Best internet Radio: Last FM or Pandora?

I often listen to music while working. It’s a common practice I think, and while the traditional approach has been to use the trusty FM and AM signals broadcast by local radio stations more and more people are opting for internet radio. There are two main types of internet radio that I know of. The first kind is just like your traditional radio station. You don’t really interact with what you hear you merely tune in. The main difference is that you use a URL to tune in instead of a frequency. The advantages of this are greater selection and maybe fewer advertisements.

The other type is streaming audio that is dynamically determined by your interactions and preferences. Pandora and LastFM are the two most popular examples of this that I am aware of. A major difference between these two very cool applications that isn’t readily apparent is the way they decide what music to play for you. Other more obvious differences have to do with user interface.


Pandora Logo

Pandora’s recommendations are based on the intrinsic qualities of the music. Give Pandora an artist or song, and it will find similar music in terms of melody, harmony, lyrics, orchestration, vocal character and so on. Pandora likes to call these musical attributes “genes” and its database of songs, classified against hundreds of such attributes, the “Music Genome Project.”

Pandora runs in your web browser. Which means to use it all you have to do is go to their website. They have a really nice interface, the only downside of which is that it requires a flash plugin (this isn’t an issue for most people, and as a side note Pandora actually uses a open source alternative to Adobe Flash called Open Laszlo. Well done Pandora development team!). Pandora’s methods for letting you add stations, and for mixing up different genres and artists is very intuitive and has made for some interesting mixes for me. The downside is that if you have a somewhat slow connection it may take some time to load up. In the era of tabbed browsers it is no problem at all to leave a tab with this running. The drawback of this browser dependent approach is that you are going to have to come back to the proper browser tab if you want to rate a song, change the volume independently of other sources, or just figure out whats playing. I have heard a rumor about a desktop widget type of thing that can control Pandora, and if not that there are bound to be browser plugins that show up to deal with this inconvenience.


  • intuitive fun user interface
  • good method for building stations
  • good information on artists
  • information on your friends listening habits
  • fast initial setup
  • good for finding music with very specific sound


  • advertisements, (not in the music though)
  • stuck in the browser
  • seems to play a lot of repeats on some stations

Last FM:

LastFM Icon is a social recommender. It knows just a little bit about a songs’ intrinsic qualities. It just assumes that if you and a group of other people enjoy many of the same artists, you will probably enjoy other artists popular with that group.

LastFm can be run from your browser, from a lastFM program that you install, or from plugins within many popular music programs. and using a plugin lastFM can learn about your music preferences from any music you listen to, not just what you listen to in lastFM itself. This is a pretty powerful way to get worthwhile music recommendations. The upside of the plugin and independent player are that you can control the music without having to navigate back to the proper tab in the browser. You don’t get some of the flashy effects and animation that are so impressive on Pandora, and the initial set up can take a little longer, but in my opinion the trade off is totally worth it. The Last FM player, and plugin are also open source, which I am obviously a fan of. Another advantage is the lack of advertisements. Of course there are adds on their site and well placed links to click if you want to buy music but other than that you won’t be solicited in any way.


  • no browser lock in
  • great new music suggestions!
  • good information on artists
  • even more information on your friends listening habits!
  • open source
  • good for finding music you like in wide variation of styles and sounds


  • take more time and effort to get going
  • no frills, just music (potentially a good thing…)


Both Pandora and LastFM are amazingly cool tools that help people enjoy and discover new music. Both are well executed, and both have unique advantages. I prefer LastFM for the variety and types of music that it recommends and for the way I interact with the player. I still use Pandora from time to time, and would recommend it especially for more casual users.

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Linux Mint

I have switched to a new distro on my laptop. I have been quite impressed overall with this Ubuntu derivative called Mint. I use my laptop for web development and all the more common/less geeky things like editing photos, browsing the internet, listening to music, and doing office work. Mint has performed beautifully in all areas. While it doesn’t do much that Ubuntu can’t, its many steps closer to the ‘just works’ OS, and that makes mint my current top recommendation for anyone considering giving Linux a try

mint logoLinux Mint has some important advantages over Ubuntu. A number of them have to do with appearance, some are functional, and others have to do with system stability.

First up is appearance. Compared to Ubuntu’s dull defaults Mint comes with a more visually appealing theme and a nice selection of desktop backgrounds. For users accustomed to Linux those are very minor conveniences which wouldn’t really be worth the switch. I am no expert with customizing Linux look and feel, but I thought I had a pretty decent handle on it. That said, Mint has improved a number of small touches to the look and feel that are beyond what I knew how to do – boot and login screens are examples of this. Good fine grain aesthetics are hard to describe, but my opinion is that the polish is pretty good, definitely superior to any distro I have seen out of the box.

Beyond looks Mint feels a little smother once you get to working with it. Some things work better, and others are just slightly more convenient. For example:

  • It comes with a simple configuration interface for Composition installed. You can get this and better on Ubuntu too, but since it doesn’t come installed its one of those things that many people stumble over when they are new. It took me hours to get the cube going the first time I installed Ubuntu!
  • an all in one menu with some nice built in filters
  • less frequent updates
  • “open as root” is just a nice option for those who like to use the gui file manager, but still want to be able to do power user tasks.
  • The terminal is more friendly to my eyes as it comes with some nice color coding, and there are fun fortunes to boot! (if you enable them during the install…)
  • numerous codecs pre-installed
  • gnome-do pre installed
  • installing new programs – most of the time I use synaptic, but for less experienced users mints customs system would pretty nice I think
  • I don’t know why but my javascript animations in Firefox are just smoother and certain things print anti-aliased that didn’t with Ubuntu – like Dia projects.

Part of the ‘just works’ idea is that you don’t have to constantly fiddle with things to keep it working. Its why a friend of mine loves Macs, less time tinkering with the system, more time doing real work. Some people think the tinkering keeps them sharp and in a good state of mind regarding their machine… I digress. Mint requires less tinkering, but like any open source software will still let you if so inclined. An important contributor to this stability is that Mint uses a custom update system that rates updates on the likelihood that they will cause problems. The result is a more stable, but half a step behind environment. So long as you aren’t concerned with having the latest software the day it comes out this shouldn’t be an issue. I myself run a development build of Ubuntu on another machine, and while I like playing with the bleeding edge stuff, I also have come to really appreciate the stability of Mint. As a disclaimer I am not at all entering the discussion of mint as a server. I think it is meant to be a desktop not a server, and the stability I am referring to is all about the desktop.

With Ubuntu 8.10 due out in days I am eager for the release of Mint 6 that will follow shortly after. I hope to add an article on customizing the desktop and maybe another on setting up a Groovy and Grails development environment after that release.

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