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iPods are State of the Art Sneakernet Devices

April 2, 2007

I don’t own an iPod, an probably never will in anything like their current form. The reason has less to do with the device itself that my commitment to keeping data in only one place. The success of the iPod shows that my commitment places me firmly in the minority, but I prefer to think of it as the leading edge (with all of the problems that entails!).

This post was inspired by Steve Makofsky’s comment that "I would have been much happier if Apple just released an iPod High Definition docking cradle. Imagine an enhanced video dock that had component, HDMI, optical audio and S-Video output that I could walk up to and just drop my iPod into. Put the iPod interface onto the TV with a CoverFlow UI, and that’s all I would have ever needed. Heck, I’d buy a dock for every TV then. "

This struck me as a huge step backward– the equivalent of a video sneakernet. Then it struck me that this is true of many of the other iPod accessories out there, from speaker docks to docks in cars. They all rely on a user physically carrying a hard drive with their data around to get access to it.

Our house operates very differently:

  • All music is kept on a central server (running J River’s Media Center) and can be played from any PC, Xbox 360 Roku Soundbridge in the house. All of the PCs and Soundbridges have access to customized menus that only need to be programmed once to be accessed from all of these locations. I can also play the music from my server at home using my PC at work.
  • All podcast subscriptions are handed by J River’s Media Center as well. It automatically downloads, adds information to and autoexpires numerous audio and video podcasts.
  • All our home videos get put on the server as well. They can be viewed from any PC or Xbox 360 in the house.
  • Our kids movies are on a central server and can be viewed from any Xbox 360 in the house using the MyMovies addin for Media Center.
  • All our TV is recorded using a Media Center PC, because of the central location, we can watch shows anywhere in the house and change series recording options from anywhere in the house as well.
  • All of the data files on our PCs are kept on a server running Small Business Server 2003. This enables easy access to our files by logging in to any of the five client PCs in the house.
  • Likewise, because we also run Exchange on the server, we can access email and other Outlook data from any PC in the house and have easy access to the same from PCs outside the house using Outlook web access.
  • Using Orb, I we were able to get (often interrupted) access to our media files from our cell phones obviating some of the need for carrying media files with us.

All of these systems rely on accessing one set of data, media etc. on a central server. The main advantage is that there is only one copy of the data to worry about editing, reorganizing, maintaining, backing up etc. Additional clients can be added easily.

Imagine having to do this with iPods.

All that being said, this approach has not been without its hiccups– the systems running on our twin servers (Media Center and SBS 2003) are prone to hiccup from time to time and take more sophistication and time  to maintain than the average use is ready for– but I don’t those problems are inherent in this approach, just in our family being on the "leading edge." There is no reason centralized systems couldn’t be easier, e.g. use Windows Home Server and hosted Exchange in lieu of SBS.

Even if keeping and accessing data on a server were simpler, the iPod/sneakernet approach would probably remain compelling to many people. I’d like to understand why.

 

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3 Comments
  1. Steve permalink

    Here’s the problem with what you suggest: codecs.I’ve been fighting the codec war for several years now, and I’m just tired of it. I have a 2TB NAS that stores all my photos, videos, music, backups, etc. already. In my theater, I have a 360, since I can stream my mpeg movies to it without problem. But, I also have an ipod that I take with me on business trips. To get video on there, I have to re-encode to H.264 or MPEG4. But if I do that, the 360 can’t play em. The 360 can also play video files that have AC-3 sound in them. The macs in my house can’t (unless you add in a third party AC-3 codec). And the 360 outside of MC extender mode will ONLY play WMV files. Lame.The reason I suggested ‘sneaker-net’ is that I could have my videos on a single device. I walk up, drop it in. It works. I agree, it’s a step back, but until the ‘big boys’ stop playing this silly codec war and settle in on a video standard (much in the same way MP3 has won audio), it’s going to be a pain.

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