The software setup for my new HTPC started with a clean install of Ubuntu 9.10. This went without a hitch and it was time to install the various software packages that I use to get my system in working order.
- Samba (located in the System -> Administration menu after installation)
In the Ubuntu repository this is called the system-config-samba package. This is a great GUI tool for setting up shares on a Windows network and allows me to view all the content on my HTPC on my Windows machines. Just input your Workgroup, what you want to share and who is allowed to view it. This tool makes this process much easier than editing configuration files. One thing that confused me at first was setting up user access; make sure to include the computer name of the user in the "Windows Username" field. For example "joe" didn't work, but "DESKTOP\joe" did.
- Scheduled Tasks (located in the System Tools menu after installation)
Called gnome-schedule in the repository this utility allows me to run a backup script at a particular time. This is basically a GUI frontend for CRON and therefore much easier for a Linux novice like myself. I run a RSYNC script every night at 2AM which synchronizes the hard drive containing my media archive with another hard drive. I have found this a better backup solution than having a RAID array because it doesn't rely on any controller hardware or software. If one of the drives fails I can just replace it and copy the files to the new one. If I want to put the hard drives in another machine I can just take them out and plug them in, no other configuration is necessary. I realize there are drawbacks to this system, but I prefer something that I understand and know how to fix as opposed to other solutions that I have tried that have failed and cannot be fixed (ie. the Drobo).
- VLC - media player
- Miro - RSS media aggregator/player
- Boxee - media center based on XBMC with great web integration
This is the standard media grabbing and playback package I have been using for a while now. I use VLC whenever I'm in keyboard and mouse mode to play video and audio files. Miro isn't perfect, but it's better than any other media aggregator I have tried. Boxee is fantastic for local playback as well as web content and it can be controlled via remote control. In the past Boxee was somewhat finicky when it came to your audio and video settings, but I have found the new Beta version to be much more stable.
- Deluge - my favorite torrent client, has the right balance of features and simplicity
- LIRC - configured this for my Windows Media Center remote and it integrated perfectly with XBMC & Boxee
- GNOME Do - an awesome tool much like Quicksilver on the Mac, only for the GNOME desktop
- pyRenamer - a fantastic, simple tool for renaming lots of files quickly
This setup served me well on my Studio Hybrid HTPC and is performing equally well on my new machine. I frequently try different software packages, but these core programs are always present on my home theater box.
While I still use scheduled RSYNC scripts to backup my media files, I no longer simply mirror files from on internal hard drive to another. Instead the RSYNC scripts point to my FreeNAS Server which gives me a lot more storage capacity as well as additional data redundancy.
I no longer use Miro for media aggregation because it has become increasingly buggy in recent releases. It would no longer automatically check for new podcasts, instead requiring a manual update to download new shows (which kind of defeats the purpose of the program). I also stopped using Boxee since they have dropped support for their PC software. While this was disappointing, the software was always a bit cumbersome to use and I had drifted away from it anyway.
While playing with my Raspberry Pi running XBMC I discovered some features that I had never used before and decided to install it on my main HTPC again. There are a ton video add-ons available for XBMC which really add a lot of value. I especially like the ability to stream high quality video from various websites I frequent without having to use a web browser or manually download the videos. With my Logitech Harmony remote properly configured as a Windows Media Center remote this serves as a very nice media center package.
With Ubuntu's move to the Unity GUI environment, GNOME Do's functionality is somewhat redundant and no longer necessary.