The Boxee Situation

boxxy-wins

Wait, who are we talking about again?

What follows are entirely my own views and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Team XBMC, any members of Team XBMC, or any partners and affliates of Team XBMC.

A few months ago I wrote a post describing my understanding of the differences between Plex and XBMC. Today I’ll probably do the same thing with Boxee, but first I’d like to say a few words.

To begin with, the relationship between Boxee and XBMC has always been a pretty good one. Boxee helped us set up our Foundation. Boxee paid for our very first developer conference. While there hasn’t been a great deal of code exchanged between the two communities, this has much more to do with the different coding methods a person will always find between a non-profit foundation whose income is not based on hitting deadlines and a for-profit company who absolutely must hit deadlines or suffer the wrath of the press and the public. That’s the nature of the beast and not much can be done about it.

As a non-profit, XBMC is likely never going to be in the position that Boxee has found itself in recently. XBMC is an example of an “upstream” project. We provide the code that can (and I stress can) be used by our users, but can also be by for-profit companies to make awesome boxes and software projects. Because we are relatively small (unlike Mozilla, for e.g.) and because the vast majority of code is provided for free by developers, we are not subject to market shifts and the realities of trying to make partners happy. If, for example, we partnered with Netflix tomorrow and six months down the line, they told us they didn’t like the fact that we used FFMPEG to decode non-Netflix material, we could simply shrug and part ways with Netflix. If, on the other hand, our livelihoods and profitability depended on the largess of Netflix, and they told us they didn’t like FFMPEG, we’d be in some hot soup indeed.

In this world of DRM and content locked up tighter than… something (sorry, I’m terrible at analogies), that’s reality. If VCRs had been invented in 2011, they’d be illegal. If CDs had been invented in 2001, iTunes wouldn’t exist, because DRM would have been included on CDs, iTunes would have been illegal, and the company that we all know and love called Apple would be a marginally struggling company known for cool computers and not quite as spectacular profit margins.

Put simply, public policy right now is in the hands of content providers who absolutely will not give up the imaginary ghost of content control until their proverbial hands have been squeezed so tight that all the remainder of the content has been forced from their fingers. Princess Leia would be chuckling in delight. Louis CK doesn’t understand that the MPAA doesn’t give two craps about whether a DRM-free world is possible and profitable. They only care about whether it is controllable and re-packageable. Congress doesn’t seem to get that, by slowly picking apart Fair Use and the First Sale doctrines, they are destroying the free market and creating a bubble economy based exclusively on rent-seeking income practices that hinder growth and destroy jobs. The idea that streaming a movie over the internet is legally a public performance, when, in every technological sense, it is exactly the same as playing a dvd over a really, really long cord, is the height of legal absurdity. I weep for the inability of the legal and rule-making profession in America to keep any kind of pace with technology, and I vigorously oppose modern laws designed to punish content consumers and content creators, so that a wealthy subset of content owners can profit enormously at the expense of all.

But I digress.

As a member of Team XBMC, I can afford to take a stand like that, because doing so doesn’t especially affect my livelihood. The employees of Boxee don’t get that privilege, because the moment they decide to step out of a corrupt system in order to fight it is the moment they get to start living on the streets. It is for this reason that I do not fault Boxee for leaving the HTPC by the wayside. It is for this reason that I do not fault Netflix for imposing hefty (and totally useless*) DRM on their video streams. The only individuals I fault are the rent-seeking content owners and the congressmen and women willing to debase themselves for campaign dollars.

*Seriously, the moment you can point to DRM effectively preventing a movie from being pirated in bit-perfect quality is the moment I’ll grant that DRM works. Until DRM actually prevents piracy, the ONLY thing it does is prevent genuinely appreciative users who actually want to pay for content from watching a movie the way they want to watch it. DRM is the modern equivalent of forcing users of Sony Walkmen to only use Sony Headphones. 

Nevertheless, as of December 26th, Boxee has decided to move out of the realm of HTPC software, and into the realm of SoC boxes exclusively, and so Boxee users want to know if XBMC is a viable alternative to switch to. Let me say to these users, “Yes, absolutely. As I have said before, using XBMC will make men (or women) want to be you, and women (or men) want to be with you. You will likely get awesome seats at awesome tables in exclusive restaurants now (if you are already rich and famous). And you will suddenly develop a taste for incredibly disgusting plants/fish eggs served on tiny crackers (probably).”

