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Micro-management just isn't Microsoft's thing. Why do we say that? It's because the folks from Redmond are regular Babe Ruths when it comes to coding an OS and knocked the ball out of the park with Windows 7. But when it comes to integrated apps -- all those things we would expect Microsoft to excel at -- the software giant is more like Casey at the bat and we're all just a bunch of Mudville suckers wondering how Microsoft manages to whiff it at the easy pitches. Internet Explorer? Most of us are rocking Firefox or Chrome. And while we don't want to be too hard on Windows Media Player, there are certainly better media frontends out there.
One of them is XBMC, an open-source project formerly known as Xbox Media Center. XBMC was originally developed for the first Xbox console, and through the years, it has evolved as a fully fledged, cross-platform media hub with a rabid following and plenty of user-created plugins and scripts. It's also given birth to more familiar projects like Boxee, Voddler, and others, all of which initially borrowed from XBMC's source code.
If you've never played with XBMC, it's time for a test drive. To help you kick the tires, we've assembled 12 terrific tips and tricks so you can spend more time cruising the media byways and less time fumbling with the controls.
Remember when optical drives hadn't been invented yet, at least not like the kind we use in PCs today? Nostalgic as we are, we have no desire of returning to those to simpler times in tech, yet ditching an optical drive is the first thing low- power PC makers do. We're talking about netbooks and, as it applies here, nettops.
Because of their low power requirements and budget friendly price tags, nettops have become extremely popular as home theater accessories, especially those rocking HD capabilities with Nvidia's Ion platform. But not all of them come with an optical drive, and while that might not always be a big deal, in this case, it means you can't test out XBMC with an XBMC Live CD before committing to a full blown installation. Or does it?
As long as your nettop has a free USB port -- and the BIOS supports booting from USB -- you're in business. All you need to do is install XBMC Live to a thumb stick, and here's how you do it.
Because of the multi-platform support, there are several versions of XBMC available. The one we're after is the Live installation, which is about a 490MB download, and you can grab it here (the furthest option to the right). When it finishes downloading, extract the xbmc.iso file to your desktop.
This is the image for the XBMC Live installer, which you'd normally burn to a CD or DVD, plop in your optical drive, and call it a day. Unfortunately, that won't do you any good if the system you're trying to run it on doesn't have an optical drive, so we need to get this ISO burned to a USB stick that's at least 1GB. To do that, we're going to enlist the help of UNetbootin, a free utility that installs Linux distros to USB drives
Download UNetbootin from here and open up the executable. You'll notice that there are several Linux distributions to choose from the pull-down menu, but none of them are what we're after. Instead, click on the Diskimage radio button and make sure that ISO is selected from the associated pull- down menu. In the blank field directly to the right, click the button and navigate to the XBMC .iso file you downloaded and extracted earlier (it should be named something like xbmc-9.11-life-repack.iso).
Finally, fill out the pull-down menus below, selecting 'USB' for Type, and make sure the drive letter is correct (if you're unsure, open up My Computer). When everything looks good, press OK and UNetbootin will do the rest.
You now have a bootable USB stick with XBMC Live installed, but before you can use it, you need to make sure that the system you're trying to boot from is configured to boot from a USB drive. Go into the BIOS by pressing the DEL key during POST (if that doesn't work, consult your motherboard manual for the correct key). Poke around until you find the boot priority settings and make sure the USB drive is listed first. Once again, if you can't find it, consult your motherboard manual, or reference our Ultimate BIOS Guide for additional help. After you set the Boot Priority, press F10 to save the changes and exit.
Now you're good to go! Just plug in your USB key and reset your computer. When XBMC's menu comes up, select the Default option, or do nothing and it will load on its own in a few seconds. If you run into trouble for some reason, reboot, and this time select the manufacturer of your videocard when prompted (Nvidia, ATI/AMD, or Intel).