Magnetosphere: Turn on and (i)Tune(s) Out

An open-source alternative to standard music visualizers

The repetitive graphics of most iTunes visualizers are about as appealing as The Osmond Family doing an album of Public Enemy covers. But just in time for springtime party season, The Barbarian Group (usually a crackerjack Web design team; now, all of a sudden, software developers) has released Magnetosphere, a mesmerizing new open-source plugin you can customize to pulse and glimmer according to your own personal tripping-out style.

Compatible with Mac OSX and most versions of Windows (probably works with Linux, too, but we haven't tried it yet), Magnetosphere takes about a minute to install and run. The graphics are superior to any of the myriad other visualizers available right now and you can even adjust the sensitivity of the on-screen splashes and sparks by hitting the + and – keys, or add and subtract the number of particles in each image with the A and S keys. Be careful, though: If you go crazy with the key punching, your computer will get a little angry and, Fred Sanford-style, call you a dummy by freezing the app. That's why this is the beta version. While Barbarian works the kinks out, just restart iTunes and all is well.

Developer-types will appreciate that Magnetosphere was built in the open-source environment, Processing, and is licensed as freeware for non-commercial use (mushrooms not included). This is the first of five upcoming software releases from Barbarian, and I'm anxious to see what comes next. In the meantime, excuse me while I get back to staring at my computer screen. —Adam Dorn (Mocean Worker)