Hath Hell Frozen Over?

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…

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One thought on “Hath Hell Frozen Over?

  1. I’ve got to say… when I first read this I thought you’d been sipping the Kool Aid. But after being gone for a week and leaving a house sitter to navigate the TV and entertainment center… I’m realizing that I haven’t gone far enough to simplify. It took me a 20 minute or so tutorial to teach her how to use the Logitech remote and explain which devices were used for each type of content. And since there’s no TV in the guest bedroom I showed her how to watch stored content from her laptop… But still, the biggest thing she had problems with was watching live TV because the cats managed to pull the power plug on the cable box (about 10 minutes before she tried to turn on the TV based on what show was interrupted during DVR. She said that without cable, she spent the majority of the time watching content from netflix and zune via the xbox360, and the rest of the time she pulled up the mac mini to watch a couple of movies… but those could have also been pulled up using the 360.

    I have to say Jon, I’m looking more and more into seeing if windows 7 media center will fit all my needs for my mini. Especially since I’m thinking about replacing an aging NAS with a mini-ITX box using software RAID in windows home server edition. My main goal is making sure that everything will place nicely with our laptops, since we finally made the switch and now have all Mac laptops in the house.

    Any thoughts on windows 7 vs snow leopard server edition for a home server / home theater PC? Perhaps we should copy this to WiseOnTech too?

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