Flex/Flash/Actionscript

Introducing MuxMaster – a kickass open-source Muxtape player/downloader built with Flex and AIR

MuxMaster is an open-source desktop player to browse, play, and download Muxtape mixes. It is an AIR application that lets you stream music from Muxtape, explore different mixes to find new music, and even download tracks and entire playlists to your computer with a single click.

UPDATE: After being contacted by the creator of Muxtape I have decided that it is in the best interest of the Muxtape service to remove the download functionality from MuxMaster. I was torn about this, but for now the downloading features are removed.
This movie requires Flash Player 9.

If the above install link doesn’t work, do this:

  1. Make sure you have the AIR runtime, if you need to download it from Adobe
  2. Download and run the MuxMaster installer

Here are a few screenshots:
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Why did I make this?
I like Muxtape. Like a lot of software/web guys, I saw the clean interface and the barren source code and was immediately impressed. I mean, the dude did a fantastic job. It was just so damn clean.

Then a few days ago people went ga-ga over this video of some dude showing muxtape mixes using the Coverflow visualization to browse through them. OK, so that’s cool, except it uses a Mac-only application called Fluid to basically add normal Mac desktop functionality to web apps. That shit got dugg like 750 times. Now I’m not saying it’s not cool, cause it is. But I figured I could probably whip up a Flex application pretty quickly using the Coverflow component I released before and get a real desktop application that anyone could download and use. Oh, and I thought it would be neat to add downloading functionality too.

So I threw MuxMaster together over the past 3 nights. I like to think of it as a testament to the badassness of Flex and the open-source Flex/Flash community. The fact that I can grab some open source stuff and throw this together in almost no time is pretty cool.

What kind of an application is this?
MuxMaster is an Adobe AIR application, built with Flex. That means it’s a desktop application that can run on Windows, Mac, Linux, whatever. Click the “Install Now” link above to install the app. You might need to go and download the AIR runtime first. Hopefully it’ll tell you that and do everything automagically.

The Muxtape API
Muxtape has no API. But the HTML code is so sleek and beautifully clean. Go look at the source code for the HTML pages on muxtape.com. It’s ridiculous how sparse it is. And of course it validates as valid XML. So what? Well, nice XHTML like that is just as good as the best XML API you can ask for. You want to get a listing of some random Muxtapes? Just load up the XHTML on the Muxtape home page and parse out the list of users. Using E4X you can get a list of users with this single expression: body.div.div.ul.li.a. It’s almost too easy. So then when you get a username you just load that user’s HTML page and you can easily parse the list of songs (body.div.ul.li) or related users (body.div.div.div.ul.li.a). There’s a little trickery involved to figure out exactly how to construct the URLs for the MP3s, but it’s pretty easy to figure out. After a little parsing you can get a list of MP3 URLs and the data about each song, like artist, track title, duration, etc.

Downloading songs

UPDATE: After being contacted by the creator of Muxtape I have decided that it is in the best interest of the Muxtape service to remove the download functionality from MuxMaster. I was torn about this, but for now the downloading features are removed.

The thing about Muxtape is that all the songs are just MP3s stored on Amazon S3. If you know the URL you can download the file. The main Muxtape player doesn’t expose this functionality, but if you take a look at the files that the web-based player is loading you can just copy/paste the URL and load it into a web browser to save the file. So I just made that a bit easier. MuxMaster has a Download link for each song underneath the song name. One click and the song will download in the background (you can specify where you want songs to download to). Additionally, each playlist also has a Download All link, so with a single click you can download all the songs in the playlist.

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Is this bad?
There’s a whole ethical dilemma that we can spend forever discussing. Is this application against everything that Muxtape stands for (clean, simple, bare-bones UI)? Is adding download functionality quickening the shutdown of the service? Is this effectively taking a step toward destroying the service that I actually really enjoy using? Yeah, the answer to all those might be yes.

Yes, the excessive use of 3D and especially the over-used Coverflow visualization are exactly opposite to the perfectly clean design concept of Muxtape. The truth is, I hate Coverflow. But people gravitate toward it and seem to love it, so I figured it’d be fun to whip something up and see the response. And it was just so damn easy.

And yes, being able to download an entire mix with a single click may very well be a horrible thing for Muxtape as a whole. I assume the service is already on the radar of the lawyer-crazy music execs, and if it’s not now I assume it will be if it gets big enough. But the technology underneath the service was just so simple (I mean, really? just let people throw a bunch of MP3s up on Amazon S3?) that someone would have shown how to download all those songs soon enough. So I’ll definitely feel bad if this app has a negative effect on Muxtape, but come on, it’s something I whipped up in a few days, someone was bound to do it.

Source code
I’m releasing all the source code for the application. When you install the AIR application you can right click and select “View source” to see all the code. Or you can view the source here. It’s small (16 files, 898 total lines of code). And the code was influenced by the minimalist design of the Muxtap app itself, so I tried to keep things extremely tidy and clean.

I used a few open-source flex libraries. The most obvious one is the Coverflow Flex component that I created and released on my blog. That’s licensed under the MIT license, so you can take that component and add this type of Coverflow visualization to your Flex apps. The Coverflow visualization uses the Papervision 3D library, which is a 3D engine for Flash. It’s badass and free (MIT license). The other Flex library I used is FlexLib, which was used for the FlowBox container. That component can be seen when you download songs. It’s the container that lays out the little download rectangles. FlexLib is also licensed under the MIT license (is there a pattern forming?).