And, to answer your question in a slightly less sarcastic way, Boxee and XBMC are actually fairly similar programs (which makes sense, given that only 3 years ago they were the exact same program).  My understanding is that Boxee is slightly more forgiving about names and locations when scraping your local media.  XBMC is MUCH more forgiving if you don’t like the default look, as we provide a host of alternative skin addons (including one designed to mimic Boxee to some extent called Xeebo).

Perhaps the greatest difference between the programs, other than the skinning thing, is Boxee’s built in web browser. XBMC does not have one of those. This means, where Boxee could host numorous Boxee plugins that called videos from the internet by connecting using a built-in web browser, XBMC can host zero such plugins without the approval of the service provider.* Most XBMC users, however, ignore this limitation and simply install additional addon repositories that CAN connect to web streaming services. The most famous of these repositories is the bluecop repository. You can find a list of these unofficial addons at: http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Unofficial_add-on_repositories

*Actually, to my knowledge, whether we can or cannot host such addons has not been tested in court, so nobody actually knows the answer to the question. I’m relatively certain that no one ever took Boxee to court over their web streaming methods, and so the entire process is a big legal question mark. We at XBMC figure it’s easier to be safe than sorry, particularly as our users are fairly bright and tend to have no problem installing an unofficial addon or two.

I hope that’s answered your questions, and I hope I didn’t upset anyone with my political rant. Natalie, what do you think about wealthy, powerful individuals seeking to destroy creativity and jobs in the name of control and wealth?

V-for-Vendetta-1

"Damn the man, save the Empire!"

Oh… um, I think we’re mixing our movie quotes here. (Also, our actresses who shaved their heads for a movie role.)

Update: Before any poorly thought out comments crop up, I would like to reiterate that I am not advocating piracy. In fact, if you read with any kind of thoroughness, you’ll see that I’m expressly advocating against piracy and, specifically, against the painfully useless means to fight piracy that are popular in the current day and age. Because this is my blog, I will have absolutely no problem deleting comments advocating piracy and will have very little tolerance for negative comments against either Boxee or Netflix. Fair warning.

12 comments
  1. zarif said:

    Nathan, even as a consumer I can say EVERYONE agrees with you. Most of us, are willing to pay for content, the worst part is, the content providers are senile old fools who dont know how to change their business model to accommodate us, the consumers.

    They are following the footsteps of Kodak and Ford. (If they are reading this then they should know what I am talking about) :P

    They think DRM, SOPA and other bills are there to prevent to piracy, but it is not working and when will they understand that?? Being tech illiterates they have no clue they are actually blocking “innovation” and “creating jobs”. I used the two catch phrases because that is all they can pick up on. Even then I question their ability to grasp these 2 concepts. They also have failed to realize, that the market share and profit they are losing can be recuperated via other business models, such as ones through Boxee, Netflix, Hulu (NOT APPLE for obvious reasons lol).

    Anyways, my rants aside, love XMBC and hope you guys keep up the amazing work.

    Cheers

    From down under.

  2. Peter said:

    Money rules it all now. Big Brother is born and alive and NOT where Orvell thought it will. Compact cassette, motorbike would never be used if invented today. You are perfectly right. Today even if someone is going to do anything for public domain, will be drawn in legal notices far before will do anything.

  3. Because this is my blog, I will have absolutely no problem deleting comments advocating piracy and will have very little tolerance for negative comments against either Boxee or Netflix. Fair warning.

    Nice…and thanks for the explanation.

  4. Jon Oakes said:

    I like Boxee AND Netflix and I REALLY like XBMC.. I’ve even played with GoogleTV and AppleTV. I like to consume media that I’ve legally acquired in a way that’s convenient for me to do so and XBMC is a great way to do that. I am not a pirate. That being said, let me tell you, it’s TRIVIAL to pirate any show, any movie even days or weeks ahead of release. It will ALWAYS be trivial. There is no way to truly stop it because at the end of the day, DRM is a lock and any lock can be picked.

    The SOPA and Protect IP acts that are poised to pass are due solely the heavy lobbying done by the big media companies who, I think, are reacting to anger and/or fear by their investors who are ignorant and don’t understand that all payment for Intellectual Property is voluntary and HAS been since the beginning.

    Information wants to be free, it’ll find a way out to the biggest market. Those that appreciate it will pay for it and the amount of people willing to do so is enormous, especially in the age of the Internet. The recent Louis CK experiment is a good example, but it’s not the only example.

