Thursday, January 28, 2010

Front Row

My first impression of Front Row was so positive - this crazy mac thing has a remote control, and you can use it to browse your media stuff. That's AWESOME, I love it!

But then I ran into difficulties - I had trouble importing files into iTunes. I imported Iron & Wine like 5 times before I figured it out - the files had damaged tags, so iTunes (Apple's media management software) couldn't recognize them. Ok, that's a pain. I stuck into a Windows program, rewrote the tags, and then it worked.

And then I decided I wanted to watch movies over the network. This turned out to be a challenge. The answer was to connect to the network share, and to drop a symbolic link to the mac filesystem into the "Movies" folder, so that I could make Front Row browse to that share.

But then the first time that the mac slept, it severed the connection to the remote volume. After lots of research, I've found no simple solution. Apparently you can write a script to automatically mount a volume when the computer wakes from sleep, and there may be pay software out there, but no thanks on both counts.

My solution so far - since I was moving my media to external hard drives anyway, I just plug that sucker into the mac. No problem. So I run Front Row, browse to Movies movies volumes mybook tv ds9 and I can watch all the Rene Auberjonois I want. It works, though I wouldn't say it "just" works.

Of course, I have another hard drive in the living room, connected to the nice stereo, and that drive has all my music. I can't listen to any of it through Front Row. Because that music isn't in the iTunes database, it doesn't exist as far as Front Row is concerned. And I'm not about to let iTunes get its hands on that folder. I don't want to force all my computers to use iTunes. I don't even know how I'd go about dealing with the fact that I have one archive of the music which must be accessible to several computers. It's a solution that just doesn't work for me.

Maybe it's years of windows use, but I am very much accustomed to the model that my computer files are organized by a filesystem hierarchy, and programs must access that hierarchy to work. I hate synching, and the attendant requirement that I lose control over my filesystems and access to those filesystems.

That's why my mp3 player is now just my Blackberry Curve. I plug it into my computer, browse the filesystem, see what's there. I can drag a new folder into it at any time and delete folders at will. I don't have to run any program other than explorer to do this. I don't need any special cables to charge it, either, because I just plug it into a usb port. It's such a simple solution. I love it to death.

I'm sure iTunes could do something similar if I were using an iPod, but I'd have to add the music to the iTunes database and then figure out how to put a selection of music on the iPod. And that's assuming I didn't run into any Iron & Wine-style problems.

And I'm thinking about all this because of that badly-named iPad. I'm sure some people will like it, but I don't get it. I feel like you're paying a premium for a crippled computer. Like the iPhone, it's designed to lock you into using Apple products and Apple stores to get all your content, and I don't want that. For less than half the price of the iPad, I could have a netbook that would offer a real keyboard, the ability to run a much larger selection of applications, similar battery life, similar or better portability (having seen how many broken iPhone screens there are out there, I wonder how that big glass is going to fare), and a higher-resolution display.

Mostly, it looks like a media player to me, and it lacks an HD display. It's a big glass box that you throw in your backpack and sometimes you surf the web on it.
And maybe it's goofy to turn a netbook on its side to read comics, but I've done it and it works really, really well.

But the best part is that I don't have to pay one company every time I want to do something on my netbook. I bought the damn computer, and it will do what I want it to with the music and movies that I already have. Also, my netbook cost me less than half what the iPad will cost. I don't get it.

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