Apple takes back the copycat title

Apple takes back the copycat title

Summary: Apple cultists are gushing over Steve Jobs' latest Apple announcements. Browsing your music collection by album cover? A box that connects your home theater to your networked PC and plays music and movies? Someone better tell Steve it's all been done before, and better.


Apparently, every copy of Mac OS X comes with a Cognitive Dissonance add-in. This feature allows Mac cultists to loudly accuse Microsoft of ripping off features when it's convenient, and to blindly miss the ripoffs that go the other way.

Case in point: Yesterday's far-from-earthshattering Apple announcements.

Over at the Cult of Mac blog, Leander Kahney gushes over Apple's new Cover Flow interface, which allows you to browse your music collection using pictures of album covers.

Just as it's easy to see quickly what the jukebox has to offer, it's now easy to see what's been hiding in your ever-growing digital music collection.

As Jobs mentioned twice during his Tuesday presentation, a visual navigation scheme makes a big music collection much more accessible.

"It's a wonderful way to rediscover your music library," he said.

Huh. Anyone who owns a copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition or is using the Windows Vista beta doesn't need to rediscover anything. Browsing by album cover has been part of the Media Center interface for four years. (See the Vista version for yourself here and here and here.) In fact, Media Center PCs support TV tuners that allow you to browse recorded TV using thumbnails as well.

And then there's iTV, which my colleague David Berlind is all ga-ga about.

iTV will have integrated wireless networking, USB, wired Ethernet, an High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), and the standard  component video and analog audio interfaces that any consumer video product is expected to have. Somewhat reminiscent of the the way Sonos' gear works with music, iTV can apparently take "delivery" of its content (eg: an iTMS purchased song) from an iTunes-enabled PC via the wired or wireless network and its FrontRow-esque 3D user interface can be controlled with a remote control (so, iTV is sort of a set-top box on steroids).

The iTV doesn't appear to have a tuner (not that it needs one). In my home setup, provided I wanted to use it, I'd just connect the iTV to the receiver  (more like a networking hub these days given all the sources connected to it) at the heart of my home entertainment setup in my family room. Or, you can connect it directly to a big flat panel.

So, let me get this straight. I can pay $300 for a device that allows me to play content from a computer located elsewhere in the house. Cool! It's about time someone invented a "media extender" like this.

Oh. Wait. Microsoft already did. I have three Media Center extenders in this house, two first-generation models and an Xbox 360. On any of these extenders, I can play my entire music collection (browsing it by album cover) through my home theater system using a wired or wireless connection to my Media Center computer. But unlike Apple's device (which won't be available until January 2007) the Xbox 360 also streams live or recorded TV and downloaded high-definition content. It plays games and DVDs in full 5.1 surround sound. And in January, when Vista ships, I'll be able to get a CableCARD-equipped Media Center that will stream HDTV programs over the network to my Xbox 360 with no extra charges.

So, will someone please tell me why I want to replace my Xbox 360 with an Apple-branded device that only plays tunes from one music store, allows me to pay $15 for a movie encoded at 640 by 480 that looks like crap on my widescreen HDTV, and is unable to record or stream TV programming?

It must take a lot of Kool-Aid to understand what a great deal that is.

Topic: Apple

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  • Dim history

    Graphical file browsing [1] has been around for a long time. I remember using it with KDE back in the 2.x series, and it was hardly original then.

    That particular capability isn't new at Apple, so I'm presuming that there's something else not mentioned. That, or Steve was running low on red meat for the crowd. I wouldn't want to bet either way.

    [1] i.e. unique graphics for individual files, not just for types.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • It's not file browsing

      The interface is to a music player and a library of tunes organized by album. artist, etc.

      The old iPod interface is a file browser. This is completely different.
      Ed Bott
      • They don't use files?

        [i]The interface is to a music player and a library of tunes organized by album. artist, etc.[/i]

        I'm [i]really[/i] impressed by their technology if they don't store the tunes in files.

