browser; in fact, Chrome even lets you reload crashed extensions (though that doesn’t always work).

– More playlist making/altering options would be useful; but, again, that’s already being worked on.

– At present, tracks in the ExtensionFM library remain playable only for as long as they remain on the sites where they’re hosted. The developer looks to be trying to find a workable way around this.

– It’s impossible to download tracks from within the main player – for now. (The player does, however, link to the site where each track is hosted; and right-clicking within the player gives you an option to buy from Amazon).

So, while there are a few faults to be ironed out, and some useful features still to be added – all of which the developer seems to have well in hand – even at this early stage ExtensionFM’s core functionality still offers the music loving Chrome user something unique** and worthwhile: visit a site, get an instant, self-refreshing music library. If it lives up to its potential, the full release could even make a switch to Chrome essential.

*Visit the site to request an invitation to try it out. Each invitation allows five separate installations.

**As far as I’m aware – anyone know different? (I know Firefox has Twones, but that seems more focused on bookmarking individual tracks, and certainly doesn’t let you make an instant library just by visiting a site).

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