OpenPandora: put Pandora on your desktop


OpenPandora is an open source local client the delivers the Pandora online music service right to your desktop. It allows you to interact with Pandora from the main program dialog or from the tray icon.

If you’ve been abducted by aliens for the past decade and are not familiar with it, Pandora is a music recommendation engine and internet radio service based on the Music Genome Project (more on this here).

In essence it allows you to build your own radio station(s); all you have to do is provide an “inspiration”, so to speak, by specifying an artist or even a song that you would like your radio station to be similar or related to.

You can then “refine” your radio station by rating the tracks that Pandora serves you, giving them a thumbs up, a thumbs down, or being neutral and not giving a rating them.

I will mention that this review coincides with the release of the official Pandora desktop client. I had to make a decision on whether to review “Pandora Desktop” or OpenPandora; I’m, probably swimming against the tide but I and chose to review this one (the reasons for this are mentioned below). Here are more notes on this program:

  • The interface: looks exactly like the Pandora website (and Pandora desktop), and at that it looks great. It also provides a user experience identical to that of the Pandora website, so much so as to suggest that the code must have been available to third party developers as I cannot imagine this is simply a recreation.
  • openpandora in the system tray screenshotPandora in the system tray: OpenPandora puts many Pandora controls into the system tray, such as rating, pausing, and skipping songs. It also can popup a balloon notification whenever there’s a song change and will display song info if you mouse over the icon. I’ve also seen screenshots that seemed to depict the song artwork being displayed near the system icon on the program home page, but couldn’t find this option in the version I looked at.
  • Submitting song info to other services: specifically, Windows Messenger, Xfire, and Skype. integration in particular is a very interesting (and brilliant) idea in my opinion. OpenPandora will log into your account and submit the song that you were listening to according to the following criteria (from the website) “after the track is completed and it was at least 2 minutes long; and if the track was skipped or uncompleted due to station change or marked as “I don’t
    like it” and played at least 2 minutes”. Unfortunately you cannot customize or change these criteria, and I will assume that they make sense even as I do not fully understand the thinking behind this same.
  • Lyrics: this option in theory performs an online search for the lyrics of the currently playing song on an external site; however when I tested it the site was not working properly. It would be nice if they allowed the user to customize the source of the lyrics search.
  • Memory usage: because this is an app that runs with Microsoft .NET, an accurate memory usage might be difficult to come by. It seems to consume as low as 12 megs when minimized to the tray and up to 60 when maximized. Thus this information is probably not useful.
  • Other options: control using global hotkeys, “mini” player, copy song details to clipboard, keep on top of other windows.

The points below illustrate some of the things that you can do with Pandora (and that you can do from within the OpenPandra client).

  • What you the user can do: aside from creating radio stations and rating songs, Pandora provides the ability to quickly find a song or artist, to bookmark songs or artists you encounter, to quickly get information on the artist being played (as well as listening to samples of their other music), to create new radio stations from the song or artist being played (or moving the song to another station you’ve created) and the option to quickly buy the music on Amazon or Itunes. There are a number of “social networking” functions that you can do as well (see below).
  • Sharing stations: what do you do with a cool station that you’ve created? Share it with a friend of course. You can also find other listeners that have similar interests (and yes, you can do all of this from the OpenPandora interface).
  • Quickmix: gives you the ability to listen to a any (or all) of your stations that you created rather than just one; all you have to do to place a check beside the ones you are interested in.
  • What you cannot do with Pandora: in theory you cannot log into Pandora outside the United States for copyright reasons, but it is possible to work around this (see this article). For some reason you have to listen to a song in its entirety or not at all (you cannot skip to the middle). You also can’t go back and listen to a song once you have moved forward.
  • Downloading songs: I was able to do this with Orbit Downloader’s Grab++ module. The songs are in FLV format and are significantly lower in volume once downloaded than what you hear in Pandora (which must somehow amplify them). They are also smaller than a typical 128 kbit MP3 and although I did not extract as MP3’s (FLV Extract will do this) I am guessing that they are lower in quality than the 128kbit minimum standard for near CD-quality. My advice: listen to this as online radio and find your downloads elsewhere.

The verdict: I love both the Pandora music service and OpenPandora and recommend this desktop client wholeheartedly. However, with the release of the official Pandora desktop client you have the option to use that one instead. Here are the reasons why I opted for OpenPandora:

  • Prerequisites: Pandora desktop requires Adobe Air while OpenPandora requires the much more prevalent .NET Framework.
  • Memory usage: even as it is hard to know OpenPandora’s real memory usage, Pandora Desktop with Adobe Air shoots up to well over 100 megs on my machine.
  • The look and feel: although they look so much alike as to be hard to distinguish at times, OpenPandora feels much more like a desktop app, in my opinion. Pandora Desktop sometimes feels like just another instance of the browser.
  • Communicating with Last.Fm (and other services): I find this, which OpenPandora provides, quite interesting. I am hoping they expand on it.
  • Open source: another point in favor of OpenPandora.

Version Tested: 0.6.8

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista. Requires Microsoft .NET Framework.

Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 723K).