I’ve decided to start up a mini-blog within my personal blog where I keep track of XBMC developments from within the team. As a warning, if you like surprises, I highly recommend avoiding these entries. The goal here is to talk about what it’s like behind the scenes at XBMC, and by definition that means talking about a lot of things we tend to avoid being very public about, because, honestly, people appear to make it their job to misconstrue reality as much as possible. For that reason, note that all opinions are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone on Team XBMC. Furthermore, any stories that you don’t like or like for the wrong reasons are entirely fictional and should just be attributed to a bad fever dream (or to my intense desire to replace my five year old laptop with a Macbook Air). Anyway, here are some stories.
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It doesn’t seem that long ago, but we began gearing up for the release of Eden on August 30th. At least, that was the day one of our developers, Scott Davilla, posted the internal forum message suggesting that we begin gearing up.
This has been a very different release for the Team, as compared to past schedules, because the entire release has been operating without Jonathan Marshall, whose real life has forced XBMC to take a backseat for at least a while. That means the leaders of the Eden release have been anyone willing to step up to bat. To date, that has included Davilla, Spiff, theuni, and, to a much lesser, more whiny extent, myself.
After Davilla’s initial proposal, discussion revolved around whether we should continue holding off on release. The fact of the matter was, nobody really wanted to release Eden without HD audio, or Binary Addon support, or TV Tuner support, but it’d had already been the better part of a year since Dharma was released and dozens, possibly hundreds, of fixes and features had been incorporated into XBMC in that time. The act of summing up all that code was a nightmare. The idea of doing a feature freeze and bug fixing all of the new features PLUS any additional features that came along between then and whenever HD audio or binary addons could reasonably be included sounded like a horror story of epic proportions.
So, realizing that even though Eden included an incredible number of new features and support it would likely be a disappointment to the many users who had been waiting feverishly for HD audio, the team decided to push forward. On Sept 29th, Spiff put together a tentative schedule. To give you an idea how tentative that schedule was, the original suggested date for branching was October 11th. Branching finally occurred December 11th.
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At each interval before it seems we are likely to finally take that big step forward, something major leaps into our path. We were planning on releasing Eden beta within 24 hours of branching. Naturally, just then, we discovered a tiny music error that caused XBMC to figuratively explode into a million tiny pieces. I wrote the announcement for the beta two days before we branched. The fact that I was going to have to wait even longer made me want to kill all music players in the universe.
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Much of XBMC’s amazingness depends on the friendliness of websites with info. When people decided to crowdsource movie and tv info, and later art, it was an absolute boon to XBMC. Finally, we weren’t completely dependent on IMDB, who didn’t exactly love that we scraped info from them.
Naturally, this means that the moment a website decides to play hardball with us, we are potentially in major trouble, because, being the Foundation that we are, we simply don’t have the kind of income necessary to pay several thousands of dollars a year in API costs.
Which is why, when we ran into a sudden increase in cost (from free to DEFINITELY NOT FREE) for the use of our weather API, we essentially had to drop everything we were doing in getting ready for Eden to fix a problem.
The problem was, weather was a hardcoded, core component of the XBMC experience. It wasn’t simply an addon that we could drop. What was the solution?
Well, to start out, the solution was to make it an addon we could drop. In all honesty, we probably should have done that with Dharma or even earlier, but better late than never.
Step two was to find a provider that would work as an effective weather info site. Fortunately, theuni (Cory) is both fairly well connected in the world of tech services and a master negotiator. In short order, XBMC had moved onto Weather Underground. Schilling ensues now: Truly, Weather Underground may be the best weather info provider in the universe.
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As a few of you know, I have recently been questing for a new job to replace the IRL one that I lost a bit ago to a bad economy. So question, for those of you reading this who aren’t my close friends (and mom), would you intentionally watch a show that followed the same trail as the Feature Friday series I write for XBMC? The idea behind the show would be to display user submitted Man Caves, and then have guests chat about mancave activities, like beer brewing, htpc selection, and wiring walls. It’s only a thought, but I know several other individuals have figured out ways to make XBMC their full time job, and I think this could be a cool way for me to do the same. Plus, it’d make a great central repository for video how-tos on XBMC, which there really need to be more of.
What do you think of my awesome idea, Natalie Portman?
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Anyway, that’s it for this inaugural edition of Behind the XBMC Developer Window. If enough people find this interesting, I may write another one on Wednesday. So tell your friends and keep an eye out for that.