From time to time, I post elsewhere about some topics that I feel might be of interest here. This is one of them, regarding use of XBMC which is software which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux which gives you a graphical front-end to your audio/video/pictures. XBMC is free and "open source." http://xbmc.org/

The context here was someone offering it as being better than (and certainly cheaper) than commercial movie servers. This was my one-minute review of it:

I downloaded version 10 of XBMC yesterday for grins. And the skin mentioned. Sadly, it was not a good experience:

1. I went to play my music noticed that nothing was there. Seems like you have to tell it where your music is. How come? And worse yet, on Windows 7 doesn't support libraries or anything. So you are left needing to know were My Music folder is from c:.

2. Talking about c:, I mean really. Showing ".." on the list of file names and directories? How many end users know what that means? Sure, the developer who wrote that custom widget to show the file names in a directory knows it but for heaven's sake, think of the end user, not yourself. Put on a back or UP button for heaven's sake.

3. I then go to play the music files. Nothing happens. Yet I hear the annoying wooshing sounds as I navigate so I know it has found my sound card.

4. I keep clicking on a few more music files and then I get a pop up saying something went wrong and that I need to go and read the log file. What the heck? Why not tell me what went wrong? And even for a power user like me, I need to know where the darn file is. Don't send me googling for the thing.

5. I dismiss the dialog and click here and there and boom, it crashes! It was probably 30 seconds since install. Software should not be this fragile.

6. I go to play videos and pictures. Same aggravation with having to teach it where these things are. Pictures seem to be slow to come up. Videos surprisingly play with audio!

7. That made me think there must have been something special about my audio files, remembering that they are in WMA Lossless. Go googling that and after reading a bunch of forum posts and posturing about it not being an "open format" I learn in that it doesn't support them. So fine, but tell me that rather than putting a random message which didn't even make sense in the log file when I found it (simply said their "DVD" player couldn't play them).

8. I played with the Night skin. It is attractive in that demo but in reality, not so usable. Couldn't figure out what the heck that pop up menu bar was at the bottom. Navigating in and out of it was non-intuitive. Why have a second set of menus yet again?

To be fair, I am super impressed that they have a cross platform UI. And the framework seems pretty flexible for people to customize it this way. Alas, it is not fit for general consumption and frustrating for power users like me who like to see the basics done right. Their developers need to find someone with good usability experience and more testing resources to polish the experience.

Given all of this, it is not even remotely a substitute for K. Even for general media browsing, it has a long, long way to catch up to level of polish and reliability of Media Center UI from Microsoft.