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Microsoft Media Television

The Engineer Behind Microsoft's TV Strategy 292

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the bill-in-every-home dept.
Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "A high-energy engineer named Joe Belfiore, age 37, has led Microsoft's Media Center team for four years. The effort has gained momentum in the past year, the Wall Street Journal reports, bolstering Microsoft's defense against a challenge from Apple's Front Row for control of home-entertainment software. 'The Apple threat seems menacing, in part because of recent history: Its iPod was a late entry in an established field of digital music players but soon stole the lion's share of the market,' the WSJ writes. At Microsoft, Front Row is already causing ripples: [Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.) At stake is more than just another piece of software for home computers. Both companies, and others, are trying to build the foundational technology for all home digital entertainment.'"
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The Engineer Behind Microsoft's TV Strategy

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  • by tinpan (591424) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:28PM (#14406280)
    If neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Belfiore can figure out how Front Row could have TV and digital video recorder functions without adding buttons to Apple's remote, Microsoft is in sorry shape.

    • From the snippet: Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.

      Front Row does NOT have TV or Digital Video recorder functions. Whereas Media Center does.

      -everphilski-
      • psst, watch Steve next Tuesday morning
        • psst, I guarantee that if FrontRow gets TV functionality it will also get a new remote with more buttons (though most certainly less than 39 - which is about the largest MCE remote available and certainly not the required minimum button set).
          • The minimum reasonable button set for a TV tuner and DVR equipped remote is something around 20.

            You've got 10 buttons for a direct access pad, channel up/down, volume up/down, a dpad (5 buttons), and a power button. You probably need a guide button too, that's 21 buttons.

            If you decide you don't want to force the user to use the guide, you can get back 10 buttons (to 11), and it's possible to use the dpad for the volume/channel up/down buttons (dpad up/down becomes volume up/down, dpad left/right become cha
            • Typo:
              If you decide you don't want to force the user to use the guide

              Should be:

              If you decide you don't want to let the user directly address channels and instead force them to use the guide
            • Nah. Just make your interface override itself that provides a button that works for more than one view and thus augments it's usefulness without having to create more buttons.

              You select the DVD Player and the Front Row Interface maps to the remote to play/rewind/stepthrough, etc.

              You select the DVR and the Front Row Interface maps to the same remote to do specific UI features. The Operating System manages the MVC relationship and dynamically calls the appropriate method with Cocoa's frameworks to do t

          • psst, Apple would probably just add a scroll wheel to the remote, not buttons. No need for Channel Up/Down or Volume Up/Down. It'll behave like an iPod currently does where all that functionality is packed into one clickwheel, making things feel immediately intuitive and reducing interface clutter.

            Microsoft has a lot of reason to worry.
            • by Pollardito (781263) on Friday January 06, 2006 @01:15AM (#14407044)
              i heard that he's going to announce the Front Row Shuffle which has three buttons: "Next Random Channel", "Next Random Volume" and "Fast Forward Some Distance"
      • That means nothing. Remote buttons can have more that one function based on context. It makes sense to use the UI onscreen to provide the user with that context. There are plenty of remotes out there that have buttons that represent different functions based on their context already.

        The fact that the MSFT solution has more buttons does not surprise me at all. A lot of their software is filled with unnecessary buttons and toolbars that do basically the same thing for a different context. With a lot of OS X

    • If neither Mr. Gates nor Mr. Belfiore can figure out how Front Row could have TV and digital video recorder functions without adding buttons to Apple's remote, Microsoft is in sorry shape.

      it COULD have tv functions w/out adding buttons, but it wouldn't be nearly as useful. entering channels, for example, is much easier w/ direct access buttons.

  • by DrWhizBang (5333) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:28PM (#14406282) Homepage Journal
    Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

    Personally, I suspect the Apple remote control would still have six buttons even with TV and DVR. But I imagine Gates still bought that explanation.
    • I suspect the Apple remote control would still have six buttons even with TV and DVR

      It would be a piss poor remote then.

