While the XBMC desktop port continues, a new player (Boxee) is stepping in to create a (free) unified front-end that layers social networking features on top of traditional media extender functionality. For those unfamiliar with XBMC, I’ll go ahead and quote myself:
when you’ve completed the upgrade, the classic Xbox is more capable, useful, and affordable than most most media extenders out there – including the 360. All sorts of multimedia can be streamed across your home network, played back from the local hard drive, or via the optical drive. Hooks into YouTube and Apple’s movie trailers are included, plus all sorts of other widgets are available.
Of course, that description was specific to the original XBMC running on classic Xbox hardware (XBMC = Xbox Media Center) – but the experience is being translated into a (multiplatform) computer app. While XBMC development has been doing OK on it’s own, it’s still remains largely the province of geeks. To go mainstream, we’ve got to get past compiling code and installing Python scripts. By bringing leadership equivalent to the Mozilla Corporation to bear on this problem, Boxee should be able to speed and enhance development.
Boxee’s currently self funded and the team is comprised of about ten people, including a former Sling Media colleague. I was provided an advance look at a pre-alpha build and found the visual interface both pleasing and speedy, with some innovative new methods of media interaction (think: friends) for this category.
As far as challenges, Boxee’s will be no different – the space is getting crowded and the market for computer-based media centers is finite. According to NewTeeVee, they may ultimately look for hardware partners. My short term suggestion: Let me replace the AppleTV experience. Apple’s hardware is pretty solid and priced right at $229 but, while not quite a wall-garden, software functionality is limited. I assume the XBMC MPEG-2 codec is unlicensed and, as a commercial venture, Boxee will be on the hook for royalties (if they provide playback).
Hit Boxee.tv to request an invite for alpha testing (Mac & Linux), which begins Monday.