What follows are entirely my own views and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Team XBMC, any members of Team XBMC, or any partners and affliates of Team XBMC.
A few months ago I wrote a post describing my understanding of the differences between Plex and XBMC. Today I’ll probably do the same thing with Boxee, but first I’d like to say a few words.
To begin with, the relationship between Boxee and XBMC has always been a pretty good one. Boxee helped us set up our Foundation. Boxee paid for our very first developer conference. While there hasn’t been a great deal of code exchanged between the two communities, this has much more to do with the different coding methods a person will always find between a non-profit foundation whose income is not based on hitting deadlines and a for-profit company who absolutely must hit deadlines or suffer the wrath of the press and the public. That’s the nature of the beast and not much can be done about it.
As a non-profit, XBMC is likely never going to be in the position that Boxee has found itself in recently. XBMC is an example of an “upstream” project. We provide the code that can (and I stress can) be used by our users, but can also be by for-profit companies to make awesome boxes and software projects. Because we are relatively small (unlike Mozilla, for e.g.) and because the vast majority of code is provided for free by developers, we are not subject to market shifts and the realities of trying to make partners happy. If, for example, we partnered with Netflix tomorrow and six months down the line, they told us they didn’t like the fact that we used FFMPEG to decode non-Netflix material, we could simply shrug and part ways with Netflix. If, on the other hand, our livelihoods and profitability depended on the largess of Netflix, and they told us they didn’t like FFMPEG, we’d be in some hot soup indeed.
In this world of DRM and content locked up tighter than… something (sorry, I’m terrible at analogies), that’s reality. If VCRs had been invented in 2011, they’d be illegal. If CDs had been invented in 2001, iTunes wouldn’t exist, because DRM would have been included on CDs, iTunes would have been illegal, and the company that we all know and love called Apple would be a marginally struggling company known for cool computers and not quite as spectacular profit margins.
Put simply, public policy right now is in the hands of content providers who absolutely will not give up the imaginary ghost of content control until their proverbial hands have been squeezed so tight that all the remainder of the content has been forced from their fingers. Princess Leia would be chuckling in delight. Louis CK doesn’t understand that the MPAA doesn’t give two craps about whether a DRM-free world is possible and profitable. They only care about whether it is controllable and re-packageable. Congress doesn’t seem to get that, by slowly picking apart Fair Use and the First Sale doctrines, they are destroying the free market and creating a bubble economy based exclusively on rent-seeking income practices that hinder growth and destroy jobs. The idea that streaming a movie over the internet is legally a public performance, when, in every technological sense, it is exactly the same as playing a dvd over a really, really long cord, is the height of legal absurdity. I weep for the inability of the legal and rule-making profession in America to keep any kind of pace with technology, and I vigorously oppose modern laws designed to punish content consumers and content creators, so that a wealthy subset of content owners can profit enormously at the expense of all.
But I digress.
As a member of Team XBMC, I can afford to take a stand like that, because doing so doesn’t especially affect my livelihood. The employees of Boxee don’t get that privilege, because the moment they decide to step out of a corrupt system in order to fight it is the moment they get to start living on the streets. It is for this reason that I do not fault Boxee for leaving the HTPC by the wayside. It is for this reason that I do not fault Netflix for imposing hefty (and totally useless*) DRM on their video streams. The only individuals I fault are the rent-seeking content owners and the congressmen and women willing to debase themselves for campaign dollars.
*Seriously, the moment you can point to DRM effectively preventing a movie from being pirated in bit-perfect quality is the moment I’ll grant that DRM works. Until DRM actually prevents piracy, the ONLY thing it does is prevent genuinely appreciative users who actually want to pay for content from watching a movie the way they want to watch it. DRM is the modern equivalent of forcing users of Sony Walkmen to only use Sony Headphones.
Nevertheless, as of December 26th, Boxee has decided to move out of the realm of HTPC software, and into the realm of SoC boxes exclusively, and so Boxee users want to know if XBMC is a viable alternative to switch to. Let me say to these users, “Yes, absolutely. As I have said before, using XBMC will make men (or women) want to be you, and women (or men) want to be with you. You will likely get awesome seats at awesome tables in exclusive restaurants now (if you are already rich and famous). And you will suddenly develop a taste for incredibly disgusting plants/fish eggs served on tiny crackers (probably).”
And, to answer your question in a slightly less sarcastic way, Boxee and XBMC are actually fairly similar programs (which makes sense, given that only 3 years ago they were the exact same program). My understanding is that Boxee is slightly more forgiving about names and locations when scraping your local media. XBMC is MUCH more forgiving if you don’t like the default look, as we provide a host of alternative skin addons (including one designed to mimic Boxee to some extent called Xeebo).
Perhaps the greatest difference between the programs, other than the skinning thing, is Boxee’s built in web browser. XBMC does not have one of those. This means, where Boxee could host numorous Boxee plugins that called videos from the internet by connecting using a built-in web browser, XBMC can host zero such plugins without the approval of the service provider.* Most XBMC users, however, ignore this limitation and simply install additional addon repositories that CAN connect to web streaming services. The most famous of these repositories is the bluecop repository. You can find a list of these unofficial addons at: http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Unofficial_add-on_repositories
*Actually, to my knowledge, whether we can or cannot host such addons has not been tested in court, so nobody actually knows the answer to the question. I’m relatively certain that no one ever took Boxee to court over their web streaming methods, and so the entire process is a big legal question mark. We at XBMC figure it’s easier to be safe than sorry, particularly as our users are fairly bright and tend to have no problem installing an unofficial addon or two.
I hope that’s answered your questions, and I hope I didn’t upset anyone with my political rant. Natalie, what do you think about wealthy, powerful individuals seeking to destroy creativity and jobs in the name of control and wealth?
Oh… um, I think we’re mixing our movie quotes here. (Also, our actresses who shaved their heads for a movie role.)
Update: Before any poorly thought out comments crop up, I would like to reiterate that I am not advocating piracy. In fact, if you read with any kind of thoroughness, you’ll see that I’m expressly advocating against piracy and, specifically, against the painfully useless means to fight piracy that are popular in the current day and age. Because this is my blog, I will have absolutely no problem deleting comments advocating piracy and will have very little tolerance for negative comments against either Boxee or Netflix. Fair warning.