FrontRow, One More Time


I admit I have overdosed on the whole Front Row thing, but then I am often accused of pooh-poohing everything, so perhaps when I like something, well I like it. My previous two posts, I Want My Front Row-TV and Microsoft Media Center Vs Apple Front Row have generated some talk. Charlie Owen, who is part of the media center team posed a few questions as he counter-punched.

He wonders why I would pay for Front Row and not for MCE Lite. Good point! I think if priced right, I will pay for Microsoft Windows Media Center Lite the same amount of money. However, Microsoft is the one which wants to make a big splash in this space, so perhaps its good if they gave it away. Why wait till Vista when they can own the market now. Use MCE to be the razor and add-ons as “blades.”

Owen questions the problems I have had with the PVR part of the Media Center. I propose he comes over to Club Om, set it up, and I will offer him the best single malt and home cooked curry. Thomas Hawk, my favorite pro-am photographer, has a fantastic extension to my arguments.

The promise of owning the living room though is huge actually. The real payoff for Media Center comes five if not ten years down the road when that position of strength can be monetized in a whole host of ways. The important thing is to get the install base now today and to own it. Sometimes free software makes sense.

Precisely what I was thinking, if not saying. I am also amazed that how quickly the Mac-hack community has been able to find Front Row and make it work on standalone Macs. This is my weekend project. My good buddy Jonathan Greene got it running on his Mac Mini, so now when I visit NYC, we will have something else to talk about those damn Yankees.



Not much about Front Row has been talked about on your blog as of late. I could not agree more with you on your feelings about Front Row not having PVR functions. I could care less about PVR functions. It’s one less connection I have to worry about.

I truly think that Front Row will be the app that brings full functioning computers to the average computer user’s entertainment center. The fact that the MacBook’s were also released with Front Row seems to show Apple’s commitment to the cause.

MCE is bloated with features and is only available in the “specialty” model. From here on out it looks like if you own a mac, you own a media server. that’s quite exciting in the realm of digital entertainment.

Shashi Prabhakar

>Please list ONE example of where anyone in the Media Center >community has said anything even remotely like that.

>I think it would be much more accurate to say, “Every time anyone >tries to fairly compare Microsoft products with alternatives, a hard >core of Microsoft-bashers will appear and make unsubstantiated >accusations…â€?
>If you need an example, just go back and read Shashi’s comment.

I clearly mention a variety of companies making a variety of products- Ed rephrases my statement with nothing more substantial than a windows service pack like fix and then refers back to my original statement to support his rephrasing- what clarity!


I just got front row working on my Mac mini – its totally cool! I also have the remote and the dock => one that is needed for the latest video iPod. yet to figure out how to make that work in sync. but as of now front row works beautifully on my mac mini

dvd player – is still messy!

Martin Hill

I understand the current increase in MCE sales is only now due to non-TV tuner versions of MCE being available so perhaps it demonstrates that the limited scope of Apple’s Front Row environment might have the right feature set initially. Over the 2.5 years to January this year, only 1.4 million Media Centre PCs had been sold over the entire industry which is about the number of computers that Apple sells in a single quarter.

However, I would actually argue for the full PVR experience myself. :-)
Apple does need to go the next step and either put in the hooks for third parties like EyeTV or add PVR functionality themselves. We need the simplicity and elegance that Apple seems to “just get” brought to the full living room couch experience sooner than later. Downloadable TV shows are definitely a pointer to the future, but that future is not here while the majority of shows on TV are unavailable that way (and without high res versions for the HDTV experience), so in the interim we need to be able to work with broadcast TV.

Om, I think you need to sit down and use a PVR for a while to appreciate what this technology is really about – it is not duplicating the VHS TV recording experience with all the disadvantages that old technology entailed; only a few hours on each tape, continual swapping of tapes, not knowing what was where, having to fast-forward and rewind ad infinitum, quality degradation and of course the show stopper – unbelievably user-unfriendly VCR controls (the “12:00 flasher” syndrome is the rule not the exception) etc.

