The Future has Arrived (and Apple Didn’t Make it!)

26 April, 2009

So, next week is finals week for me which means it’s my job, as a responsible student taking charge of her own education, to slack off as efficiently as possible. I have been having issues upgrading to Jaunty, so I couldn’t toy around with that. Instead, I decided to haul back out my copy of Boxee and give it a second chance.

I first read about Boxee about a month ago in a Wired article. It’s basically a glorified browser that allows you to access a variety of online multimedia sources like pandora radio, youtube, flickr, and sometimes hulu (more on that later). It can also play the media on your hard drive, including your music, movies, television shows, and pictures. What really sets Boxee apart, however, is the integration of an excellent social networking concept that allows you to register friends and share your faves with them. You can rate pretty much every piece of media you see or hear, and your high rated media shows up in your friends’ browsers under a dedicated column. You can also recommend media for one specific person. Did I mention that its UI is hella’ cool??

Now, before you get too excited, there are a few gotchas and some of them are BIG. Boxee is alpha software, even less polished than a beta release. It’s surprisingly stable for an alpha release and once you learn the things that piss it off, you can devise workarounds. But there are definitely things that piss it off- if you’re looking for rock-solid stability you’ll probably develop a tick if you use this program for too long. But heck, you’re a linux user, rock-solid stability isn’t even in your vocabulary, right?

The other major gotcha isn’t actually Boxee’s fault. Because the idea of a centrally located media center is fairly new, content providers haven’t quite figured out how to handle this brave new world. Some have jumped in headfirst, like youtube, while others, like netflix, have been less than eager to leave the shallow end of the pool and swim with the big kids. Thus, the online media menu is a bit spastic though there is a net gain in content over time.

Perhaps an example of how to totally screw it up is Hulu. I love hulu, don’t get me wrong. It was hulu that allowed me to drop kick my cable box into the Pacific. But the folks at hulu have been real bitches about this Boxee thing. Not too long after boxee went public, hulu demanded they remove its content. Then they made a blog post explaining that while they thought boxee was a good idea, their content providers were raising hell. What apparently they thought their readers didn’t know is that hulu is the content providers- it’s a joint venture between Fox and NBC. Because if cutting out a notable portion of your userbase doesn’t disgruntle them, being condescending should do it! In any case, it’s turning into an all out slugfest between boxee and hulu. Sometimes hulu programming is available (as it is when I write this) and sometimes it’s not (as it was when I first downloaded boxee) so don’t switch to boxee just for a slicker hulu interface.

Gotcha’s out of the way, I have to admit that I’m am extraordinarily impressed with boxee, and especially the how far it’s come from extraordinarily humble beginnings. When I first downloaded it three weeks ago it was essentially a very cool looking interface with no actual substance. None of the videos worked, hulu was down, there was a gorgeous and incredibly tempting netflix button that did absolutely nothing, and it froze if you so much as thought about playing music.

I downloaded the newest upgrade today and to say they’ve made progress is a gross understatement. Netflix is still unavailable on computers that lack the silverlight engine (that means us, fellow denizens of Ubuntuland) but pretty much everything else is at least basically functional- videos play, hulu is accessible, and some of my music collection shows up in the interface. For me, that’s enough functionality to win me back. I am also deeply and irretrievably in love with the keyboard only interface: a wireless keyboard is all you need to control it from the comfort of your couch!

If you need convincing (don’t know why you would, it’s free software!) check out some screenies that I shot earlier. From the top: the internet video screen with the main menu off to the side, the music selection screen, an album review page, hulu, and the awesome pandora interface.





Last but not least, there is apparently a poll going as to what exactly the Boxee logo represents. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a frog with mental health issues.


One comment

  1. Boxee!
    I’ve had it since the windows pre-alpha came out, and ive used it so much and love it! I have a dedicated machine for boxee hooked up to a external monitor, and a projector! So, its like my media command centre!

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