Open Source is good for meMy plan is to tell some stories about my experiences with XBMC in 2011. Many of these stories aren’t going to be about XBMC developments. They are going to be about the life of a FLOSS Project Manager/Community Manager and the people behind XBMC. Consider yourself warned.

2011 started off quickly and with much enthusiasm. On December 18th (2010), XBMC 10: Dharma had been released. To the outside world, we all behaved as if we were terribly excited about Dharma. Behind closed doors however, Davilla had been hard at work preparing for XBMC for iOS. The entire team was intensely excited about this release and waited anxiously as Davilla and gimli and amet worked tirelessly to turn all the A4 line of iOS devices into XBMC powerhouses.

My contribution to these proceedings was Read More

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.

zappy-santaEight minutes after midnight on December 23rd, theuni (Cory) made a general announcement that final additions had been plugged into the XBMC Eden branch. At that time, he asked that Davilla (for OSX and iOS) and Wiso and CrystalP (for Windows) sign off on the code for their respective systems.

At 3:21AM, Wiso gave the all clear.

At 11:49AM, Davilla added his agreement.

And finally, at 7PM, CrystalP gave the remaining thumbs up.

Unfortunately, in the seven hours between Wiso’s go-ahead and Davilla’s approval, developer Olympia threw a giant wrench into the operation. Read More

Well, I got a positive enough reaction last time that I figure I’ll write another journal entry. If you guys keep reading, I’ll try to write yet another on Saturday. Or not. Christmas Eve may be calling then. Have you given the gift of XBMC yet? Apple TV‘s are only $94 at Amazon right now. Or, if you wanted to spend a few more bucks, you could give your relatives the gift of some real powerhouses (plus your tech skills to make it all work).

communication-canAnyway, last time I provided a few stories about some of the difficult issues the Team has run into in the push for Eden. Today, I’d like to go another way entirely and talk about Team XBMC’s ability to communicate with the users. Or, more accurately, our ability to do a decidedly so-so job at communicating with the users.

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A year or two ago, a user was absolutely furious at the XBMC Foundation because he believed the organization was shady. The issue was that the Foundation was “staffed” by developers who spent pretty much the entirety of their time writing awesome code for XBMC and an absolute bare minimum of time authoring legal statements about the Foundation.

At least, that was obviously what the situation was from within the Team. Outside the team, Read More

Behind the XBMC CurtainI’ve decided to start up a mini-blog within my personal blog where I keep track of XBMC developments from within the team. As a warning, if you like surprises, I highly recommend avoiding these entries. The goal here is to talk about what it’s like behind the scenes at XBMC, and by definition that means talking about a lot of things we tend to avoid being very public about, because, honestly, people appear to make it their job to misconstrue reality as much as possible. For that reason, note that all opinions are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone on Team XBMC. Furthermore, any stories that you don’t like or like for the wrong reasons are entirely fictional and should just be attributed to a bad fever dream (or to my intense desire to replace my five year old laptop with a Macbook Air). Anyway, here are some stories.

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It doesn’t seem that long ago, but we began gearing up for the release of Eden on August 30th. At least, that was the day one of our developers, Scott Davilla, posted the internal forum message suggesting that we begin gearing up.

This has been a very different release for the Team, as compared to past schedules, because the entire release has been operating without Jonathan Marshall, whose real life has forced XBMC to take a backseat for at least a while. Read More

I’ve somewhat been debating writing this particular blog, just because I invariably feel uncomfortable admitting weakness to the hiring public. I think the only reason I’ve come around to it is that I’m coming to realize that the title may be slowly becoming less and less true.

A few weeks ago, I was let go by my previous employer. No knock on them (or on me, for that matter). They’ve just been experiencing reduced sales over the past few months and have decided that, since I was one of the most recent hires, I could also be one of the easier persons to prune. Life goes on.

And so here I sit, fat, dumb, and happy (as my old ethics professor used to say), looking for full time employment. At the moment, Read More

Ever since I first heard of the job title “Community Manager,” I’ve struggled to find a true definition for the term. The wikipedia article on the topic isn’t particularly exhaustive, and appears to be as uncertain as I am about the exact nature of the job, even going so far as to point out that Jeremiah Owyang went around and gathered all the different job descriptions in a quest to actually pin down what the job is.

I’m going to skip that article by Jeremiah and approach the question from an entirely different perspective. Specifically, I don’t really care what all the Community Managers in the world do. I only care about organizations need them to do. Read More

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