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Why I’m Dropping Boxee for XBMC

The Boxee platform had so much promise. Since releasing the Boxee Box in November 2010, Boxee has absolutely abandoned the PC users who brought the platform to prominence. Having waited since November for Boxee 1.0, PC Boxee users (including me) are now in open revolt

I've been a huge proponent of the platform since the Alpha in October of 2008. The developers have done a great job building a product on top of XBMC, adding streaming capabilities from popular sources such as Netflix and Hulu. The product, overall, is a great idea.

Since the Boxee Box release, the PC version of Boxee has been left derelict and is just an afterthought at this point. Hulu content is inaccessible (from what I understand largely due to Hulu) and the other web-content is near-unwatchable due to the idiosyncrasies of each web player and how Boxee displays them. It is only with frequent updates to correct these glaring problems that Boxee has any type of value over XBMC and other home media software.

The problem is, I suspect, that they do not think that there is a way to monetize the build-your-own-HTPC crowd. They would be wrong, however. With proper integration with a payment system (what happened to Boxee Payments?) you have an army of faithful, media consuming techies ready and willing to shell out for shows on Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand, and other sources. I don't want another box next to my PC, I want my existing equipment (Acer Revo) to serve out all my TV and video.

With their monetization stream in flux, it seems that they are pouring their energy into the Boxee box. I feel that this is shortsighted as the hardware game is too competitive, and that their best bet for a lasting product is to focus on Boxee as a platform instead of a hardware product. That means updating and supporting Boxee across all devices, not just the Boxee box. 

Boxee, it was awesome while it lasted, but you leave me no choice to switch. With options such as XBMC DharmaQVIVORoku and network-connected blu-ray players and TVs, your time is now limited. I sincerely hope you turn around and start to support the PC users who held you in such high esteem just a year ago.

For me, the last straw was when I got a new TV and Boxee couldn't handle the high def movies at the new 1080p resolution. XBMC handles them with no problems. So, that being said, XBMC Dharma is my new media platform of choice. Here's to hoping that Boxee can get back on the right track and fully supports their product as a platform and not just as a locked-down hardware device

Twitter Blocked in Egypt: A View From Inside Their Network

I keep various VPSes across the globe for research purposes. One of those locations is in Egypt. So what happens when I do a normal traceroute?

[root@vps01-eg ~]# tracert google.com
traceroute to google.com (74.125.230.81), 30 hops max, 40 byte packets
 1  host-x.com.eg (196.x.x.x)  0.033 ms  0.024 ms  0.017 ms
 2  host-x.com.eg (196.x.x.x)  0.780 ms  0.883 ms  1.091 ms
 3  10.x.x.x (10.x.x.x)  0.691 ms  0.700 ms  0.693 ms
 4  172.x.x.x (172.x.x.x)  1.623 ms  1.613 ms  1.603 ms
 5  172.x.x.x (172.x.x.x)  1.751 ms  2.060 ms  2.055 ms
 6  172.20.2.1 (172.20.2.1)  7.860 ms  7.855 ms  7.846 ms
 7  172.20.3.37 (172.20.3.37)  6.387 ms  7.281 ms  6.525 ms
 8  * * *
 9  * * *
10  64.214.151.81 (64.214.151.81)  140.963 ms  140.328 ms  140.305 ms
11  po2-40G.ar4.NYC1.gblx.net (67.16.132.174)  140.821 ms  143.027 ms  141.632 ms
12  72.14.198.93 (72.14.198.93)  129.329 ms  129.689 ms  129.658 ms
13  216.239.43.114 (216.239.43.114)  187.277 ms  132.211 ms  131.428 ms
14  216.239.46.219 (216.239.46.219)  136.966 ms  136.579 ms  136.060 ms
15  64.233.175.115 (64.233.175.115)  136.051 ms  135.554 ms  135.244 ms
16  74.125.230.81 (74.125.230.81)  134.443 ms  136.053 ms  142.846 ms

But when trying to traceroute to Twitter?

[root@vps01-eg ~]# tracert twitter.com
traceroute to twitter.com (128.242.245.36), 30 hops max, 40 byte packets
 1  host-x.com.eg (196.x.x.x)  0.049 ms  0.037 ms  0.027 ms
 2  host-x.com.eg (196.x.x.x)  0.807 ms  1.028 ms  1.247 ms
 3  10.x.x.x (10.x.x.x)  0.650 ms  0.736 ms  0.784 ms
 4  172.x.x.x (172.x.x.x)  1.942 ms  1.945 ms  1.941 ms
 5  172.x.x.x (172.x.x.x)  2.393 ms  2.391 ms  2.387 ms
 6  172.20.2.1 (172.20.2.1)  8.086 ms  8.091 ms  8.087 ms
 7  172.20.3.37 (172.20.3.37)  10.399 ms  10.519 ms  11.178 ms
 8  * * *
 9  * * *
10  * * *
11  * * *
12  * * *
13  * * *
<continues till timeout>

So basically, it is dropping the connection somewhere in Egypt's national private network. So when Vodafone says that they didn't block twitter – you can believe them… this is a block on the national level. When the government controls the internet this is the risk you run. When reading about the US "Internet kill switch" bill proposed, you should bet your britches it is bad for freedom of speech and bad for the citizens of that country.

