The Ultimate Linux Home

The LinuxMCE Project is a work in progress, promising finally to bring us the Home of the Future.
All of This Sounds Really Complex

Well, let's just say that “Mom & Pop”, my world-famous technophobic parents, probably will never set up a LinuxMCE system themselves.

Even if they do manage to get the components out of the boxes, wired and set up, a lot of tailoring still has to be done for the whole system to run correctly. Floor plans have to be inserted, lighting fixtures have to be located, and a lot of data has to be imported or entered to make the whole thing work together.

Fortunately, a very complete and systematic Web server also is built in to the system that lets you set and change almost any facility of the system remotely. In the case of Mom & Pop, once I visited their house, plugged in all of the systems and noted the MAC addresses of all the components, I actually could “tune” the system from my house in New Hampshire (and this is a blessing, believe me). Or, if I were a professional installer of this type of system, I could help customers by tuning their systems remotely.

Now that you are all drooling and asking, “Where can I get it?”, we continue with the rest of the story.

What Types of Hardware Do You Need?

Coming up with the right hardware definitely is half the issue. Building one of these systems from cast-off hardware probably will be less than satisfying.

The CPU probably will be used mainly for encoding and decoding video, particularly if you are interested in high-definition TV. If you have hardware encoders for this, a lot of the work is taken off the main CPU, but if you are using software encoders, you can expect to need about 1GHz of processing power (whatever that means these days) for every stream of video.

Hardware encoders, such as the Hauppauge PVR series, unload quite a bit of CPU utilization and allow a single CPU to encode multiple streams at once. This would be useful if you wanted to record one program while watching another or record two programs at one time. On my system, it recognized my Hauppauge PVR-150 with no problems.

If you are building the system yourself, be sure to study the LinuxMCE Project's documentation and the pages of MythTV's documentation that discuss hardware.

Status of the LinuxMCE Project

Pluto, as I stated previously, is aimed more at pre-packaged boxes with specialized hardware. The LinuxMCE Project is aimed more toward generalized hardware, with free and open-source software, and it uses no licensed, proprietary software at all.

As such, a goal of LinuxMCE is to be as portable across all distributions as possible, so all distributions can include it. Therefore, a significant amount of work had to be done by the development team, even if the Pluto people helped out a lot (which they did).

The software is now going through testing to put it into V1.1 status, and even though it is only V1.1, the amount of functionality is staggering.

In the beginning, it is prudent to understand that not every peripheral or video card will be supported and to try using only the hardware the testers in the forums have tested and found compatible. However, because the system is using major subsystems that have been around for a while, these projects do support a fairly well-known set of peripherals.

Likewise, some of the installation and integration is not intuitive, even in the second beta test of version 1.1. On the other hand, if you purchase a box pre-installed, this won't be an issue, and at least one company is planning to offer pre-installed and supported systems (the support will be available by e-mail and phone).

Bottom Line

LinuxMCE is a large and complex project, but with a reasonable architecture to allow it to become a staple in the Free Software world. There are still a couple of rough edges, such as a missing editor to allow room diagrams to be inserted into the system easily, and (of course) the ever-necessary step-by-step documentation, but it has huge potential to help make free software more prevalent in the homes of average people.

In my own LUG, we normally have 15 to 20 people show up at a meeting. When we recently had a MythTV meeting, 55 people showed up. LinuxMCE and similar projects move free software and Linux from computers to consumer appliances and make people more familiar with it.

Although LinuxMCE still may not be “baked” enough for most people, I encourage the developers and the readers of this magazine to help move it forward.

Jon “maddog” Hall is the Executive Director of Linux International (www.li.org), a nonprofit association of end users who wish to support and promote the Linux operating system. During his career in commercial computing, which started in 1969, Mr Hall has been a programmer, systems designer, systems administrator, product manager, technical marketing manager and educator. He has worked for such companies as Western Electric Corporation, Aetna Life and Casualty, Bell Laboratories, Digital Equipment Corporation, VA Linux Systems and SGI. He is now an independent consultant in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Business and Technical issues.

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