Pithos for Linux: Pandora Radio Without the Web Browser

Pandora Internet Radio is pretty amazing at creating streaming audio based on music you tell it you like. It does have a couple downsides, however: it uses Flash (with its well-deserved reputation as a memory hog), and it runs inside a web browser. Fortunately, Linux users wanting to free up some system resources have another option: Pithos.

Pithos is a desktop application for GNOME Linux, with a simple interface, cover art, Last.fm scrobbling, proxy support, and desktop notifications. It places an icon in the notification area, so you can keep its main window hidden from view while in use (you only need to bring it forward for station management). And, since it doesn’t use Flash, it’s easier on your processor and RAM than the Pandora web interface.

Get a Pandora Account

Before you use Pithos, however, you’ll need a Pandora account, which you can sign up for at this link.

Create a Pandora account

A basic Pandora account, which offers 40 hours of streaming per month (with a few other restrictions), is free. Pandora One offers unlimited streaming, a desktop client (running on Adobe AIR), and more, for $3 per month. Once you’ve signed up (the free account works just fine), and verified that your account works, head to the Pithos home page.

Installing Pithos on Ubuntu

For Ubuntu users running either 9.10, 10.04, 10.10 or the soon-to-be-released 11.04, installing Pithos is a simple series of three Terminal commands. Enter each command in order:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kevin-mehall/pithos-daily

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install pithos

That’s it! Pithos should now appear in your Applications menu in the Sound & Video section.

Note: As the PPA is only for Ubuntu, users of Debian and Debian-based distros will need to download the Pithos source and compile the binary. Detailed instructions for this can be found on the Pithos home page.

Setting Up Pithos

The first time you open Pithos, you’ll need to input your username and password (the one you just signed up for).

Pithos preferences window

You can also choose whether or not to show song notifications, the notification area icon, and whether or not Pithos should pause playback when a screensaver is running. If you use Last.fm scrobbling, you can set that up as well. When you click to authorize scrobbling, you’ll be taken to the Last.fm website, where you can grant Pithos access.

Last.fm scrobbling notification

Once this is finished, return to Pithos, click the button, and you’re done setting it up. The main window will now appear.

Main window

Using Pithos

If you’ve used Pandora before, Pithos should now start playing your QuickMix station. You can also choose any station you want from the drop down menu.

Pithos station drop down menu

If you don’t currently have any stations set up, it’s time to create some. Click the little menu icon in the toolbar and choose the Manage Stations option.

Manage Pithos radio stations

Here you can manage existing stations. You can add, delete, rename, get information, as well as add or remove a station from your QuickMix station. Adding a station is as simple as clicking the Add button, then searching for a favorite artist or song. You’ll see a results list, allowing you to choose the closest match.

Station creation

Once you get your stations set up to your liking, they’ll appear in the drop down menu on the main interface. From here you can choose a new station, pause playback, advance to the next song, adjust the volume and get station information on the Pandora website. Right clicking on a song gives you even more options.

Song options menu

You can get song info, mark a song as one you love, identify it as one you’re tired of, or ban it entirely. Finally, you can bookmark either a song or artist.

Finally, Pithos offers a notification area icon, which provides some of the same options.

Notification icon

You can pause Pithos, advance to the next track, or use the Love, Ban or Tired features. And while you won’t be able to manage your stations (or access a few of the song-specific features mentioned earlier), you can also show the main interface to gain access

Why Use Pithos?

Frankly, there are two big reasons to use Pithos: system resources usage and desktop integration.

As you can see from the two images below, Pandora’s web interface requires much more processing power and memory to run. In standard use, on a Dell Inspiron 1545 with 2 GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (dual-core 2.0 GHz), Firefox and the Flash plugin combine to use roughly 33 percent of system’s processing power and 10 percent of its RAM.

Pandora web interface memory usage

Compare that to Pithos. It uses only 4 percent of the system’s processing power and less than 2 percent of its RAM.

Pithos memory usage

Desktop integration the other big reason to use Pithos over the Pandora web interface.

Desktop notifications

Whether it is the default notification bubbles displayed on track changes (shown above), the panel icon, the native interface or the media key support (if your keyboard has pause, mute or forward/backward buttons, Pithos can use them), Pithos simply “fits” into the GNOME Linux desktop.

Why You Shouldn’t Get Too Comfortable Using Pithos

On the other hand, there is a very real possibility that Pandora will change something on their website, something that could “break” Pithos. It could be tonight; it could be tomorrow, but that day will come.

This is because neither Pithos nor Pianobar (the command line interface on which Pithos is based), is an official Pandora “product.” They’re amazing hacks, but hacks nonetheless. At some point, and it happens with most unofficial third-party workarounds, Pandora will modify the website layout or streaming protocols, and Pithos will stop working, at least until a change can be made. Until then, you’ll have to use Pandora to keep your streaming music.

Still, Pithos, at the moment, is an amazing piece of software. It’s a far better experience than the Pandora web interface, is easier on your system resources, and fits in with the GNOME Linux desktop. Definitely give it a try.

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