Instead a PVR allows you to control the TV experience rather than have it control you. It allows the user to very simply set up dozens of recording schedules with a few mouse clicks (or button presses) on an on-screen TV guide or web page to record everything from the nightly news to regular shows scattered throughout the day/week as well as movies etc. Having the schedules and recorded shows listed with video thumbnails just a mouse or remote button click away giving access to hundreds of hours of crystal-clear digital TV eliminates the hassles that turned off legions from the VHS VCR experience.

I personally never watch live TV myself now – if I sit down halfway through the nightly news, I just start watching from the start skipping over the ads or stories I’m not interested in while the PVR finishes recording the latter half of the broadcast. By the end I may have caught up to the live broadcast but I will have saved myself watching a lot of garbage. A phone call or call of nature in the middle of any show is never a problem even with live TV (just hit pause) and no more do you need to be a slave to the broadcaster’s schedule. I end up watching far less TV these days as you’re not tempted to sit and veg watching trash – you pick a show you are interested in, watch it and then it finishes and you find you have to make a conscious decision to watch anything else, rather than being seduced by the next bit of “must see TV”.



Charlie – my OEM comment came from a thread on Scoble’s comment/mudpit site where a Microsoft employee (Rory Blyth, I believe – though the mudpit has disappeared) said just that: his enlightened experience with Windows XP was perfection and my less than stellar experience with Windows XP Home Edition was due to the faults of the OEM (HP in this case with an HP Pavilion a1022n).

This stemmed from a QA setup where my team went to Circuit City/CompUSA and bought a bunch of “home PCs” for the “simulate the home user experience/environment”. To me, the experience was eye opening. These PCs really do crash, lock up, reboot unexpectedly, and slowdown to a crawl in a matter of days. They are filled with “trial” applications that pop up constantly with annoying update messages. They run out of memory or some other resource resulting in cascading blank message boxes. And so on.

I don’t know what type of OEM contracts you have with the likes of HP – but if they are shoveling the 20-30 crapplications onto MCE systems that they put onto basic Windows XP Home Edition PCs, then I feel for you.

With regard to your “No need to imagine….” – I see this again and again where somebody close to the product explains the features and capabilities of the latest product in comment threads like this. I haven’t looked specifically for MCE information (I am a TiVo owner), but is your message getting out?

Peter Richard – a lot of people watch a lot of broadcast/cable/satellite TV. Not sure if you were joking in your comment, but PVR functionality is pretty incredible if you’re at all interested in any single bit of that content that may be being sent to your home. My own experience with TiVo is it not only makes the content recording process dead simple, it makes VCR playback look like a joke as well. It also can work in conjunction with a VCR to archive content if you choose to do that these days. The DVD recording seems more appropriate now.

Ed Bott

Shashi writes: >> “the Microsoft Minions appear and try to make the case that ‘Perfection’ has already been achieved and delivered by Microsoft…”

Please list ONE example of where anyone in the Media Center community has said anything even remotely like that.

I think it would be much more accurate to say, “Every time anyone tries to fairly compare Microsoft products with alternatives, a hard core of Microsoft-bashers will appear and make unsubstantiated accusations…”

If you need an example, just go back and read Shashi’s comment.

Shashi Prabhakar

When anyone talks about something good and alternative (Apple, Firefox, Google, Playstation), the Microsoft Minions appear and try to make the case that “Perfection” has already been achieved and delivered by Microsoft, and therefore there is no need for anything else in this world.
Homegeneity is an evolutionary dead end. I am glad it is changing. Please get used to the fact that 95% market share cannot be achieved in everything Microsoft does, and that is a good thing for the rest of us.


Hi Om!

This discussion regarding Front Row and Media Centre is very interesting, and you have made several interesting points!

