Boxee is easy to use, mainly you need only six buttons on a remote to control it (the navigational keys, select and back). Sometimes you need to enter some text, maybe for a search box or to use the new feature of adding a comment to an item you liked. This can be time consuming with a normal remote, so the ideal device would have a little keyboard like the Boxee remote or the Logitech diNovo Mini ™ (which does seem a little expensive). The Nokia N900 has a nice backlit hardware keyboard though and a touch screen. One possible snag you might think is the lack of a “app” to control Boxee (such as the ones available for Android and iPhone), but “if you can't do something do something else” (according to a saying I may have made up). Fortunately it is possible to control Boxee through a browser, and this approach might work for other mobile devices too.
Back in August last year I wondered aloud whether it was time for a remix of Ubuntu aimed at media centres and set top boxes. I was not the only one thinking along these lines it seems! In April 2009 “Element” was founded by Kevin L. Thompson with the aim of producing an operating system specially designed for media centres. They have just released version 1.0 of Element OS, a new Linux distributon based on Ubuntu designed around the concept of the ten foot user interface (a user interface you can see and operate on your TV from across the room). It was time to make myself comfortable on the sofa and see what this new remix is all about.
Boxee is a platform that is really going places. At one point it was a mainly for enthusiasts willing to spend the time on installing it and setting it up on their own hardware. Now it is moving towards mass appeal with the recent announcement of a Boxee Box, which users will just be able to plug in and go, and Boxee payments, which may make the platform more appealing to content providers. A great starting point before getting stuck into full scale Boxee application development is creating a simple RSS application that will just make a feed of a podcast available and give it presence in the world of Boxee.
** Update 3rd May 2010: The instructions here also generally work for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, for notes specific to this version see: Boxee and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on the Acer Aspire Revo ***
A lot has happened since I wrote my post back in June about setting up Ubuntu and Boxee on the Acer Aspire Revo; a new version of Ubuntu has been released and today (7th January 2009) the new beta version of Boxee was officially released to the public. The new version is a major overhaul and represents quite a different, enhanced user experience from the alpha. So I thought I would do a new version of the post to reflect these changes. Fortunately, Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) has introduced many changes that make getting the Revo up and running much easier than under the previous release of Ubuntu.
ITV is the main terrestrial commercial TV network in the UK. They have a TV catch up service called ITV Player which somewhat unusually delivers programmes not using Flash but instead Microsoft Silverlight, there is a port to Linux called Moonlight, but it doesn't work for me. Today though I found out that the Scottish version of ITV; STV has its own TV-on-demand catchup service, and a rather good one too. Programmes are delivered through Flash, so they can be viewed on Linux, but that is not all; I noticed that the site also has RSS feeds, which is quite unusual for a TV-on-demand service. Naturally I wondered if this feed could be adapted for use on Boxee, so I need never miss X-Factor again.
Thanks to a rather clever feature of justin.tv, I've been able to pick out a couple of clips from the recent Boxee App Challenge event in San Francisco. In the first clip judge Cali Lewis has some very kind words for our entry and in the second clip Boxee CEO Avner Ronen talks about the OpenCourseWare and Open University apps making some quite interesting points about what sort of content Boxee users are after. OpenCourseWare went on to win the Judges' award signaling a potentially very bright future for education services on interactive TV.
Today is a big day, we find out tonight how well the Open University entry has done in the Boxee App Development challenge. A small team of us had been thinking about big screen (web experiences designed for interactive television to be viewed at about ten feet away) web sites and what an OU experience might be like in such a setting. When the challenge was announced it was a fantastic opportunity to quickly develop something to get ourselves started in this exciting area, so we decided to go for it and in about four weeks went from having nothing to having a fully working application, complete with full user interface and graphic design by Dave Winter, client and server side code by me and communications, testing and creative input by Stuart Brown and Matt Rawlinson. It was hard work which gobbled up a few evenings and weekends but it was worth it.
** UPDATE 7th January 2009 ***
See my new post for details on how to install the Boxee Beta and Ubuntu Karmic on the Revo:
How to install Ubuntu 9.10 and the Boxee Beta on an Acer Aspire Revo (including 64 bit option)
The details below are now out of date, but are still useful if you wish to install Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty) on a Revo.
The Revo is a very new piece of hardware and features some cutting edge technology so installing Ubuntu on it is not completely straightforward as not many people own these units and have had a chance to make them work out of the box with this very popular Linux distribution. However, it can be done and the unit makes a fantastic Ubuntu machine and if you add Boxee a great entertainment centre for your living room. The first thing to do is to put a copy of the Ubuntu 9.04 desktop live CD image on a USB memory stick. Do this by visiting:http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download and selecting the 32 bit desktop edition. Once downloaded you copy it to a USB stick by using the USB Startup disk creator located under System → Administration. The task of installing centres around three areas: getting Ubuntu on the machine, getting the graphics to work (properly) and getting the sound to work (at all).
Back in January I wrote about a piece of software that I think has a very bright future in Boxee makes your TV social. One of the great features of Boxee is that it will take standard podcast feeds and then allow you to enjoy these podcasts through the software and potentially on your TV.