I was an Alpha Tester, a Beta tester, and developer for Boxee’s app platform. I’ve had a HTPC in one form or another for about a decade now. Windows Media Center, Sage TV, XBMC, Plex, you name it. I’ve tried just about every HTPC software there’s been. So, when Boxee announced it’s plans to use XBMC to build a ten foot interface that would bridge the old world of HTPC piracy to the new world of legal content I was beyond excited. The opportunity to dawn a new age of internet content on our TVs was what drew in Boxee’s first testers. What we want, when we want it, and legally. It was an opportunity never offered before, and to many of us it was the future of television we’d been waiting for.
January 19th, 2009: The Boxee for Windows Alpha becomes available.
When I first got my hands on Boxee there was no worrying about where your content came from, all that mattered was what you wanted to watch. Boxee would search it’s vast internet library and stream content from whatever source had it available. It seemed almost too good to be true, internet television made easy. Well, it was too good to be true. Unfortunately, the dream of legal on demand internet content on your TV would remain a dream.
February 18th, 2009: Hulu asks Boxee to remove it’s content, Boxee complies.
Boxee never negotiated any deals with content providers, they simply took advantage of the fact that internet content was available to any browser and provided a clever hack that brought full screen video through an unseen browser to your TV. Hulu quickly caught on and had it’s content removed from Boxee. It may seem to some people like long ago, but this was before the days of Hulu Plus and paid access. After Boxee hacked functionality back in using RSS feeds, Hulu began blocking their integrated browser from accessing video content all together. Hulu and Boxee’s developers battled in a cat and mouse game. Some days Hulu worked, some days it didn’t. Other providers like Fox and NBC began changing their web players to thwart Boxee’s tricks, making accessing their content on Boxee not always impossible, but often undesirable.
March 6th, 2009: Hulu begins blocking the Boxee browser.
March 14th, 2009: Boxee concedes defeat to Hulu.
Slowly but surely a lack of cooperation from content providers killed Boxee’s universal search functionality. Boxee developers and it’s user base became just another set of pirates in the eyes of content companies. The dream of internet TV had been bled to death by a thousand cuts. Was it Boxee’s fault? Were they naive to think that a clever hack was all it would take to overthrow the long standing content model of cable and satellite TV? Maybe, but at this point Boxee’s failed promises were taken in stride. Their users had paid nothing for the software, and we all turned our anger towards the content companies who, as we saw it, bullied Boxee and ourselves out of the future. Boxee began focusing on Apps from that point on. They now inked deals with content providers making sure that promises could be kept. They added more and more apps like Pandora and MLB.tv, expanding the content available on a regular basis. They put more work into their developer platform as well. Drawing in people like me, eager to help build the future of television the way we envisioned it.
April 9th, 2009: Boxee’s App platform and API go public.
I came to Boxee from the XBMC community. And as a long time XBOX hacker, I’m a huge fan of the hacker and maker movement, as well as “MAKE: Magazine”. Some of you may or may not realize, but I actually built the “MAKE: Video” app for Boxee. I wanted to make it easier to access MAKE’s video content on my TV, and I wanted to see what it was like for a hobby programmer like myself to build an app for Boxee. Copying the look and feel of MAKE’s website I quickly built a functioning app that was even able to search through all of MAKE’s video content across multiple YouTube channels. MAKE and Boxee both seemed excited about the app, and I even got to consult directly with Becky Stern regarding the design and highlighted content. When I look back at my experience with Boxee, developing for it was certainly one of the highlights. In no time at all I had created a very functional attractive app that I would regularly use myself. Boxee made the developer experience pretty pleasant, and they continued to streamline and update it as the platform grew. Of course that made perfect sense once their app platform was the centerpiece of the software. Like any other app-centric platform, it’s all about courting developers.
November 12th, 2009: Boxee announces, “A Boxee Box is coming.”
For some time, rumors of a hardware partnership in the works had been spreading around the community. Fans had been dreaming of a Boxee centric device since the software was in alpha stages. Threads of desired functions and renders floated around the internet. Around the same time I finished building the MAKE app, Boxee and D-Link released their Boxee Box. With the press momentum leading up to the launch, Boxee added apps and content left and right. They even promised a payment platform for content built into Boxee itself. After the release of the Box, Boxee added VUDU and even Hulu Plus to their list of apps. Rumors of premium content sales and pay per view events were rampant as surveys from Boxee circulated. Now changed to a platform for access to premium legal content, Boxee’s vision of the future seemed to be coming true.
December 7th, 2009: D-Link is revealed as the hardware partner, a Q2 2010 release is announced.
April 19th, 2010: The last PC update before the Boxee Box is released.
January 6th, 2011: Boxee announces Viewsonic is building a Boxee TV.