IPs and hostnames blocked to protect the innocent.

My Thoughts on the iPhone 4 on Verizon

Iphone-vzw-hands-dsc0554-rm-eng

The Verizon iPhone is a win for consumers all around. The competition between VZ and ATT will only heat up with better values coming out of all cell phone plans (the current pricing trend is out of control.) Which will be better for you? Depends on whose network covers the places you frequent the most. On the VZ positive end there will be the ability to turn the iPhone into a network hot spot without jailbreaking (for an additional fee, likely $30/month); on the minus it can not make voice calls and transfer data at the same time. For AT&T’s part, they have grown up around the massive amounts of data the iPhone uses and it is as of yet unseen if Verizon’s network can handle it. 

I would recommend waiting until May or June to get the next generation iPhone from Verizon to see how things pan out. If you get it now, you will be disappointed after the few months it will take for your phone to be outdated. 

Image credit.

Dear Boxee, Please Don’t Pull a Joost

Boxee, you have a lot going for you and I’m pulling for you to win the race for the living room (with new arrivals from Google and an Apple iTV on the horizon). I use you as a centerpiece of my home media setup after ditching my cable plan. My family and myself have fully embraced the whole “TV over internet” model. But we need to have a talk. 

The most positive thing that you have going for you is that are an open platform. Developers can write plugins for you, with the only restrictions being the developer’s own ability and dreams. This is a good thing, as it allows infinite development of your platform – and I believe this is where boxee should be focusing its time on: enticing talented developers and content producers to write apps for your interface.

With the latest release of Boxee you’ve added an internet “Movie Library” to your service. Note that movies have been available via the Boxee platform since the beginning via a Netflix app or if you have local media to add to your library. For the sake of argument, let’s say that a user doesn’t have a local movie library.

Imagine, if you will, a new user trying out Boxee. The TV selection is great – it lists “A” list television shows from Hulu and other sources around the internet. Let’s compare this to the Movies selection. Once you click over there, you quickly see “B” and “C” list movies from indie studios. There are a few exceptions thrown in, but in general the movies are ones that almost no one has an interest in watching. While I do not have anything against these movies and their talented directors, this is not what the average person is actually looking for or will watch much. 

I would definitely recommend you be more selective about the movies you show to the average user. Why? This same problem is the one that has afflicted Joost from the beginning. Lots and lots of content, hardly anything worth watching. It essentially waters down the perceived quality of the app – and this is going to hurt Boxee in the long run.

Instead of showing your content partners’ movies by default, it would be much better to present users with a choice on first run. For example the choices would be something like:

  • Local Movies
  • Netflix for Movies (instead of in a separate app)
  • Free Internet Movies 

This gives the end user a choice to receive higher quality movies in the “Movies” area of Boxee – which is where most non-Boxee speaking people would go to see a movie. As it stands now, “A” list movies are hidden under an App, and this really off-putting to the neophyte Boxee user.

Finally, where are the premium for pay content apps? Your users are thirsting for an iTunes app for protected iTunes content and an Amazon Video on Demand app. A live TV app via MythTV would also be a winner. These are the lynchpins to taking over the living room from cable boxes. Millions of people are willing to pay for premium content if it is in a reliable, easy to use platform such as the one Boxee is striving to be. 

I know you are working on your own payment system, but if you wait too long to even introduce these all important content sources, you’re going to miss the boat. 

In summary, please don’t pull a Joost. Focus on keeping your platform open and accessible – with top notch easy to access content, and you will have yourself a winner. 

The Problem With Twitter

Twitter has a problem.

I have many different social groups that I interact with. For reading messages from these groups – I have created lists. They work fairly well on the reading side to see what a certain group of people are tweeting about.

But what about sending messages?

I send out messages on many different topics. Maybe it is the eclectic in me showing. I might tweet about a local traffic problem, and in the next moment about the latest research on geolocation privacy. My shared links to do with the law (I work in the legal profession) may have no interest to many in my group, but will be spot on for other members.

So what is the solution? Right now we are presented with only 2 options:

– Create different twitter user for each ‘topic’ we want to post tweets on, or
– Use external services for sending out such information.

