XBMC: Killer App for GNU/Linux?

In my experience there are two things that the masses of ordinary people do with PCs: entertain themselves and communicate with the outside world. The entertainment part is huge. My “little woman”, for instance, will have 20 pages open in her browser all day long, mostly finding out what’s happening in the outside world. At the same time, our home has two PCs dedicated to multimedia and she can access her huge collection of images of family and architecture from two other PCs (one static and one mobile). Anywhere people are working or sitting in our home they can watch video and hear music. It’s a huge time-waster…

We have the “work” side of IT well covered by LibreOffice, Chrome browser, and the GNU/Linux desktop, but the area of entertainment has been fragmented with the need to pull things in from all over the web to get what we want.

For decades people have been finding ways to use PCs to play multimedia but still the home-entertainment industry cranks out gadgets that are not PCs and which come with their own remote control. The news that XBMC is coming to Debian GNU/Linux means that this Swiss Army knife of entertainment which has interfaces for all kinds of remote controls means every PC can now control every box in the stack. In our home, the XBMC-box and a programmable remote control runs the TV, the amplifier/receiver, the surround-sound system and the VCR all with a single programmable remote. You plunk yourself down, press Activities/Watch TV and the news is on. Press Watch VCR and our 20 year old collection of kids movies gets re-cycled by our grand daughter. XBMC can run DVDs or recorded movies and control the device attached to the computer and the various entertainment units.

XBMC is now a package in Debian Sid, the experimental flavour of Debian GNU/Linux. Soon, it will be in testing and may well be released with Debian GNU/Linux Wheezy this fall. Installing XBMC manually, as we did, is a bit of work, especially pulling in additional drivers and codecs. The inclusion of XBMC in Debian should mean that process will become smooth for Debian and all its dependents, including Ubuntu GNU/Linux, the current market leader of GNU/Linux distros.

XMBC:“Linux users rejoice! Thanks primarily to the hard work of Andres Mejia, XBMC has been accepted into the official Debian distribution! In the past we have been unable to make it into Debian as the sheer size and complexity of XBMC made the review process so difficult, so Andres, an XBMC developer who was working to become a Debian Developer already, volunteered to maintain it himself. Yesterday, his Eden packages were accepted. For those unclear about what this means, Debian unstable users will now be able to install XBMC without using any third-party repositories.

We have already been included in several major Linux distributions, but Debian is a big target because of the size of the community around it. As most Linux users are probably aware, other major distros such as Ubuntu and Mint derive (or derive indirectly) from Debian, and sync their packages regularly. Andres succeeded in requesting a sync to Ubuntu in time to hit Precise Pangolin, so users of this next LTS release will be able to install XBMC with just a few clicks (or an apt-get). We hope this will lower the barrier to entry for many users who are not familiar with PPAs.”

That leaves games as the last frontier in GNU/Linux for the masses. Many developers are still locked-in to that other OS but they have surely noticed the decline in share. As that progresses, more games will become available. The new HTML 5 standard and the changes to the GUI that Canonical has made may accelerate the tendency of games to become available on GNU/Linux. The present development gives consumers one more reason to want GNU/Linux and retailers one more reason to include it on shelves. I expect Ubuntu GNU/Linux will increase in popularity as a result.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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17 Responses to XBMC: Killer App for GNU/Linux?

  1. oiaohm says:

    Ivan “You didn’t think this through very well.”
    You Ivan is guilt of this.

    If you look at Linux Distributions mirror sites USA and other patent limited countries are not shipping the effected parts.

    Linux world had to deal with limitation encryption export restrictions from the USA before patents came up. So all distributions already had sister companies in other companies outside the USA to ship anything USA prevented from export or usage by USA laws.

    Patents bypass is basically using a system that distrobutions have had in place for the past 15 years to get around limitations on what strength encryption could be exported from the USA.

    So restriction does not apply to locations of all the operations of those firms. To prevent legal issues with the old encryption limit those companies outside USA had to legally stand on there own two feet. So yes completely outside USA law. Shock horror right. Linux distrobutions can keep on shipping even if there USA base is shut down.

    Ivan about time you get your head around the fact Linux Distributions operate globally so a single countries law does not apply to all the Distributions operations. With bases in many different countries with many different legal requirements. So just ship from a country where is legal.

    Yes mirrors in countries without patents contain the patent effected stuff.