      Power. Play/Pause. Fast forward. Rewind. Control/Menu. Channel up.

      There, that's six buttons. What are you missing?

      Channel down, volume up/down, quick replay, skip 30/skip-to-end, menu navigation (that's 5 right there -- up, down, left, right, select). That's pretty much a minimum for a useful remote with DVR capabilities.

      Other buttons you may want easily accessible include number buttons (
      • there's no way you can do everything you need with only 6 buttons.

        Left, Right, Up, Down, Select, Cancel

        The "any" key brings up the on-screen menu if you are not already in it. I'm sure there are other combinations that will work too.

        • The "any" key brings up the on-screen menu if you are not already in it.

          And you've entered UI nightmare.

          How do you change channels/volume? Left/right for one, up/down for the other? What about fast-forward/rewind/play(which could double as pause)/record? The same?

          So, uh, how are you supposed to change volume and be able to do trick play? Oops. Or do the same while being able to change channels in live tv?

          And note that you're still missing quick rewind/skip capability. And any page up/page down ability in me
          • Your attempt at simplicity has turned into a UI nightmare.

            I did not suggest it would be ideal - just that it is not impossible ("there is no way you can"), as the original post claimed. All of the actions you describe would be possible with a six button remote by having the actions take place via a menu - even one involving a small set of icons at the bottom/top/left/right of the screen. Ever used a Playstation 2 for watching DVDs without buying the separate remote? It has a scheme very much like this (us

      • The buttons could easily function like this:

        Menu Navigation: 1) Up, 2) Down, 3) Left, 4) Right, 5) Select, 6) ?

        Live TV: 1) Volume Up, 2) Volume Down, 3) Channel Down, 4) Channel Up, 5)?, 6) Menu

        Recorded Videos: 1) Skip Ahead, 2) Skip Back, 3) Rewind, 4) Fast Forward, 5) Play/Pause, 6) Menu

        It's the overloaded buttons you're talking about, but it can be done very intuitively. I don't know how they do it on the iMac, but I think it could work farily well for DVR purposes, too. The iPod uses its w
      • Knobs vs. Buttons (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zhiwenchong (155773)
        If Apple introduces in a click-wheel (a la iPod), along with a good on-screen UI, I think they can get away with 6 buttons (plus or minus 2).

        You see, it's a matter of continuous UI (knobs) vs. discrete UI (buttons). Sometimes continuous UIs are *just* better for certain things. Most of us are used to discrete UI for TVs and such -- but that doesn't mean a continuous UI is unworkable. It just needs to be designed properly, and the best company to design such a UI is probably Apple.

        I'll tell you where a discr
    • How would you propose direct access to channels and chapters with 6 buttons?
    • Not mentioned is the fact that there are MANY media center remote designs and that they do not all have 39 buttons. THe '39 button' version includes a numeric keypad (not necessary, but convenient for skipping around large collections via triple-tap and for the occasinal text entry in search pages) and a number of dedicated buttons like 'recorded tv', 'guide', 'live tv' etc which are NOT necessary since you can get to these parts of the UI without them but they sure make it easier to navigate.

      There is a re
      • it's interesting that as a MCE user who only watches movies directly on his computer, i seem to have way fewer buttons available to me than this remote has. even with a standard keyboard at my disposal, most of the keys appear useless. except for changing channels with the number keys (and typing words in for a search, but no one is proposing a remote with letter keys) you pretty much do everything with the two buttons on your mouse, so it seems like you could easily have a 12 button remote provided that
  • Yeah, them dudes never realized that Apple's one-button mousey was superior, and now they are repeating the mistake yet again. Of course, the Lunix community will begin a new era of six button jokes as of this year.
    • Of course, the Lunix community will begin a new era of six button jokes as of this year.

