Microsoft Media Center Vs Apple FrontRow

For past few days there is a big debate has exploded over on Apple Matters, about Media Center and Front Row. Thomas Hawk who is an unabashed Windows Media Center Fanboy takes Mac-faithful to task and writes, “Yes, they created a product for the legions of Apple fanboys to blindly buy, but the smart consumer is better capable of doing a comparison than Jobs might give them credit for.?” Today Charlie Owen, one of the members of Windows XP Media Center development team has joined the debate on his blog, and writes..

Steve Jobs comparing the Apple remote control with the Media Center remote control was nothing but sheer marketing brilliance. It’s totally not about which remote control is better. Not at all. By making this comparison, Steve Jobs gave the illusion the two products were on equal footing EXCEPT for the remote.

As the debate continues, I would like to chime in with a few things….

What Steve Jobs has done, and what Microsoft has not done. I have a HP Media Center at home, and I have spent countless weekends trying to make the beast work with the Comcast set-top box. The biggest problem is the smallest feature really – the damn IR Blaster – refuses to play nice. It fails every single time. I have done my darnest, but nothing. That my friends is the critical point – that ease of use is what Microsoft did not think about. I like the Media Center interface – its pretty much the best UI Microsoft has been able to come-up with despite their blue-and-green restrictions. (I thought that it would kill TiVo, but boy was I wrong. TiVo did it themselves!)

I have left the box in the A/V system, hooked it up to a Olevia 32 inch LCD TV via DVI interface and I use it to check out cool stuff available via the Media Center services. I am using all its features except the PVR. There were same IR issues with TiVo as well. This part of the set-up was painless and a no brainer. I think this is where Microsoft lost the plot, and did too much with the platform, which was truly made for early-early adopters. They should have seeded the market with a simpler product. They could have convinced a lot of people to start using their platform, because it was a virgin market they could have simply owned. Microsoft in my opinion, overreached.

front rowApple’s iPod success shows that its not being the first, or being the one with the greatest number of features that translates into market share. Instead it is helping millions of consumers ease into the digital lifestyle that is the key. Front Row is exactly that: It is simple, and eases you into this whole convergence thing. I am pretty sure they will add more features in coming months to this software. It is actually a very clever move on Apple’s part. It is clearly a placeholder, and a move that shows, they are throwing their hat in the ring. They are betting that in next 12-to-24 months the downloadable video market is going to gain strength, and they want people to think about the FrontRow as an option as well. By the time Broadband-over-Video market takes off (my guess is towards end of 2006), Apple will have a more complete offering.

MCESo what should Microsoft do? Two things. First release a Media Center XP Lite. Free. Basically help turn most of the newer PCs into simple devices for aggregating photos, watching DVDs, streaming music and playing back downloadable videos. They have the PC market share to make this happen. I think as Video over Broadband (or TV-over-IP) takes off, Media Center XP should shine, as it has support of many of the newer services like MTV Overdrive and BrightCove. Secondly, they should buy Akimbo. Use Akimbo’s content relationships and thus enhancing the value of their platform. If Microsoft sticks to “less is more” principle, then they could go toe-to-toe with Apple in this market.

PS: If you have a Media Center related plug-in/service, do let me know. I would love to review it!

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