Boxee is holding an event in San Francisco tonight to declare a winner of its App Dev Challenge, in which third-parties created apps for the media platform. But the real winner tonight will be Boxee, which is also announcing a boatload of new features and functionality for its media center software — none bigger than a version of Boxee for Windows, finally.
While many developers go the other way, Boxee started as a Mac and Linux product first. But obviously, Windows PCs are the vast majority of the machines out there. “This is huge being able to serve the rest of the computer market,” Boxee CEO Avner Ronen tells us. And that’s undoubtedly an understatement, given the success Boxee has already had minus all those Windows users.
Like many people who own a PC, Avner Ronen found himself watching more and more video online. But he wanted to view it on the TV in his living room as well as on his laptop. "I got together with a bunch of my friends and we realized we were watching streaming video on the Web a lot more and using our TVs a lot less," Ronen says.
But they couldn’t find technology that did a good job of bridging the gap between the PC in the home office and the TV in the living room. So they created the software themselves. "We just wanted to build something that we would use," says Ronen, who emigrated to the U.S. from Israel in 1999.
The result is Boxee TV, software that grabs video and music downloaded onto a PC and then houses it in a single, easy-to-navigate location. It also lets users pull together content from a range of online video and music sources, from CBS’s CBS.com and Last.fm to Viacom’s Comedy Central and Time Warner’s CNN. Better still, when the PC is connected to a TV set with a cable that can be had for $10, Boxee lets users enjoy programming on a big TV that they’d otherwise view on an often-tiny computer screen. Ronen says 80 percent of users make the connection between their PCs and TVs.
Boxee was first released in mid-2008 to users of Apple Macintosh computers and machines running the Linux operating system. Already the software has developed a large, devoted following of almost a half million users. At the same time, Ronen and his pals have sprinted past where tech companies large and small have sputtered for the better part of a decade. For instance, Microsoft created the Media Center PC concept in 2002;…
We got an early look at Boxee’s Ubuntu version on Ubuntu’s 9.04 beta, and it runs just as smoothly as the more popular Mac and Apple TV releases (actually, smoother than the Apple TV, given the hardware constraints on that platform). The latest release throws all the latest improvements, like Pandora music streaming, local and national radio feeds from RadioTime, the App Box “store” for adding the newest apps and channels being developed with Boxee’s API, and the XUL-based browser that can be pointed at any video on the web—including the ever-popular shows and movies from Hulu‘s streams.
Ubuntu users installing for the first time can head to Boxee’s download site for installation instructions; those with a previous Boxee installed and included as a repository should see Boxee updated the next time they update their system. Mac users can update using the automatic notification from Boxee’s home screen, and Apple TV users should download both the latest Launcher app and Boxee from the Launcher menu. Windows users: Boxee’s developers say you should get yours in June.
Not that there should be any shock surrounding the formal introduction of boxee’s App Box and API — after all, both were teased sufficiently during last month’s bleeding edge alpha release — but we’re still thrilled to see things moving along nicely. This week, the open source media platform launched both an API and an application portal, both of which will act to bring all manners of third-party gems to the media browsing world. boxee doesn’t plan on being any sort of gatekeeper (at least for now), which hopefully will spur innovation and get more developers interested.
In related news, ArsTechnica has also found that boxee is currently in talks with a few big players in the hardware space, essentially hoping to get its 1s and 0s onto game consoles, Blu-ray players and other set-top-boxes. There’s no clue as to the whens and wheres, but we suspect this means there will be no dedicated STB in the near future — for better or worse.
Mac and Apple TV owners just got a bug-fixed Boxee alpha that includes a working Hulu, Pandora and other App Box releases, and other highlights from the last two test releases.
If you jumped on the bleeding-edge Boxee test releases to get Hulu working again, or Pandora, PBS and RadioTime in the latest test build, you’ve already seen most of what’s new in Boxee’s latest alpha release. But the Boxee team spent a week fixing the bugs and connection issues in those test releases and has issued a new Mac alpha (linked at bottom) and Apple TV release (which users can get to through their AppleTV’s Launcher/Downloads menu).
The big, forward-looking stuff is actually happening behind the scenes, though. The open-source media center officially rolled out its API last night, offering anyone the opportunity to develop Boxee plug-ins using its Python-based API, and promising not to be a “gate keeper (or bottleneck) in deciding which applications are published.”
And, as Boxee’s founder notes in a press release, you can pretty much add any video you see on the web to your menu, because the latest release uses a Firefox-like XULRunner browser to play video (which is why Hulu RSS feeds have been working more consistently of late):
to try out the new browser you can add RSS feeds
in the App Box or go to Video > Browse > Add Source and add a URL -
boxee will try to display the page and if there is a video on the page
play the video.
Next up on Boxee’s agenda are a similar bug-fix session and upgrade for the Windows (private) alpha and Ubuntu releases, along with releasing the Windows version publicly. What would you like to see developed for Boxee and released through the App Box? Share your unofficial development specs in the comments.
To be honest, we’re still quite confused as to why Hulu’s content partners think it makes sense to stop Boxee from showing Hulu videos. If you don’t know, Boxee is basically a web browser for your television. If you have a computer hooked up to your TV, you can watch Hulu (and other) videos. You could do it via any browser you want — including Firefox or IE — but Boxee is designed to function better for TVs. Yet, for some reason, even though it’s just a browser, Hulu’s content partners freaked out and demanded Boxee stop. Since then, there’s been a bit of a technology back and forth, with Boxee offering workarounds, and Hulu trying to block Boxee’s workaround (which Boxee got around quickly again). The latest, as pointed out by a few readers, is that Hulu is now trying to encrypt its content to keep it from working in non-browser apps.
Of course, Boxee on the Mac is just like a browser, so the encryption doesn’t even do anything — and Boxee is planning to upgrade its software on other platforms to do the same thing. Honestly, though, the whole thing seems like a waste. Hulu is dedicating technical resources towards making its content less useful, and trying to stop people from using the content in perfectly reasonable ways. That’s a recipe for failure. Even if the company is only doing this to appease angry content partners, you have to wonder how Hulu can possibly survive while sitting between content providers who want to lock everything down, and users who want to do the opposite.