    Your presume about being subject to USA laws is wrong.

    “Again there is no reason for them to be cheap about their users, which is exactly what they are doing.”
    Its due to patent holders not wanting to talk with them about only having to pay for countries that are effected by patent law.

    Not exactly cheep. Redhat and Linux foundation has no problems buying patent usage out right for FOSS usage globally if the option is offered.

    Deal from patent holders is not the right kind of deal so they work around the problem.

    Patent holders want to play the cheap card. Not that Redhat and others will pay can we void the patent before paying. Since is stupid to pay for a void patent. Next if the patent is valid buy for one fixed price for everyone.

  2. Ivan says:

    If you are using a Linux Distribution where software patents don’t apply you don’t have to pay that simple.

    You didn’t think this through very well. The above listed businesses and non-profits are either based in the United States or do business there and are therefore subject to its laws.

    Again there is no reason for them to be cheap about their users, which is exactly what they are doing.

  3. Phoney “7” is nowhere near 5% and GNU/Linux is doing a lot better than 1%. That myth has been well debunked. I proved the NetApplications overcounts business-usage of PCs. The exact method is unknown by me but it could be counting during business hours or counting only PCs connecting from business domains for example. Otherwise 10K employees from Google would not have swung the entire count of GNU/Linux for the USA. We know there are much larger roll-outs of GNU/Linux in USA but NetApplications does not count them.

  4. Phenom says:

    Since when does a lingering markeshare at around 1.5% count as doing well?

    At the same time, you are ready to say that 5% marketshare for WP7 is a failure.

    Ah, a tough life you have.

  5. GNU/Linux, and LibreOffice are both doing well at $0.

  6. Phenom says:

    So you can purchase …

    Hm, Mr. Pogson just said that it was absolutely free. You two, please sort the matter out before making public statements.

  7. Phenom says:

    Pogson wronte: The price being $0 while doing what needs to be done kills M$’s lock on consumers.

    Except it doesn’t. Zero price didn’t help Linux, didn’t help OpenOffice, doesn’t help LibreOffice. Why should it help some obscure media player, who has nothing else to put on the table? And which happens to run under Windows as well?

  8. oiaohm says:

    Ivan XBMC is gstreamer supporting. So you can purchase http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluendo codecs if you are in a country with legal issues.

    “It’s not like Red Hat, Canonical, or even SPI (Debian’s legal umbrella) can’t afford to pay license fees for the existing code and meet their legal obligations.”
    They don’t have to. Fleundo was created to handle the problem.

    Software patents don’t apply in all countries. If you are using a Linux Distribution where software patents don’t apply you don’t have to pay that simple.

    Ivan did not not think Linux world might have set up a central clearing house for this problem.

  9. Ivan says:

    That’s nice but it doesn’t answer the question. Does XBMC use legally licensed codecs or does it rely on users to ignore intellectual property laws?

    It’s a simple question, Bob.

    It’s not like Red Hat, Canonical, or even SPI (Debian’s legal umbrella) can’t afford to pay license fees for the existing code and meet their legal obligations.

  10. Ivan wrote, “violating patent laws”, as if software could do that.

    Software patents are invalid. SCOTUS will pronounce on that this year, IMHO. Patents are temporary monopolies for new ways of producing goods, not mathematics, logic, language or software. You can claim copyright on a written work but you may not have a patent on it. That USPTO and the courts in the USA does not prevent them returning to their senses. Recently there was progress on that… see USPTO policy:
    “Since a computer program is merely a set of instructions capable of being executed by a computer, the computer program itself is not a process and USPTO personnel should treat a claim for a computer program, without the computer-readable medium needed to realize the computer program’s functionality, as nonstatutory functional descriptive material. “

