The agonizingly slow death of Windows Media Center, Is Xbox the cause?

The agonizingly slow death of Windows Media Center, Is Xbox the cause?

It doesn’t get much attention because, let’s face it, the software has never hit the big time. Never made headlines or changed the world in a meaningful way. Perhaps things could have turned out differently for Windows Media Center, but Microsoft just never threw too much effort into it.

And that’s really the underscore of all of this. The company that gave birth to what would become a very niche, but fiercely loved, bit of software, didn’t believe enough in its own product to make it work. Sure, there were gestures made now and again – creating an embedded version with the longshot hope that makers of set-top boxes would adopt it – but these were half-hearted, and I am kind in describing them thus.

With the introduction of Windows 8, the darling of the HTPC crowd was relegated to an afterthought, receiving zero updates, and worse, being left to dangle in the “Pro-only” version of the OS, and requiring an extra purchase beyond even that stipulation. It was an unsuitable and rather pathetic end to a program that once held the hope of greatness.

Having once stashed a modified computer on a shelf of the home theater rack, I feel for those out there still clinging to this bit of Microsoft wizardry. Sure, it was never easy to run or maintain. Guide data could be tricky. Plug-ins difficult to develop, and almost non-existent. But those few that were out there – the MyMovies of the world – boy they rocked.

What went wrong? It’s easy to point the finger at the development. The company failed to keep up, that much is clear. Set-top box makers failed to adopt, that’s also rather obvious. But, what really and truly sunk Media Center was the popularity of the Xbox.

The bottom line is that what the Redmond-based company really and truly wanted was a door into your living room. And when Windows Media Center floundered in its effort to provide that, Xbox was seeing sales through the roof. Bingo. Add entertainment to a box that people are already buying and you’ve struck gold.

With the latest generation of the console, Microsoft adds HDMI pass-thru, lending to the illusion that this is now the center of your entertainment, the pinnacle of any and all devices that you stick in your entertainment center. What more could you want?

I know how you feel – I say that to all of the HTPC users out there. It’s a sad time. The beloved product is clearly heading for doom, as surely as Windows XP is. But, take heart, there are options. XBMC has been busy updating its offering, Media Portal too is keeping up with the times. Looking for Linux alternatives? Check out LinuxMCE and OpenELEC.

Or, you could simply follow my path, and grab a Google TV. It’s much cheaper than building a new HTPC when the old one becomes a bit long in the tooth. Add Plex Media Server to an always-on PC, and you’ll be good to go. No, I realize it won’t record TV, it’s not a DVR, but if that is not a function you need then you’ll be good to go. If it is, then refer back to the alternatives.