      Well, as a good Linux user I see several buttons: left, right, middle, "thumb 1", "thumb 2", "roll forward", and "roll backward". I suppose you could get rid of one of the thumb buttons, but then how would you reload your weapon without the keyboard? ;)
    • Sigh, I'm not so sure I ever saw the superiority of the one button mouse. The number of right clicks I've done per day and wished I could do the same without holding ctrl button on macs is many.

      I now have a 5 button mouse and the obligatory scroll wheel. You'd have shoot me to go back to 2 buttons now. If programmed correctly those extra buttons will easily help in the long run. From running apps, browsers, and many games :D.
  • MicroSoft are doing a massive PR job this year?

    All was quiet for a while and now it seems like a BS tsunami.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:30PM (#14406294) Homepage
    I think the real battle here is between the xbox and the mac mini. The Windows Media center PC is nothing more than an expensive distraction. Microsoft's real wedge into the home media center space is the xbox. We saw this towards the end of the XBOX 1's lifetime, but it's all the more apparent with the XBOX 360's capabilities. Apple, of course, realizes this, and has positioned the mac mini and its iTunes offerings (and now Front Row) accordingly.
    • The mini doesn't come with Front Row, only iMac's do.
      • The mac mini runs Front Row just fine. [tuaw.com]

        It's really becoming more and more apparent what Apple's strategy in this area is, they just haven't admitted as much.
      • by norminator (784674) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:52PM (#14406405)
        The mini doesn't come with Front Row, only iMac's do.

        Until next week that's true, but one of the main predictions for MacWorld is a Mac Mini with a TV Tuner and Front Row software.

        It's amazing to me how the iPod came into its market, took over and completely dominates. Electronics manufacturers are building entire product lines from low-end to very high-end accessories, specifically to capitalize on the iPod's success. Most major high-end distributed audio systems now support directly connecting to the iPod to allow it as a source for whole-house audio.

        The Mac Mini has been used as a cheap but solid music server by many custom electronics installers. Apple is not only winning with general consumers, but for very high-end applcations (read: rich people's houses and very nice commercial installations).

        It's funny to me that Microsoft has been pitching the Media Center for a few years now, and it's starting to come around for expensive custom installs now, too, but I think it's too much. Too much complexity trying to give people stuff they didn't know they want, and not allowing the real control people need.

        At work I see a lot of hype about Windows Media Center, and although the menu animations look smooth and almost fancy, and it would be nice to have full Tivo-like capabilities from my PC, I think it's too bulky, trying to be the great all-purpose PC, and give you Tivo functionality, too. I think Microsoft misunderstands a lot of the higher-end market they're trying to get into, because of their arrogance and assumptions that they can just enter any market they want. At the same time, Win MCE isn't really for alot of middle class people either, because those people mostly just want to check their e-mail and browse the internet.

        I won't be surprised at all to see Apple provide an inexpensive Mac Mini-based solution that consumers from low-middle class to the very rich will be excited to own and use. I think Microsoft, even though they've been in the game for a relatively long time already, should be getting ready to have their lunch handed to them. I've never owned a Mac or an iPod, but I think I might be holding my own 6-button remote soon.
        • and it would be nice to have full Tivo-like capabilities from my PC

          Can I take this opportunity to point at MythTV [mythtv.org]. I've been using it for several years and it's still better than the systems the sat and cable operators are providing here in the UK. I was stuck using my parent's NTL Digital system at Christmas and realised just how much functionality I take for granted in Myth which just isn't there in the NTL system. Similarly I hear friends commenting about features they wished Sky+ had and they're alwa
    • The Mac Mini lacks far too much to seriously compete for the home theater space. The video is inadequate (not enough power), the CPU is inadequate (ditto), the sound is utterly inadequate, there's no capability for recording TV in standard def (which the video and CPU would be passable for), much less high def (which they aren't), and the drive is too slow and far too small.