    The media companies like to say that ‘Billions are lost due to piracy’. Horse-hockey. The amount of revenue that they actually ‘lose’ to piracy is very small, and I would argue, having DRM free content would allow them to reach new markets and new audiences. For example; if a poor kid downloads a copy of Avatar because he can’t afford the 10.50 to see it in the theater, did the industry ‘lose’ that 10.50? No, it never existed as the kid didn’t have the money… but will that kid be more likely to buy an Avatar cereal, or toy, or someday save up enough money to see Avatar 2 that he otherwise would not give a hoot about? Yes, more than likely. IMHO, most piracy is done by people who are not ‘in’ the market anyway. Lastly, a lot of it is wasted bandwidth and is never consumed. Pirates are notorious pack rats. Just because they download a movie doesn’t mean they ever get around to watching it.(perhaps a superfluous point but it still gets counted by the industry as ‘lost sales’ which is bogus)

    All SOPA and Protect-IP do is give a big hammer to media companies to shut down emerging companies and markets who DO understand that IP payments are voluntary and that treating their customers like actual customers instead of potential criminals is the way that the market wants to work. By continuously pushing ineffective DRM which encourages those with know-how to break and rip media because they want to not have to be bothered with the hoops DRM makes you jump through, they are actually creating a ‘richer’ black market for piracy to exist. Honestly, if someone could just load a DVD they bought onto their server and play it on any device in their house why would they go looking for tools to get around that?

    I would like to add a link that talks more about SOPA and what you can do to stop it.

    There are many other similar sites. SOPA isn’t just going to kill companies like Boxee (in some ways) it will attempt to kill thousands of legitimate small to medium size businesses who are the future media giants. THIS is what ‘big media’ like the MPAA and RIAA are afraid of. We just don’t need them anymore. The monolithic studio approach to music and video is going away (it’ll take a long time). The market will be able to vote directly on what it wants to pay for and how it will be delivered. Fortunes will be made, but, unless there’s a big change, it won’t be the media names we know today.

    Sorry for the long post. Hope the rant comes across in the light it’s intended. Keep up the good fight XBMC. And please, stop SOPA and Protect-IP!

  5. Jon Oakes said:

    ..Doh.. left the tag open. Sorry.

  6. tubbyandtattooed said:

    I can’t agree more with this post! As a custom installer I see more and more of my customers wanting to do more stuff but tying to do things one way quickly leads to a dead end boxee works great in some places and so does XBMC! And because of this I will continue to advise my customers to use the system that meets the most of there needs.

  7. DPF said:

    Perfect in every way.

  8. MacGyver said:

    I am more than willing to pay. Just….
    Sell it to me at a price that is fair (and by fair I mean close to free, TV that has already aired, was paid for by advertisers when it aired, and commercials are the price people will pay to watch it for absolutely free and as soon as possible).
    Let me have it when I want it, or at least as soon as I could get it from a pirate source.
    Let me in a format that will work on whatever device I choose to watch it on.

    There is no reason I shouldn’t be able to pay $40 a month to be able to watch whatever TV I want by download it. World wide money for just 100 million people would be 4 billion dollars a month. A month. That would be 48 billion dollars a year.

  9. wonkie said:

    Nicely said. I agree completly. I feel like I am being punished every time I try to play a dvd or blu-ray on my computer. The sad thing is it is easier to download a rip than to play the disc that I bought. As for xbmc anr boxee. I made the switch from boxee to xbmc about 2 years ago give or take a few months and havent looked back. Long live xbmc. Thanks to everyone who has made it a great program. I’m trying out Eden right now and I love it

  10. MacGyver said:

    Wow, that is what I sound like with 2 different distractions and alcohol.
    Any-who, the jist was. In a perfect world, if you ran a production company that bought the rights to TV shows straight from the creators, that even with just 100 million subscribers paying $40 a month, you could have 4 billion dollars a month to buy and have made whatever TV shows you wanted, and because they would buying/renting the rights, it could be commercial free and distributed via the web to those subscribers. Universal world-wide commercial free entertainment on demand, tailored to the people that are paying for it, and kept on air as long as people want it, (or until the actors get sick of doing it).

    What do we get offered instead, $4.99 an episode, DRM’d so it can only be watched on a computer screen running Windows or an Apple OS or on a tiny box with a crappy tiny remote (ATV). I’m not a cheapskate, but that’s a joke. And not even a funny one.
    $4.99 for one of 22 episodes a year, and I only have it as long as I have an iTunes account, and I can’t even give it to someone when I’m sick of it because I don’t even really own it.
    $110 a year for one TV show, and I don’t even really own it (like a DVD)? And they wonder why people pick FREE and no DRM (piracy).

  11. John said:

    Semi-noob here. Can XMBC use the same apps as Boxee software? If so, why not just make a apps section to make it simple as pie?

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