Front Row : a threat to mac media center projects ?

Yesterday’s launch of Front row by Apple raises questions on the future of CenterStage and iTheater projects. Here are the comments of Nigel Pearson, at the origin of the MythTV port to Mac OS X, Ed Wolf, manager of the iTheater project, Neil Curry, for the CenterStage Project, and Zeno Crivelli, founder of the Mac Media Center Wiki.

Nigel Pearson suspect “developers will say “why bother?”. “If Front Row works like a good Apple application, then there is little need for these projects. Of course, choice is good, but there is so much development still to do on them, I think they will die.” Inronicaly, Nigel notices that “it is also very interesting how close the names CentreStage and Front Row are. Conceptually identical.

Zeno Crivelli is also worried : “For the developers of centerStage, the moment when Steve Jobs clicked on the Apple Remote and launched Front Row (with amazingly fluid visual effects) must have felt just as if he had taken a stick to beat them !” According to him, this launch surely “hurts a lot […] no matter what they can say. But they are not the only ones to be hurt : it must have been even worst for the guys at Trinity Software who just launched Seagull 3 and now discover iTunes 6.

Ed Wolf seems more optimistic: “it’s something that we have been preparing for over the last few months, so it didn’t come as a surprise. If you remember from your first interview with me, I said that it was just a matter of time [before Apple released their own Media Center App]. Anyways, from what I saw from Front Row today, I think it to be a beginning of something much bigger. Front Row looks like its a solid application, but it lacks in the areas that it can only show your local media files, and that it is only available for the new iMac line. The new remote is nifty, but its kind of a hack that Apple did. In order to read the signals, the new iSight reads the IR sensor on the remote to interpret the commands… a bit cheezy, but it works. ” According to Ed, “in regards to iTheater, Front Row is a competitor, but not in a way that we were all expecting. Instead of releasing a mac-wide media center application, Apple has limited the program to the new iMacs. Whats the point of having a media center if you cant hook it up to a TV ? I defeats the purpose of having a media center to have everyone huddled around a computer screen. That’s where I think our project will have the advantage. We are developing a piece of software that will interact with tons of different hardware configuration, and will be able to pull media content from every shared computer on your home network (via Encore).
For the time being, Ed states that “the iTheater project is going strong as we have just re-organized our efforts. Over the weekend, we will be re-vamping our website to make it easier for people to know what is going on. Overall, Front Row is a good kick start. The whole community is alive again and excited about our open source media center. I cant wait to see what happens over the next few weeks !

Neil Curry sees it the same way : “I don’t see Front Row affecting us, especially as only currently available with new iMacs. Also I doubt will ever be as flexable as CenterStage.” Antoine Duchâteau, lead developer for the CenterStage Project explains “We knew from the beginning that something like that would happen but we could just expect it to come later. For sure, this launch raises some fears but it’s also satisfying. First, there are similarities that clearly show that we’ve heading to the right direction for the GUI. The launch of Front Row also puts pressure on us, encouraging us to accelerate.” With confidence, Antoine stresses on the differences of approach. “Apple clearly wants to use Front Row to promote the new iMac G5 – and probably a new Mini to come. CenterStage has a wider scope. It’s an open platform not limited to iLife content. We’re planning modules for MAME games and DVD rip, for example. The next version of CenterStage – not the one to come in a few days but the one after – will integrate a network layer to share and play multimedia content across a network, in streaming.” Finally, Antoine strongly believes that “there’s room enough here for different and competitive projects.

Anyway, Windows Media Center Edition hasn’t killed projects and software like MythTV, Freevo, Meedio, Media Portal and even Xlobby…