        Or did you mean that this is a user interface for accessing the library, much as the various picture album systems organize photographs? In which case the same applies -- the "multiple views of same data" stuff is old hat.

        Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see the big guys doing it. However, less-prominent sources have been doing this kind of thing for quite a while, if with less polish.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • The tunes are stored in files

          But you are not using a file browser (in any reasonably accepted defintion of that term) to manage, browse, or play the collection.

          Everything in Media Center is stored in a database that contains file names and metadata. You browse through database views and do searches and ultimately select a group of tunes or build a playlist. If you want to torture the definition, you could call that a file browser. But several of the views are using information that isn't in the files (global star ratings, playback frequency, etc.). And many of the views (by artist, by album, by genre) are not available in any file browser that I'm aware of.
          Ed Bott
          • I Guess You have never used Konqueror?

            Multiple view capabilities
            Or the various ioslaves it includes.
            Thumbnails, CDDB, Integration between other apps KsCD or Amarok or Kaffiene or what ever you Like...

            Why would you, you only report on Windows? not tech
          • In the living room?

            Funny, I can't find a box that plugs into my home theater that does this with my media collection on a PC.

            You know, like we're talking about with the Apple announcement and the extenders they're copying.
            Ed Bott
        • One additional thought

          By your definition, when I use my TiVo, I'm just using a file browser. Because after all, those recorded TV shows are just files on the hard drive of a single-purpose Linux computer.

          No big deal.
          Ed Bott
  • Gee..

    Going after Apple Now...
    For Just over 4 years now have been using things like LinuxVDR, MythTv, VLC etc and getting Sat & HD and be able to view stream record from multiple sources to any computer or modified settop, Like an Xbox. And play games and Have Net access, etc, etc

    Yes MS Invents everything...
    Is that Not MS Repackages everything
    • You shouldn't have went there.

      The pioneers that brought watching TV to computers were the TV tuner makers and yes it happened on Windows first! Furthermore it was Gateway that was the first PC OEM to make it mainstream with their Destination PCs, (Windows again).
    • I was watching TV on Windows in 1998

      With ATI hardware and software that was included with Windows 98. Picture <a href="">here</a>.
      Ed Bott
      • Try 1993 on the Mac baby!

        Care to rethink that whole copycat statement?
        tic swayback
        • Ha ha ha

          Did you actually read it? They stuck a separate TV tuner in the case with a Mac. Quote from the article: "Alas, you can't watch TV and compute at the same time."

          Gee. Wonder why it never took off?
          Ed Bott
          • TV's and Computers

            As Microsoft will likely be the first to provide toaster
            functionality with a computer, I for one will be quick to conceed
            that point to you as well.

            A TV is passive technology. It's firmly ingrained in our culture
            and it's form and presence in the living room has not been
            swayed by the presence of TV tuners in computers, nor will it.
            Turning a computer into a TV isn't not something Apple has
            done because it presumes to lobotimize an active technology.
            It's currently easy and you can add it to any Mac, this is as it
            should be, it's an option. This isn't the point.

            iTV is different from a tuner, it champions, ownership, the
            covetous impulse, the collection and it's cultivation. It's a series
            of choices that reflect personal taste and indeed personality. It is
            fundamentally different than a pipe for push media. Apple won't
            try to compete with Microsoft in the area of onboard tuners.
            They won't have to, that's what TV is for. While Microsoft battles
            for control of he living room with cable companies and loses,
            Apple will be doing the same end run they have with all the
            iTunes initiatives, and providing a digital product that makes
            sense, and is not already provided more effectively in another
            manner. Feature drift is your big mistake, not your advantage.

            With iTunes at 88% market share, those of you who have been
            proponents of the market share argument, might begin to
            understand the wrong criteria for making decisions had been
            chosen. Keep laughing.
            Harry Bardal
          • Yes, and your point is?

