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First Look: Boxee - The Social Media Centre

Boxee - the social media centre

Website: Boxee

I'm going to put my hands up straight away and say that in the last few hours my "Linux experience points" have perhaps doubled or trebled. I'm also not afraid to admit that I'm a hardcore Windows user - it's part of my job after all - that started from a tender age learning DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.11, through the pains of early 95, waiting for 98 SE, skipped ME entirely and went to 2000 for a while before jumping on XP the week it came out.

I must have been in a sadistic mood at that time, clearly.

Despite my years of conditioning, I'm certainly not a fanboy of the Microsoft persuasion - I may know its OSes pretty much inside out but that means I also know where its software falls down. However, I'm so used to XP and Vista now, on the brief occasions I've used OSX on my brother's Mac(s) I scream with stress that nothing is where I expect it to be (because it isn't designed to be), and after years of Windows abuse to my soul, my patience has been shredded thin.

So its with some gritted teeth that I agreed to dive into something else once again, after briefly touching Red Hat (quite literally "touching"... the disk) some years ago, I download the latest Ubuntu and got on with installing Boxee. It claims to be a social media centre; yeah, I know what you're thinking - how very web two point zero", but bear with me for a minute.

It's available for both Ubuntu 7.10 or 8.04, or Mac OSX 10.5 (Leopard) which is the flavour I'm sure most of you might try. It's still in the alpha stages but it's a fork off the extremely popular XBMC project - that's Xbox Media Centre for those unfamiliar with the acronym.

First Look: Boxee - The Social Media Centre Getting to grips with Ubuntu and Installation
My own projector screen with me for a size comparison against the usual Vista MCE interface

After talking to the clearly passionate guys behind the software, I felt it was worth the effort to suck up to my demons of ignorance and get on with it. After all, I loved XBMC and I'm keen to find some new media centre software. I only recently sold my original, modified Xbox with XBMC installed after years of hauling it around because it finally can't handle my desire to watch high definition content. You see, I'm a HD fanboy. Not to the point of re-buying my DVD collection (although Sunshine in HD is a glorious audio/visual experience), but to the point of getting or waiting for things in HD if I can do.

Now to power this slight obsession I have the latest edition of PowerDVD 8, a Blu-ray drive for the PC, EMU soundcard and a Gigabyte 780G motherboard with low powered AMD 4850e CPU - it's the perfect machine for a silent, very low cost media centre that powers the projector's 96" display.

It's all about the HD video, but does everything require being social too?

Before looking at Boxee, I had succumb to laziness and used Vista MCE for all non-HD content I wanted to watch I can perch myself on the sofa and use a remote with it or use Media Player Classic: Home Cinema Edition because it includes HD-video acceleration if the 2.5GHz dual-core just doesn't quite cut it. But the thing is, MPC-HC interface is too simple and it's not cool and flashy like Vista MCE, yet Microsoft's Media Centre software is so limited in its complete inability to customise anything about it. MCE is the "one size fits all" that's made for people that aren't like me.

On the social side of things, I've been playing with PowerDVD 8's Moovie Live portion a bit too, but it feels less of a community and more of an interface to add an opinion. I suppose if blogging, forums and commenting are anything to go by, people like to rant so it should be a winning formula.

But it's not - it's trying too hard. It's not a small niche belonging of your mates, and my friends would certainly not bother to shell out to buy PowerDVD 8 for the privilege of joining me.

First Look: Boxee - The Social Media Centre Getting to grips with Ubuntu and Installation First Look: Boxee - The Social Media Centre Getting to grips with Ubuntu and Installation
Click to enlarge

Now you've read my life story here I am, sitting on my sofa looking at the Boxee interface. Getting to this point has been a similar experience to how I'd imagine it would be to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road after years of driving in the UK. Installing Boxee has been full of high points and low points, as well as expletives and there's also been that sense of initial familiarity before realising that what I'm looking at is completely different. The controls in the new car look the same, but the road signs are in a language I can't read and everything comes at me from funny directions.