It used to be that there was a host of things that a Mac could do better, or more elegantly, than a Windows PC. Now there’s only one or two.
I’ve long maintained a heterogenerous home network. We’ve had all brands of gaming devices, a range of mobile devices, PCs, modern Macs, and historical classic Macs. They all talk to each other, share files, and when capable, stream our media library. But Apple devices were always best for media, and the PCs were best for work.
Not so any more. We’ve been using a hacked Apple TV, connected to a Mac Mini, as our primary home theater PC, because it handles a wide range of media formats and a pretty UI. I’d played with Windows Media Sharing, and Windows Media Center, but the only option that really worked for all the file types I needed was TVersity. If you have a simple home network, and relatively simple media device connected to your PC, TVersity is a decent solution. But its far from pretty, so Apple TV with the added bonus of the iTunes Store’s library at our finger tips, won out.
The problem with the Apple approach is iTunes (and you can extend that to iPhoto) — while they were innovative apps when they first came out, they now feel like prisons for your media, insisting on maintaining a tenuous connect to your file system, and building their own data island. I’ve dealt with it for a long time, but with 20 GB of music, 10 GB of photos, and over 300GB of videos that iTunes refuses to acknowledge, I’m sick of it.
Windows Media Center is the answer. Its awesome, it plays everything, and it maps its Library to what you do in the file system, instead of forcing you to live by its rules. It easily connects to a device on your TV without any hacking, and it looks beautiful. It does have a Store associated with it (although I haven’t explored it yet) but it also allows Extras where other providers can connect their own media libraries.
Next week I’ll be installing Windows 7 on our Mac Mini, replacing OS X. This won’t eliminate Macs from our home — the Mini is basically just a file server anyway. But everything it does, like watching RSS feeds, finding our TV Shows, and syncing and backing up our documents and PIM data, can now be done better in Windows. We still have an old iBook for Nic to surf on, and a MacBook Pro that remains the best video editing machine we own. I’ve yet to see a real competitor to Final Cut Express on Windows, and this is one case where Apple’s habit of integrating everything actually is useful.
I know, I know, has Hell frozen over? Am I drinking too much Kool Aid at my new job? Nope. It turns out that Windows 7 is just really, really awesome…