      The Xbox360 has some of the same faults (particularly the hard drive and the inability to record), so it too would need a hefty server
    • 1. The 360 can't even play video if you don't have Windows Media Center. 2. Even with Media Center, the 360 can't play certain codecs, such as DivX/Xvid and AVC. 3. The 360 apparently doesn't conform to the "media renderer" standard for playing back music and photos from a PC. I believe it also has limited audio codecs for playing back music during games. Honestly, xbox media center for the original xbox is probably better at playing media than the 360.
  • Baby steps... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexyrexy (793497) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:34PM (#14406318)
    As fun, and seemingly simple, as it is to bash M$ for being a complete failure at taking over the living room, they are taking the tried-and-true approach to establishing dominance: baby steps. Put the Xbox in the living room, and after two or three iterations of that it's pretty commonplace to see Microsoft sitting under your tv. And so on.

    The line from Pirates of Silicon Valley where Bill says (paraphrasing) "You have to make people need you" is perfectly descriptive of Microsoft's philosophy. You create a dependency over time... something that seems fringe or even silly in 1995 but in 2005 everyone can't live without it. It's a long process, but it works. You might not like it, either. But it makes money. It's a sound business practice.
    • Except... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 2nd Post! (213333) <(gundbear) (at) (pacbell.net)> on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:50PM (#14406398) Homepage
      The XBox wasn't a baby step. It was jumping in feetfirst into the deep end, losing billions and costing billions.

      The Mac mini is a baby step; cost effective, profitable, yet tentative. The iPod with video is a baby step; heck, even the original iPod was a baby step.

      Apple has undertaken several baby steps to get themselves into the living room:
      iPod
      Mac mini
      iMac with Front Row
      Airport Express
      iTunes Music Store
      iTunes Video Store

      Each one works on the experiences of the others and feeds off the successes of each other. Apple watches how Creative (mis)handles MP3 players and comes out with the iPod, watches how Sony and Creative and Real create jukeboxes and creates a correspondingly better one itself, watches how poor music stores are written and creates a nice one, etc.

      Microsoft, in comparison hasn't taken any baby steps. It debuts the Media Center PC without any segue devices into the home, then years later introduces the XBox sans media center functionality, then introduce the XBox 360, again sans Media Center functionality.

      If Microsoft were doing baby steps, why not release the XBox with build in Media Center functionality? It had the harddrive already, the DVD drive, the CPU! Why not use the XBox to refine the media center functionality, instead of a gaming PC? Why not introduce the XBox mini, who's sole purpose is to lower the price point for the XBox to $99, act as a DVR, and a digital hub? Of course they can't do it because Intel sees no reason to, but that is why you parter with AMD! Create a purpose built CPU, integrate the GPU and other hardware, for a system on a chip so that they can release an entire console with only three components and four devices!

      Instead they end of life the XBox the same day the XBox 360 is released; unlike how Sony has successfully kept the PSOne and PS2 alive these past years, and likely will continue to support PS2 for years after the PS3 is out.
      • then introduce the XBox 360, again sans Media Center functionality

        While the 360 doesn't record TV (nor would you expect it to), it does function as a high-definition media-center extender that allows you to veiw and control your Media Center PC.
        • Which is like saying, "The iPod doesn't actually store music, it functions as a relay that allows you to control iTunes when it's docked to your PC"

          The iPod is a self contained "music center PC", while the XBox, and now the XBox 360", are not Media Center PCs despite having all the necessary hardware to be so, if Microsoft so chose. Why they didn't, I do not know.
          • But they DON'T have the necessary hardware. No tuner and a totally insufficient hard drive - also no hardware MPEG encoder. These things would make the device way too expensive as a game console - and really, if you watch TV in more than one place in your house wouldn't you like to have access to all of your content everywhere?

