Tuesday, November 22, 2005

MacOnMacs: Front Row for everyone!

Front Row is an application (actually, more of a front end) that lets you access your iTunes music, iPhoto pictures, DVDs, and video content through a simple iPod-like interface. Front Row activates in much the same way as Dashboard, in the sense that a simple click causes your desktop to recede off into the background in order to give you Front Row's unobstructed (and huge - for easy reading from across the room) interface. As simple as it is, it's actually pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately, Apple only released Front Row with its new, slimmer iMac, complete with its snazzy little 6-button remote (which looks remarkably like an iPod Shuffle).

But fear not, some industrious Mac users have been hard at work to bring the rest of us non-new-iMac-using Mac-heads a way to enjoy Front Row without such a costly purchase. The process involves going out and finding a recent .torrent file (the older ones won't function after the upgrade to 10.4.3), downloading the referenced .dmg file, expanding that file, putting three (at least as I've seen it) files in their places, and restarting your machine. The result: Front Row installed on your Mac. [NOTE: As much as I'd love to point you to a .torrent file, I'm not going to for legal reasons. However, it's not hard to find, though you might want to look for a file named "YAFRR" - yet another Front Row release. It should come with instructions BTW]

Now that you've installed Front Row, you might be wondering how you can control it from across the room (assuming your name isn't Mr. Fantastic or Plastic Man or whatnot :-) ). Strangely enough, the Front Row interface does not use your mouse, it just uses your keyboard (don't ask me why). However, if you have a wireless mouse and/or keyboard, that may be just the solution for you. A wireless keyboard is straightforward - just use the arrow keys, space bar or enter key, and escape key to navigate through the Front Row interface. If you have a multibutton mouse (unfortunately, you really need more than three buttons), you can map the buttons to those keystrokes for when Front Row is active. However, there are some other really cool options (NOTE: I have not used any of these - read before you use them as some are not yet Tiger-compatible): try out your cell phone (not all work) as a remote by using Romeo and related WiseWeasel's Plugins; I've heard that the Keyspan Remote works fine for this and other apps; there's also a hack for Griffin's AirClick Remote; and I think Sailing Clicker can be made to work too. If you have a somewhat strange set up (this would work for me actually), you can control Front Row from another networked Mac with Front Row Remote.

Now keep in mind that Front Row is pretty new and I think there's lots of room for improvements. You don't see album art when you're playing Music; you can't easily control your slide shows when viewing Photos; Videos have to be in your Movies folder to be accessed (I just put an alias in that folder to wherever else I store videos); and it's a little slow at times. However, these are all problems that are easily fixed, and I really like what Apple is aiming for here. Keep in mind that this is NOT a Media Center application - this is just something to allow you to access all the media on your computer from the comfort of your couch. Apple has built in some nice supports so that you have easy access to your iTunes Music Store television and music video downloads (this is quite telling and is another thing that reinforces that this is not Media Center-lite - Apple doesn't really want to give you a video capture card, etc., as that would just bastardize its sales through iTMS), the little preview window on the side is a great help for browsing, but my favourite little perk is that you can easily browse all the movie trailers online at Apple's QuickTime site without leaving the comfort of Front Row (which lets you sit across the room and casually watch any number of trailers without getting up - a nice alternative to being trapped in front of your computer, clicking through your browser or iTunes to do this). You can also view fantastic video podcasts that you've subscribed to through iTunes, like commandN. ;-)

There is no good reason why Apple couldn't just release Front Row to the masses and then sell its own remote separately (same thing with PhotoBooth, for which there is also a hack out there). I'm not quite sure what the motivation is for not doing this (aside from selling more new iMacs), but I'm sure it will be revealed in due time. But for those of us not willing to wait, Front Row is still within reach, so go try it out - if you dare! :-)

PS: If you want to take a tour of Front Row, click here.
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11/22/2005 06:04:00 PM  


Anonymous John said...

My guess is Front Row will be released some time in the new year, after they've milked the iMac sales as long as they can… the same reason they won't release the Mighty Mouse bluetooth just yet.

But more importantly… I need to know: Where did you find that Dashboard Tee?

November 23, 2005 7:34 AM  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Hi John - my sister Amber got the Dashboard T-shirt for me at an Apple press event. Haven't seen one anywhere else (but sure have gotten a lot of the same question :-) ).

November 23, 2005 9:45 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Damn your inside-track seestor!
Damn her straight to heck!

November 23, 2005 6:55 PM  

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