FR must be seen as Apple’s first shot – they are testing the market. Of course they have some more extensive products in development – and they are probably waiting for the downloadable video/TV market to develop. They just started that with iTMS, so lets give them 6-12 months for that to develop and expand. Then we will see some more interesting concepts coming from Apple.

Media Centre’s problem is that it is TOOO complex for your average punter – they cannot be bothered with the 40+ buttons on their remotes – just as Steve Jobs highlighted at the keynote.

Lets face it – how many people use all the functions on their TV, video, dvd-remotes? More or less none of them – only the hard-core techie-types who LUV complex non-understandable interfaces. When I think about my parents or parents in law trying to fiddle with thier TV-remotes trying to change from TV to video….. It is so complex, it always goes wrong, and in the end they cant be bothered any more…

The problem with much CE is that it is full of technology without a thought about how real normal people use it. And it is here where Apple triumph – again and again – giving the punters what they need and can understand in abeautifully designed product!

Charlie Owen

I’m loving what you are writing, Om. Couple of thoughts in response…

Om –> ‘I propose he comes over to Club Om…’

That could be perhaps be arranged — send me an email and let’s discuss offline. I bet it could be resolved through a couple of emails or phone calls too.

Om –> ‘Microsoft is the one which wants to make a big splash in this space, so perhaps its good if they gave it away.’

With over 4 million Media Center PCs sold I would be willing to go out on a limb and say we have already made a pretty big splash.

Hadley –> ‘Imagine a Window PC Media machine that would actually let you buy content?’

No need to imagine. Check out the Online Spotlight feature to find several partners who provide content purchase experiences today (and the neat thing is you can use your remote to purchase). MTV Overdrive for Media Center launched a few weeks ago and provides many, many hours of video content — FREE! Akimbo just launched today with a subscription based video service. There is a ton of music and video content (among other categories) you can get via Media Center without a cable TV or satellite connection.

Jake –> ‘Problems with MCE? Problems with anything Windows? Never Microsoft’s problem. Always the OEM or user’s problem.’

I see this feedback a bunch but can rarely (if ever) attribute it to a Microsoft employee comment. In fact, there are people like Aaron Stebner from our team out there pointing out issues and solutions and specifically NOT pointing to the OEM as root cause — see for an example.

Peter Richard

I can’t see the PVR function as a neccessity and only complicates the interface. I got a VCR back in the late eighties and recorded maybe 15 times in the first year and maybe 3 of those shows have never been played. Since then it has only been a player of rented tapes. So that’s 1 year versus 15 where I felt that content was not worth the trouble of capturing. I don’t think just because you change the hardware that this will change. A flurry of activity recording due to novelty, tapering to WTF I don’t care enough. There’s very little content on TV worth watching. Certainly not worth recording watchng a second time. So FrontRow without PVR is perfectly adequate as long as there is a web component designed to select and watch streaming content.

Om Malik

I agree Jake, you need to ship to learn. I do think for now it is advantage MCE because they just know more. Soon, i guess, Apple’s whole downloadable media strategy will come into view and we shall see how it all works out.


You must ship to learn. Apple has shipped. Now they’ll learn. Lab work is no replacement for that.

Microsoft giving away to Lite version now sounds very IE vs Netscape-ish to me.

Problems with MCE? Problems with anything Windows? Never Microsoft’s problem. Always the OEM or user’s problem.

Hadley Stern

I still hold out hope that somewhere in the labs at Cupertino someone is working on something far more powerful and interesting than Front Row. It is only logical (one would hope) that Apple’s infamous ease-of-use and ability to bring together disparate elements (music industry, hardware, software, etc) will bear fruit in the living room.

Indeed, I think the hint of things to come is not Front Row but the fact that for the very first time the public can buy a television show over the internet. Sure there has been on demand and pay per view for a while, but with the latest iteration of the iTunes music store Apple has upped the ante. Imagine a Window PC Media machine that would actually let you buy content?

Just wait (I hope!) for Apple to figure it out.

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