            It is most certainly a challenge to get the average consumer interested in setting up a client/server environment in their house but, whether or not you believe it, MCE is well on i
  • And even if... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sosarian (39969) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:36PM (#14406329) Homepage
    And even if it did have tv recording functions, my MythTV setup for instance uses about 9, maybe 10 buttons plus lets say 12 for the number pad. 22 total

    Tivo Series 1 has 33 if you count the four way hat as four.

    For me it's not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful.
    • Tactile UI design (Score:3, Insightful)

      by quokkapox (847798)
      not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful

      Exactly--and more importantly, whether the common functions (volume, channel, play/pause) are sensible and can be discerned by feel. Nothing worse than having to look away from the display down at the remote in your hand to twiddle the volume, something I tend to do almost constantly.

      My zd8000 MCE laptop remote control is about as bad as it gets, so it's just collecting dust.

      • This is SOOO true, and so many UI designers forget about it. Household devices, especially, need to be brutally simple, or at least self-explanatory, or else they won't get used as often.

        Case in point: I was at my new girlfriend's house, where her father has set up a wonderful entertainment center (CD/DVD, VCR, Big Ass HDTV, receiver, satellite tuner, PVR, etc.). There is an equally massive collection of remotes to go with this bunch. The GF knows how to operate most of it, because she lives there and h
    • For me it's not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful

      AND how many other remotes it replaces! I was delighted to find that my TiVo remote can be configured to behave like my shitty Toshiba remote so I could ditch that remote forever! After all, I only ever used the on/off, volume, and video input buttons.

      If I can just have one remote, and the layout is useful and not confusing, I care less about the number of buttons.

    • For me it's not so much how many buttons, but whether they layout is useful.

      That's like saying, "for me, it's not what color the car is, but whether it looks nice". In other words, the number of buttons is very intimately related to the usability (and therefore, usefulness) of the layout.

      Each button you add adds complexity and clutter to the UI.

      Gates was right to ask his team about the number of buttons. If he's even half as smart as his legend claims, he won't buy their lame response.
      • My Starchoice remote has tons of buttons like interests, etc. that I never even use, but they don't get in my way, the big hat, channel up and down buttons and channel number buttons are well layed out to make it easy to use.
  • by typical (886006) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:39PM (#14406340) Journal
    *My* living room media box is a Linux machine with a 104-key keyboard attached. And I'll bet it's a hell of a lot more capable than *either* of the above companies' offerings.
    • But only you can operate it and tweak it when the sound is out of sync, the video is B/W, or your customized bash script enters an infinite loop.
    • and I bet *you're* really comfortable controlling your media with 104 keys, but most people won't be.

      Apple's design proves the idea that perfection is obtained not when there's nothing more to add, but when there's nothing else to take away.

      if everyone else in the world aspired only to levels such as using a 104 key keyboard just to change channel, then computers would still take up an entire room.
    • Um, you're aware that a Mac mini is also likely to have a keyboard attached? The 6-btn remote is offered only as a convenience; of course you could use the keyboard instead (just like you could with your Linux box) but a 6-button remote is much easier.
  • Apple's 6-button approach is effective, but it DOES miss out on the numeric buttons you see in most TV remotes, so that might pose a bit of problem when Front Row has TV function added for those who channel surf by entering channel numbers. That's about the only argument I can see making sense about the but-it-doesn't-do-TV-or-DVR excuse.

    Still, the 6-button approach is better in general over 39-button one IF the buttons are assigned in a clever way. It's obvious that most of those 39 buttons only get pre
    • I would love to control a TV with an iPod style clickwheel - the faster you rotate the faster you change channels.

      but has anyone noticed how appalling modern (UK) cable boxes are? all the ones I've seen have had a second or two lag whenever you change channel, and my dad's nokia freeview box frequently crashes.

      could you imagine expose-style simultaneous viewing of all your favourite channels and then select what you want like you do with pictures on the iPod. not likely any time soon though.
    • As I said in another comment, we really need to get rid of channel numbers (or at least hide them, like IPs on the internet). Who wants to memorize a bunch of arbitrary numbers? Nobody. What you want is to flip back and forth through your favorite channels, which you can do by adding them to a list from an onscreen menu, then just hitting next/previous channel on the remote. When you want to jump to a specific channel, you want to be able to pick it from the same onscreen menu. Memorizing numbers have fuck-
    • With DVR functionality why would you need to enter numbers for the channels? You pull up the on line program listing and page up/down to the show you want to watch. If you are channel surfing use the channel change buttons.