    see USPTO Bilski Guidance

    see the details:
    “Factors Weighing Against Eligibility:
    • No recitation of a machine or transformation (either express or inherent).
    • Insufficient recitation of a machine or transformation.
    o Involvement of machine, or transformation, with the steps is merely nominally, insignificantly, or
    tangentially related to the performance of the steps, e.g., data gathering, or merely recites a field in
    which the method is intended to be applied.
    o Machine is generically recited such that it covers any machine capable of performing the claimed
    o Machine is merely an object on which the method operates.
    o Transformation involves only a change in position or location of article.
    o “Article” is merely a general concept (see notes below).
    • The claim is not directed to an application of a law of nature.
    o The claim would monopolize a natural force or patent a scientific fact; e.g., by claiming every mode
    of producing an effect of that law of nature.
    o Law of nature is applied in a merely subjective determination.
    o Law of nature is merely nominally, insignificantly, or tangentially related to the performance of the
    • The claim is a mere statement of a general concept (see notes below for examples).
    o Use of the concept, as expressed in the method, would effectively grant a monopoly over the concept.
    o Both known and unknown uses of the concept are covered, and can be performed through any existing
    or future-devised machinery, or even without any apparatus.
    o The claim only states a problem to be solved.
    o The general concept is disembodied.
    o The mechanism(s) by which the steps are implemented is subjective or imperceptible. “

    Not much room for software in that lot, eh?

  11. Ivan says:

    The price being $0 while doing what needs to be done kills M$’s lock on consumers.

    Does XBMC use legal codecs? Or is this where you hypocritically justify violating patent laws and tell us it’s a GoodThingâ„¢ because inventors shouldn’t make money from their inventions?

  12. Phenom wrote, of XBMC, “It has no killer feature.”

    The price being $0 while doing what needs to be done kills M$’s lock on consumers. A lot of people have a PC hooked up to the TV/audio system and they now have a choice: paying a premium price for that other OS or getting GNU/Linux for $0. A lot of people build their own such PCs and choice of OS is theirs. My son built several and after using that other OS is now using XBMC on Ubuntu GNU/Linux. That was his choice, not mine. I have been a poor father teaching others’ children while mine grew strong on their own in the south. He clung to that other OS for years until its defects were obvious to him. He is not alone. Many young people shop at Computer Avenue and Computer Boulevard, in Winnipeg. It’s the Silicon Valley of Winnipeg and parking is scarce.
    Computer Boulevard

  13. In my experience people hate “the ribbon” and prefer OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice. I will never forget the time a lady brought in a PC newly purchased. She wanted M$’s office suite. It came in a transparent box with no instructions how to open it. We were three older adults and not one of us had eyes sharp enough to see the thin transparent tape holding the thing closed. Eventually we found it by feel… Then, we could not find the “file” menu and so could not open a file… We switched to OpenOffice.org on one of the school’s PCs to do the job at hand. No one complained two years ago when I switched a whole school to OpenOffice.org on GNU/Linux from M$’s office suite on that other OS.

    The box, I suppose, is some kind of attempt to preserve its precious “intellectual property” and “the ribbon” is an attempt to appear to be innovative in the production of an application to make a PC a glorified typewriter. The world can just do without M$.

  14. dougman says:

    Re: Now, remember OO / LO. Both a free, but people prefer to pay MS for their Office. Go figure.

    Openoffice is depreciated, Libreoffice is the more then adequate for anyone to use and is compatible with M$ Office.

    I always take 5-15 minutes explain to customers what Libreoffice is and how it benefits them. The beauty is explaining to a SMB, that they do not need to spend $1500 to create documents and spreadsheets.


  15. Phenom says:

    Still, you fail to point out any advantage of XBMC but the price of zero. It is not an unique product, not even for Linux, and definitely not for other platforms. It has no killer feature.

    Now, remember OO / LO. Both a free, but people prefer to pay MS for their Office. Go figure.

  16. Phenom wrote, “Pogson, how can an application, available for any platform out there, be killer-app for one specific platform? That’s outright impossible.”

    Everyone I know hates M$. It just takes one good app to cause people on the edge to switch. Ubuntu/Canonical, alone, popularizing XBMC is waving a red flag at a bull, “You can be FREE! Come to GNU/Linux”. People using that other OS can try it out. If they like it, they may have eliminated the last thing that held them to that other OS. XBMC competes directly with M$’s “Media Center“. People have to pay a premium price for that other OS to get that. XBMC is $free with GNU/Linux. Why bother paying for an OS that gives you nothing?

  17. Phenom says:

    From your own source:
    “XBMC is available for Linux, Mac OS X (Leopard, Tiger and Apple TV) and Microsoft Windows, as well as the original Xbox game console”

    Pogson, how can an application, available for any platform out there, be killer-app for one specific platform? That’s outright impossible.

    And that is before even comparing it with other solutions, like Windows Media Center. I’d like to hear from you what killer-feature XBMC has, especially across platforms.

    Try better next time, Mr. Pogson.

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