The Boxee Box itself appeared to be a very lively platform, receiving regular updates and new content on a regular basis. Rumors of more hardware partners, including a Boxee TV, were circulating. But what went unnoticed by the press was the discontent among Boxee’s earliest adopters. Those of us who’d already built expensive HTPCs weren’t all running out to buy new boxes, and we’d begun to notice a serious case of neglect. While The Boxee Box’s paying owners received regular updates and bug fixes, the original software remained stagnant. The functionality of web content began to break down and old bugs began to nag at the user-base. We felt abandoned, we felt upset, and most of all we felt used. Many of Boxee’s users were as loyal as I was, we’d submitted innumerable bug reports and helped shape the platform that Boxee was now selling to others. Nobody wanted a cut of the profits, but we did feel we deserved some attention. After all, where would Boxee be today if we’d never jumped on board? Where would Boxee be if we’d never told our friends?
June 13th, 2011: Boxee announces Fall update for PC users.
About six months after the release of the Boxee Box, our cries seemed to be heard and the company announced that we would receive a “Fall” update to bring the PC software up to par with the Boxee Box. Well, fall came, and fall went, and no update ever reared it’s head. The Boxee Box continued to receive updates, new content, and the company even released an iPad app. The Live TV dongle was announced for the Box in November, still with no word on the promised PC update. Then our Christmas present came.
August 9th, 2011: Boxee launches iPad app, and releases a Box update.
September 8th, 2011: Viewsonic drops its plans for a Boxee TV.
On December 26th, 2011 Boxee made a new promise for an update to the now nearly year old version of the PC app, and then the other shoe dropped. Boxee promised that alongside the release of the TV Dongle they would be updating the PC app to 1.5, and that this would be the last update the PC app would ever receive. Merry fucking Christmas. To say I was simply angry would be an understatement. I had just talked my friend and former roommate into buying a Boxee Box after he begged me to help him build a setup like mine. I decided the Boxee Box was the most user friendly setup, and this was how I was rewarded for my loyalty. It was still a bittersweet victory at the time, even if it would be the last one, we were getting our update. But, that wouldn’t be Boxee’s last insult. At the end of January when the update arrived we got the real surprise. Both VUDU and Netflix, the two premium content centerpieces of the Boxee platform, had been removed from the final version for the PC.
January 12th, 2012: 1 year 8 months and 26 days after the previous PC update, Boxee releases the last update PC users will receive.
At this point I had already abandoned the Boxee software as I had been abandoned by Boxee. But I was excited for this update, hoping that it might be what I needed to mend the broken relationship between myself and the company, boy was I wrong. I really didn’t think a company I had been so invested in could have treated me worse than Boxee had. I continued to help my friend with his Boxee Box, and even made one last update to the MAKE: Videos app. I was parting ways with Boxee for now, but maybe the company could win me back. After all we still shared a vision for the future of television, and that had to mean something right?
October 16th, 2012: Boxee announces the new “Boxee TV,” and that it will be ending major updates for the Boxee Box.
As of today the company announced their new “Boxee TV” hardware. A new Boxee Box with a built in TV Tuner and DVR functionality. “Great!” I thought, a nicer and more streamlined update to the Boxee Box and Live TV dongle. But it appears that again, I was too optimistic about Boxee’s plans. The “Boxee TV” isn’t an update to the Boxee Box, it’s the replacement, the executioner. Boxee is once again abandoning a large portion of it’s user base as it realigns it’s business model. But this time it’s worse, they haven’t just crapped on me, they crapped on my reputation. I recommended my friend spend $200 on the Boxee Box, and that device is now destined to become an expensive paper weight. Boxee plans to abandon it as they abandoned the PC software. Straight from the mouth of Avner Ronen, “We’re not going to spend a lot more energy on that.”
Boxee has gone so far as to remove the Boxee Box from their main site all together, relegating the old Box to a sub-domain. Moved along with the old website is the developer portal, though to many it make look as if they’ve removed it all together. Those visiting the old URL are greeted with a 404 error. The new Boxee TV landing page only seems to promote a few apps and has very few screen shots of the new interface. With the announcement that this new software is proprietary, closed, and encrypted, I started to wonder if open app development also went out the door. My suspicions were confirmed in an email exchange with a Boxee employee,
“Yes, you are correct, the new Box will have much fewer apps and will not have open app development.”
Like the PC users before, so too have the Box users, and developers been left out in the cold. How many times does Boxee think they can get away with this before their credibility erodes entirely?
This is it between me and Boxee. With Android as an entertainment center on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a cheap and sleek ARM powered box replacing those old Boxee Boxes. Will Boxee survive as a company with their new cloud DVR model? Maybe, but it begs the question, who is left to recommend their products to new users? With three dedicated user groups now left out in the cold by a company who promised and sold them the future, I’m not sure how Boxee plans to thrive in the hardware business. We tech geeks love our new toys, but we don’t forget being burned. I certainly won’t forget my experience with Boxee. It’s been a long painful road, and I’m glad to have finally reached the end of it. Goodbye Boxee. If you’re reading this take my advice, and let this be the last time you turn your back on your users.