      The real features for a successful DVR are having enough encoders to record at least three channels at once if not four. And to have enough disk space to keep at least 150 to 200 hours of recordings on line. If they short change either of these they will reduce the usefulness of th
  • One button? (Score:5, Funny)

    by HermanAB (661181) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:46PM (#14406381)
    I thought Apple's remote control would have only ONE button.
    • I thought Apple's remote control would have only ONE button.

      No. For the last time, THAT'S THE GARAGE DOOR OPENER.

      Pointing it at your Mac will *not* run the TV, it will just open and close the garage door, so stop trying. It's annoying the neighbors.
  • by webdev (605160) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:48PM (#14406390)
    "Mr. Gates, Apple didn't release their remote until we had already gone to manufacturing."
  • Buttons? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rand310 (264407) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @10:53PM (#14406417)
    Why must there only be buttons on a remote? What about a scroll wheel like on the iPod? The 'superluous' padlock on the iPod is an easy way to squeeze numeric buttons into one scroll wheel...
  • Number of buttons (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:02PM (#14406457)

    The number of buttons on the average remote is absolutely ridiculous. Take the one that controls my set top box, for example. There's a blue button (actually, two blue buttons), 'OK', 'TV', 'Guide', and 'i', that all do the same thing in various situations. Other situations make you hit the red button for favourites - even though there's a 'Favourites' button that doesn't work in that situation, and so on.

    The actual on-screen interface it controls is dire too. I don't know about anybody else, but it seems to me that the current generation of TV interfaces were designed and implemented by computer people, where the previous generation was designed and implemented by telecom people. You can tell the difference in professionalism in a heartbeat - ten years ago, the idea of something like a TV crashing would be laughable. Now, when I switch on my set top box, I'm greeted with a video explaining how to reboot it! Seriously!

    PS: don't take this as a flame, I' m a computer person as well. But let's face it, our industry is full of cowboys, and it's been that way for so long, we've progressed past the point of "I can't believe those jokers get away with things like that", and we're now at the point of "this is normal, it's pie-in-the-sky nonsense to expect things not to break randomly". How pathetic of us.

  • I think PVR functionality in a media box is like making a toaster-radio combo. While it's interesting to see it done, how useful is it really in the long run? Trying to support PVR features is the Media Center's Achilles Heel. I simply cannot believe Microsoft does not have a video store of its own by now, also selling TV shows. When ITMS started to take off that was absolutely the right time to trump Apple and get ahead of them. The fact that Microsoft has done so little in that space shows they simpl
    • Trying to support PVR features is the Media Center's Achilles Heel. I simply cannot believe Microsoft does not have a video store of its own by now, also selling TV shows. When ITMS started to take off that was absolutely the right time to trump Apple and get ahead of them.

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Apple probably won't even be considering adding recording capabilities, and will simply give customers the option of acquiring what they wanted to record through the iTMS instead. The problem wou

  • by Glowing Fish (155236) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:22PM (#14406542) Homepage
    As someone who uses computers semi-seriously, and who knows many people who use computers seriously, I wonder at what Microsoft is doing spending so much focus on the exact design of a sophisticated home entertainment center.

    While Microsoft's good choices at picking and promoting a standardized user interface are certainly not to be overlooked, I wonder if it means that they are taking the actual guts of the system less seriously than they should.
    After Linux first showed signs of becoming popular, Microsoft quickly upgraded Windows NT into a passably professional server product (Windows XP). But if Bill Gates' big speech to the CES was about a home entertainment computer, I wonder if the company is going to actually think about making their server product more secure at all.

