Originally designed for Microsoft's monolithic videogames console, XBMC (formerly XBox Media Center) is now free/ donationware, open-source software for various platforms, including Mac OS X. And with Front Row sometimes coming across like My First Media Centre, we were keen to try out an alternative.
On launching XBMC, you're presented with a menu not unlike Front Row's – you have access to videos, music and pictures, and additional options are provided to weather information, scripts and a slew of settings.
When accessing any section, it's clear XBMC eschews Front Row's streamlined simplicity in favour of flexibility. Multiple sources can easily be defined, and variable views are offered for whatever media you're exploring.
You can fine-tune almost any aspect of XBMC, right down to its interface, which is fully skinnable. In use, either via an Apple Remote or the keyboard, XBMC rarely feels elegant, but it can be efficient, notably when scanning through pictures, something that works far better than in Front Row.
Video and DVD playback also works well, although it's hampered by the need for keyboard use for certain controls. It's not all good news, though, and XBMC fell down during testing in key areas. Although it does talk to local iTunes and iPhoto files, integration feels incomplete, and although playlists come across, things like cover art don't.
Network sharing didn't behave when we tried it out, and there were major audio bugs, both in selecting an output and in playing CDs, which turned our favourite tunes into static.
That all said, we believe XBMC has the potential to be far more than a curiosity on the Mac. Although we don't currently rate it highly, XBMC's updates, community and dedicated Mac developers mean it's one to watch.