Facebook status updates are actually an excellent example of this. When Facebook lists/groups were first introduced, I diligently added each friend to a specific group: real life friends, high school classmates, social media friends, work (bar association) friends, etc.

They have proved to be essential to my Facebook experience. I am selective to whom I send out status updates to. They work in read/write manner, both restricting your posts going out (for privacy) and also to read messages from these groups. 

I believe Twitter needs some sort of outgoing list or tagging system. When someone follows you, you should be able to ‘tag’ them as interested in a topic. Perhaps this tag can be shared so that they can modify their interest in you – because although you may primarily be interested in one topic, if a person is interesting enough all of their messages may be of interest. 

The problem here then is that you are adding a level of complexity to sending a “Tweet” which is part of the brilliance of Twitter. Instead of having to compose a long message, tag a topic or think of a headline you simply tweet your message, 140 characters or less.

What solution do you currently use to fix this problem?

iPhone 4 Crosses the Portable Device Convergence Finish Line

Iphone4

It had to be back in 2005 or so when I first started talking about device convergence. I said that within a few years (I originally said 3 years, so I wasn’t too far off) that we would have a mobile device convergence of cell phones, mp3 players, and cameras. You could see it coming even if the current technology in 2005 wasn’t up to the quality of each individual device.

Now that the iPhone 4 takes 720p video at 30fps we have a worth competitor which crosses the finish line. There is still some room for improvement that Apple and the other phone manufacturers should take note of. 

The first phone I noticed which actually started this convergence was the Sony Ericsson Walkman phones (W series, W580i, etc). The problem with these phones was the interface, which was horrible. You could listen to a lot of music due to the expandable memory, however it just did not work in well with the UI and had low adoption rates.

The first iPhone solved that problem and was essential in “selling” the public on an “Apple phone”. The experience Apple had from the iPod made it a natural entrant into the phone market. Merging the phone and the music player was the first great coup that Apple pulled off.

The beginnings of the camera convergence could be seen as well. As sensor sizes shrank, we began to see better cameras in phones. The original iPhone through the 3G only included a 2 megapixel camera, which was on par with my first digital camera from 2001. The 3GS introduced a 3 megapixel camera which was an improvement but not a true replacement for a compact digital camera. Finally with the iPhone 4, we have a 5 megapixel camera which is a likely replacement for many with a compact point and shoot camera. The current generation of many point-and-shoots already have small sensor sizes which show a lot of digital noise and I expect to see the same on the iPhone 4 camera when zoomed to 100%. That being said, since it is 5MP you will rarely need to see a photo at 100%. On the phone itself it will look spectacular and I expect it to look decent on a computer screen running at a normal resolution.

An extra bonus is the 720p @ 30fps video that this camera is capable of taking. Although this won’t replace the current generation of HD video cameras it does make a suitable replacement for those off the cuff videos of family and friends that are so great to have.

Another benefit of having a phone with so many capabilities and a relatively open platform (just think – the processing power and RAM of the iPhone 4 is similar to full sized computers of 2000) is that we are seeing other devices converge into the phone. GPS units with turn by turn and text-to-speech, credit card machines, a burgeoning game platform and more.

Of course Apple isn’t the first company to have many of these features (See an HD video sample on the Nokia N8), but it is the first to wrap it in a spectacular interface. For many consumers, the iOS UI is the easiest and fastest way to get something done on a phone. The “Facetime” feature may become moderately popular over time, but unless they conform to some other open standard I do not see it becoming mainstream. Skype should be able to utilize the front facing camera over 3G, which would be key for both Skype and Apple. This alone would spur on many iPhone 4 purchases.

The iPhone and iOS has its weaknesses. Other manufacturers should take note:

  • Camera “Only” does 720p @ 30fps. Look for this to increase to 1080p/i and 60fps.
  • iPhone screen is one of the smaller ones. Sure, it has the “Retina” pixel density but many folks, especially those with older eyes, enjoy larger screens.
  • The Apple lockdown. Android’s open OS is the way forward if fragmentation and quality control can be maintained. 

Make no mistake, Apple has a winner with iPhone 4. Now that we have background processes, unified inbox,  a majority of the gripes myself and others have had with the OS have been rectified.

We have the convergence of the following mobile devices now complete:

Phone + Music Player + Camera + Video Camera + GPS + Gaming Device

So what’s next? We will see increases in quality on all features. The iPhone can’t really get any more pixel density, so I would expect to see an “iPhone XL” at some point with a 4-4.5″ screen. Aesthetically, there is a lot of non-screen space on the phone still. We might see a phone with almost no edges at some point in order to maximize the size – however there may be some engineering limitations that I am simply not aware of. 

What do you think? Will you be getting an iPhone 4?