    To me, this is like someone going in to buy a utility truck for work...and having the salesman spend all of his time explaining how the car stereo system works.
    • After Linux first showed signs of becoming popular, Microsoft quickly upgraded Windows NT into a passably professional server product (Windows XP).

      NT4, back in 1996, was the first "passably professional server product" when it started displacing Netware in significant amounts. That would be ca. Red Hat Linux 2.0.

      But if Bill Gates' big speech to the CES was about a home entertainment computer, I wonder if the company is going to actually think about making their server product more secure at all.

      When pr

    • CES is not about server products - and Microsoft is a large enough company that they can certainly compete in multiple markets at the same time. I doubt they'll be talking about MCE at MEC just as I doubt they'll be talking about Exchange and Windows Server at CES.

      Oh, and XP is not a server product.
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:38PM (#14406599)
    [Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

    I see it didn't occur to either one that the Apple remote has fewer buttons becuase the interface is simply not as complicated as theirs. Another company falling for the dillusion that "more buttons = better".
  • Buttons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by carlislematthew (726846) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:40PM (#14406606)
    [Bill] Gates in an email to Mr. Belfiore asked why Apple's remote control had just six buttons. The standard Media Center remote from Microsoft has 39 buttons. (Mr. Belfiore's explanation: Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.)

    Typical Microsoft. I wonder when they'll realize that Windows XP is not appliance-ready? AFAIK, Media Center is just XP Pro with an extra app (the main Media Center app) installed. I've personally worked with XP Embedded (a componentized version of XP Professional) and it's a total BITCH. You have to hack it to make it "embedded" by setting registry settings, and installing things that click "OK" to modal dialogue boxes and so on. If I can't get XP Embedded working like an embedded appliance, what makes MS think that they can make a standard XP Pro installation work for the average consumer?

    Media Center is great for people like me, and also people on Slashdot that don't foam at the mouth every time MS is mentioned, mumbling "Linux! Linux!!". It's also pretty awesome as a bedroom computerTV or for a dorm, but I just can't see it making significant inroads into the living room. Apple may change things somewhat by simplfying things, and so perhaps will the Xbox360, which is where I'm putting my money (not literally of couse).

  • why do they bother? (Score:3, Informative)

    by penguin-collective (932038) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:51PM (#14406668)
    I bought a Media Center PC; I found the UI to be mediocre, and after a few months, things gradually stopped working (as it received more and more patches and hotfixes). I eventually installed Linux and it works a lot better now. I also have used a Mac with a TV card, and I also find it a lot nicer than Media Center.
  • by lucm (889690) on Thursday January 05, 2006 @11:51PM (#14406670)
    Microsoft can't win this war of the buttons.

    Mac could go with only two buttons ("play" and "order a new battery from apple"), but Microsoft is stuck with at least four ("play", "reboot", "reinstall" and "upgrade").

    Only Amazon.com could possibly come with a single button operation... but wait, don't they already have a patent on this?

  • by goldsounds (787265) on Friday January 06, 2006 @12:00AM (#14406707) Homepage
    When Microsoft created the MCE remote, they simply copied the style of VCR one-function-per-button remotes. This is stupid and short-sighted - the reason VCR remotes evolved that way is because for many years VCR's couldn't overlay fancy animated menus on the screen that give the user a sense of context.

    When Apple designed Front Row, they realised that because they have visual cues all over the screen, each of the six buttons can have several functions depending on the context. They just need enough buttons to navigate a menu system, and everything else is done on the screen.

    Leave it to Microsoft to cram in the technology. Leave it to Apple to see the possibilities afforded by that technology.

    Dan

  • What a Putz. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@nOspAm.mac.com> on Friday January 06, 2006 @12:33AM (#14406878) Journal
    Front Row computers don't have TV or digital video recorder functions and thus don't need as many buttons.

