Saturday, 28 November 2015

Web browsers, music players, workarounds, and PulseAudio

As security researchers have discovered yet another horrible security bug in Chrome, and Google yet again decides to put off fixing it, I decided to finally give up Chrome entirely. I had dwindled down my usage of it from primary browser in 2009; to secondary browser for Flash and videos in 2013; and finally using it solely for streaming Google Play Music and Spotify, along with the occasional site compatibility test for my work, in 2015. Firefox's inspector tools and Firebug are good enough, and I have a Mac running Safari if I need a WebKit test, so I decided it was no longer important to test on Chrome. That left the issue of music streaming.

Can't handle it, can't handle it

Google Play Music, however, has a fatal flaw. It is a mess of terrible "one page" JavaScript. After only a few hours of music streaming, it had already leaked 150 MB(!) worth of orphan DOM nodes, and 282 MB(!!!!) worth of uncollectable JavaScript objects. This basically means it created buttons, links, and so on, and didn't properly remove them when it was done, so that memory is leaked out and I would have to restart Firefox to get that memory back. Restarting Firefox multiple times a day is not an option for me.

What's worse is that one of Firefox's best and most unknown features was also making my life worse. Every 10 seconds, it scans its memory to see if any of it can be reclaimed, to make sure that it does not use too much memory. Since Google Play Music's interface had leaked so much memory, the scan was taking about 2 seconds - during which the browser became completely unresponsive. That means that for about 20% of the entire time it was open, it was unresponsive (frozen, locked, etc), all because Google has no idea how to write JavaScript.

My mother (bless her soul, she's openly embraced Debian) suggested I try Rekonq, but it could not even load Google Play Music's user interface. I also tried Opera Classic (pre-Blink), and it too could not load Google Play Music. At this point I am very upset at Google; why did you write such a cluster#*$@ of terrible code instead of writing a simple multi-page player like YouTube? YouTube does not suffer from any of these issues, and is a Google product!* Anyway, my next goal was to see what I could do for streaming music that did not require a Web browser.

* I am aware that YouTube has a single-page mode, but I found a way to disable it except while using playlists. It works great and does not leak half a gigabyte of memory.

Done, done, and I'm on to the next one

It turns out that Google Play Music has no official API and no non-browser clients. Even Spotify has unofficial ones that are of questionable quality and legality, but Google has done a very good job of making their API so hard to use that nobody bothers to even try with them. (Future project idea.)

Then I realised their Android app is pretty reliable and certainly better than having my browser locked for 20% of the time it's open. However, I still need to be able to hear other things on my computer (if someone links me to a video or presentation, for instance), and I don't want to have to keep flipping back and forth between my phone and desktop.

My work-provided desktop did not come with a sound card (even though we use sound a lot internally...), so I am using a USB Griffin iMic as my sound "card". It works fantastically in Linux/ALSA, but one thing I could not figure out was how to make it play line in as a monitor (i.e. playthrough, listening to line in/mic with headphones/out, whatever you like to call it). Thankfully, I found a very helpful blog post about this very issue, and a solution involving PulseAudio: pactl load-module module-loopback was all it took to listen to crystal-clear, low-latency, glorious Nexus audio on my desktop!

Final thoughts

  • While it certainly is great that PulseAudio offers the same great passthrough functionality that OS X had since Jaguar (and lost in Mavericks), they really need to document PulseAudio modules better.
  • Google needs to rethink making their music player in one page JavaScript. A native app would be amazing and make me a much happier catfox.
  • It just feels like... if Google hadn't royally screwed up Chrome, and they hadn't royally screwed up their music player, then hours of my life would have been saved because then I would not have had to learn how to monitor line in within Linux. It was interesting learning all this, but I still have this feeling that it should be entirely unnecessary, and like this is a very unclean workaround for what amounts to "Google is terrible at writing code".

Oh well, at least Android 6.0 is good. (For now.)

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