30 Minutes with Front Row

Published on October 26, 2005

By now, Apple’s new media center application has been pulled off a shiny new iMac somewhere and uploaded for the rest of the world to fiddle with. News of its release has hit Digg, Engadget, TUAW, and others. After seeing Front Row on Apple’s site on the iMacs, I passed it off as a small little application that wouldn’t get much attention. I had to find out just how good it was, so I went and got myself a copy of it (purely for educational purposes, you see).

After the relatively painless installation, the first thing that catches your eye are the animations built into the program. Icons revolve and fly into view as Front Row opens and your desktop slips away. Though the entire interface seems to hinge upon gorgeous eye candy, it does so leaving you knowing just what section you’re in and what’s going on. Also not surprising from an Apple product, is just how uncluttered the menus are. I’d really like to see some of the ideas used in Front Row adopted in Xbox Media Center. TV-friendly oversized fonts, wispy and chime-like sound effects, and chunky interface elements all make for a great media center experience. I was truly surprised with just how slick it is, despite a number of annoying bugs — to be expected, considering it’s brand new. Overall, I’m quite impressed with what I thought would be just some cheesy little side application. How could I forget that this is Apple? Making cool stuff is what they do best.

A side note for the “Front Row hackers” out there: For some reason, taking screenshots with Command-Shift-3/4 is disabled while inside Front Row. A quick little Terminal command will let you at least time a screenshot to your needs. Enter sleep 50; screencapture ~/Desktop/front_row.png; on one line in the Terminal, and hit return. After 50 seconds, a screenshot will be saved to your Desktop as front_row.png, even if Front Row is running. Alternatively, you could SSH into your Mac from another computer (a PC, even), and call screencapture ~/Desktop/front_row.png manually to gain some timing precision.

Update: It appears that Front Row is just a shell for the other iApps. For instance, it communicates with iTunes via AppleScript and/or Apple Events. When browsing music, it creates a temporary playlist for itself to work from. I wonder why they didn’t do like other programs do, and just read out the XML Library files… To avoid re-inventing the “iWheel” and maintaining two nearly identical code bases, only with GUI differences? Questions, questions…