    With a properly-designed UI on the freaking screen, you don't need 39 buttons on the remote.

    -jcr
  • I welcome competition, I also like to see MS sweating, and apple too for that matter -- not to mention, the cable companys as well as companys like Motorola and Atlant-scientific...and the seemingly crippled giant, TiVo

    The more competitors in a marketplace, the better for everyone, the more innovation, creativity and redefinition of the status quo is possible.

  • ... that already (untested, but according to the blurb) operates 37 brands of TV, 43 brands of VCR, 58 brands of... well you get the picture;-) So I open my morning paper and there's Uncle Bill on the Warpath at CES, "unveiling" Vista, and announcing his iTunes Killer, his Google killer, his iPod killer, his TiVo killer... I've got a 10 spot here says my Universal Remote won't work on any of his junk, nor on Brother Steve's either.

    What is it with these people? I want my music from ITMS to play on my WinMC
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday January 06, 2006 @03:36AM (#14407492) Journal
    Or anyone who has played a PC vs Console version of a game can tell the difference.

    A console has a very restricted interface. Simple but restrictive. A pc has hundreds of buttons. Complex but freeform.

    One of the simplest examples is spell/weapon selection in game. On a PC you usually get a list handily labelled with the top row buttons 1-0 or in case of EQ2 1 to =. This allows fast switching/selection.

    A console usually requires you to use and forwards/back setup.

    Yet is this actually simpler? Depending on the game constantly having to search through a list could be considered a pain. Perhaps that is the reason Halo put grenades under a different button instead of making it a selectable weapon?

    The Grenade under G is a nice feature however that also made it to PC land.So perhaps the limited input on the console made the PC with its 101 keys even easier to use? I can easily select my weapons directly AND thanks to consoles now can use grenades with a main weapon equipped.

    The iPod is similar. I have had a lot of MP3 players and the iPod is my latest and it is nice. Yet at times I long for my iRiver player (wich died a painfull death) because while it had far more buttons and some odd button overloading once you figured them out it was so much easier. I never accidently changed the volume or skipped because all basic actions had their own function.

    Simple example of how fewer buttons can be confusing? Well perhaps it is me and my fat clumsy fingers but I hate those buttons that combine skip and fastforward. The price we pay for saving two buttons is that you cannot instantly fast forward. You got to wait for the timeout and the fastforward to start.

    There are other problems with the iPod, it is all to easy to screw up the volume as you try to change other settings. Yes the wheel is very nice usually but sometimes I just want to shuffle the selection (is it me or does iPod not support dynamic shuffling?) or change the equalizer settings without going deaf or losing all sound.

    But this is nothing new. You got three kinds of gear control in cars. Full automatic, the american half-breed, and full manual. The fact that all three continue to be sold tells us that perhaps all three serve a segment of the market.

    Perhaps it should be up to the consumer to decice what they want. For all the mac fans I do suggest that an awfull lot of people do not like the minimalist approach if it limits them in their speed. Proof? How many mac's are actually used with the original 1 button mouse?

    Yes it is simple and the most default upgrade for a mac machine is a "real" mouse.

    MS has always been in a sort of middle ground anyway. If you want total control you use a unix. If you want total simplicity you use a mac. The middle market is windows. It served them well. MS has plenty to worry about but their remote having more buttons is not one of them.

  • by crovira (10242) on Friday January 06, 2006 @07:36AM (#14408089) Homepage
    Apple customers are capitalist in that they place a value on content. It is an asset to be protected. It may only 99 cents a song but considering the nearly 10,000 songs that barely fit on my 60 gig iPod 5G, that amounts to something.

    Rhapsody customers are communist in that they place no value on the content. Their subscription fees get them nothing but access. The day its over, for whatever reason, they're left with a ringing in their ears, but nothing to listen to.

    The analogies can be extended further, but I think I'll do that on my blog and in my podcast.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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