            First of all, Harry, the Apple product has TV right there in its name. SO if you're going to get on your high horse about the passivity of TV, you're going to look a little silly.

            And if you would stop drinking the Kool-Aid for a day of two and actually look at Media Center you would see that it does everything iTV promises to do. Only better. You don't need a TV tuner, and in fact most Media Center PCs don't have one today. But anyone who buys an MCE box can add that capability easily.

            PS: I'm going to bookmark this post for the day when Apple announces its TiVo/Media Center ripoff complete with TV tuner. I fully expect you to eloquently find a way to praise it to the heavens and contradict everything you've written here.

            Like I said, cognitive dissonance.
            Ed Bott
          • Media Center

            Look at Media Center? I own one. Do you own a Mac?

            Tell me again about cognitive dissonance.

            You must have an explaination as to why Media Center running
            natively on it's platform with 95% market share, fails to compete
            with Apple which owns 88% of content distribution across
            platforms. Have we all drunk the Kool-Aid?
            Harry Bardal
          • I'll type very slowly, Harry

            The two announcements were for iTunes 7. Which runs on PCs. And for a new box that has not been released yet but when it does will connect to Macs and PCs.

            So I don't need a Mac to form a preliminary opinion about these products.

            All I need is a desire to listen to and watch digital media in whatever way makes the most sense to me.
            Ed Bott
          • Thanks

            You managed to dismiss the worlds most popular jukebox with a
            free download. I needed to have purchased a media center
            computer to dismiss your accusation of my cognitive

            So the cultists are not iPod users or iTunes users. The cultists
            are Mac users. Most pointedly, Mac users with cognitive
            dissonance? I and my Media Center stand on guard, repentant of
            my cognitive failings, clutching my Vista coupon in hand, ready
            for the radiance that will usher in this new age of computing,
            and mock the derivative OSX. I'm clear on this now and I thank
            you so much for typing slow.
            Harry Bardal
          • the media center has been RESOUNDINGLY rejected by the public...

            dead on arrival... they don't want it, can't see the value in it... that is clear... people have their content on non-media center PCs and want to view and listen to it on home theater.. this product does this... it leverages what joe consumer alreaday has.. a PC and iTunes (88% market share)... and give them what they want and doesn't force them to go out and buy an new expensive media center PC and and an xBox?? (joe consumer doesn't understand why a gaming system is the key to this)... you and MS need to deal with the universe the way it is, not the way you'd like it to be... you and the boys at redmond may think the media center is a GREAT idea but deal with it, the public doesn't.. the public has voted by keeping their dollars in the pockets

            as well as much as Sony and MS would like the gaming system to be the center of the digital world... the public is still scratching their heads over that one.. is doen't make sense to them
          • Media Center PC's have not been rejected ....

            ... and continue to grow in popularity. The having to buy expensive hardware to support MCE is also a myth. You can buy any standard desktop with MCE loaded for about $20.00 more then the same computer with Home loaded. You can add the TV tuner and remote for about $150.00 more. An ATSC tuner is another $80.00. The cost is even less if you buy the PC with the tuners integrated.

            With Windows Vista you will be able to get a PC from an OEM with an integrated digital cable tuner that will replace the set top box from the cable company. If your a DirecTV subscriber you can have DirecTV come out and install a Digital Satellite tuner that replaces their set top box.

            What this all means is you will have in one box a complete media experience in High Definition with 6.1 surround sound. You can listen to your music, record TV, watch DVDs, author your own content, browse you Email, purchase and download new content and the list goes on.
          • and it will sit in your office... with iTunes installed...

            and pipe media stored in iTunes wirelessly to your home theater through "iTV" to your home theater..
            the only people who have these MC PCs hooked up to their "home theaters" are poor students in 1 bedroom appartments who whatch TV on their monitors... get real.. no one is using these MC PCs as intended.. if they were no one would be using iPod who wants to manage their media in two places iTunes folders and where every you store it on a MC.. MC is a failure