The source code for MuxMaster, like all code released on my blog, is also licensed under the MIT license, which you can read here. Basically you can do whatever you want with the code.

What’s next?
I don’t know if I’m going to do anything more with this application. The app does rely on the format of the HTML pages on Muxtape, so if the creator of Muxtape decides to try to break MuxMaster he probably can, and I’d have to update it to get it to work again. I might do updates like that to keep it working. If people have feature request I’d love to hear them, but I’d encourage other developers to take my source code and add the stuff that they want. If you have feedback shoot me a message using my contact form or leave comments here. I don’t have any big plans, this was fun to make.

Legal nonsense
This application doesn’t contain any music files whatsoever. I am not storing any music files on my server or any server that I am associated with. I am not providing a list of any music files stored anywhere on the Internet. I don’t have any information about how to find music files stored in any database or anywhere in the entire galaxy. If you’re a lawyer looking to scratch that soul-destroying litigious itch that you have, I’m the wrong guy to talk to.

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Flex/Flash/Actionscript

Flex CoverFlow performance improvement, Flex Carousel Component, and Vertical CoverFlow

UPDATE: Feb 26, 2008
I have updated the CoverFlow library a bit and added support for adding children without explicitly setting the width and height of the children (ie using the normal Flex auto-sizing validation stuff). Grab the latest source code here.

I’ve made some much needed performance improvements to the Flex CoverFlow component I released a few days ago. I’ve also taken the concept of 3D Flex containers a little further and added a 3D Carousel container and a vertical version of CoverFlow. Source code here.

Check out the performance now and stop whining (oh, and notice that this blog post has 3 of these embedded 3D components):

This movie requires Flash Player 9.

Performance improvements
When I first released the component I took the shotgun approach to rendering, which meant I rendered the entire scene every frame and all the materials were animated. This is the lazy approach that ensures that the 3D scene always looks right, but it also kills performance. So you poor people out there with computers from the 1980s complained that the component made your browser shoot up to 110% cpu and all that. Instead of telling you to get faster computers I decided to make a few small modifications to speed things up.

First, instead of rendering every frame we’re now rendering only while the animation is happening. This is a sweet improvement that Brock Brinkerhoff suggested in an email he sent me (thanks Brock!). Basically in our enter frame handler we check if Tweener is currently tweening the selected child. If so, we make PaperVision 3D render the scene. If not we just ignore and don’t waste CPU power. This means that once the movement has stopped (ie the selected child comes to rest in the center), the component no longer uses much CPU at all.

The second improvement was to not use animated materials. I added a new material that I called FlexMaterial (and the associated reflected version, ReflectionFlexMaterial). This material is non animated, but listens for FlexEvent.UPDATE_COMPLETE events fired from the child (and all of the child’s children if it has any). Whenever an updateComplete event fires the material re-renders. This ensures that our material is always up-to-date. One note about this: if you have animations in your child components that do not dispatch updateComplete events you’ll have to manually dispatch updateComplete over and over. This is pretty easy, basically what I did for a child that I wanted animated was add the following code in MXML:
enterFrame="event.currentTarget.dispatchEvent(new FlexEvent(FlexEvent.UPDATE_COMPLETE))"
and that ensures that the child will always be updated.

Oh, and while I was at it I made a modification to get around the z-ordering issue. This was a problem when you selected one of the planes that was not directly next to the selected one. When the selected plane moved back into place it would move through the other planes on its way. Now we push the selected plane straight back at a faster rate than it moves sideways, seems to have pretty much fixed the issue (at least good enough for my eyes).

This movie requires Flash Player 9.

Vertical CoverFlow
I refactored the code a little bit to allow me to easily change the 3D layout. This let me crank out a vertical version of the CoverFlow component in no time, shown here on the right. This is almost all the same code, just tweaked to lay things out vertically instead of horizontally. I figure this can be used for a sidebar widget. I had to remove the sweet web 2.0 reflections cause I didn’t know where they would go. The cool part about the refactored code is that the base component handles all the core stuff (like creating the 3d scene and planes, etc) and then each extension can simply modify the layout method. Sweet.


Carousel Flex Component
And while I was playing I couldn’t help taking some of Lee Brimelow’s code and making a 3D carousel Flex component. Thanks to Lee for doing the math for me. So here’s a Flex container to do that 3D carousel thingy. One sweet thing is that I took the same approach to preserve full interactivity of the child components. When the selected child is rotated to completely face the user the real child is swapped with the 3D plane and you can fully interact with it just like in a normal Flex app.

This movie requires Flash Player 9.

Take it further
So if you take a look at the source code you’ll see that I’ve created a BasePV3DContainer, which extends ViewStack and creates 3D planes for each child in the container. The idea here is that you can create an extension of this class and implement the layoutChildren() method and make up your own 3D container component. I wouldn’t say the base class I’ve provided is perfect, there’s certainly some code that should get moved around or done differently, but you can figure it out (hell, it’s only 300 some lines of code with comments). If you make any other 3D container Flex components then either post a comment here or drop me an email: doug@dougmccune.com.

Get the source
(Note that this source package include the CoverFlow, Vertical CoverFlow, and Carousel components, as well as an example showing using the CoverFlow component with Flex controls. This does not include the iTunes examples in this post. I’m too lazy to clean that code up well enough to give out.)

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