Microsoft/Mac Monday

Today we’re taking a look at Apple’s Front Row vs. Windows Media Center. We’re not really sure if Front Row can be compared to Media Center because right now, they serve different purposes. Front Row is more of an interface for controlling the media already on your computer while Media Center will do that in addition to recording television shows. They’re both media hubs though, so we thought it would be interesting to see how they compared.

Before we dive in, we thought we’d first mention the fact that while we may be using MacBook Pro computers for our everyday use, we do have a PC dedicated to running Vista’s Media Center. It has 3 tuners and enables us to record 3 shows simultaneously, and was one of the best investments we’ve made.

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Front Row is an application for Apple computers that is similar in some aspects to Windows Media Center. The first time it was announced was back on October 12, 2005. It now comes shipped on all new Mac computers.

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Windows Media Center originally debuted in 2002 for Windows XP. Now it comes with Windows Vista Ultimate and Home Premium versions of Windows Vista.

Front Row Features

One thing that Apple did really well with Front Row is transitions. These transitions start the moment you open up Front Row because it nicely fades-in to display the menu. Their interface is nice, but I noticed it’s missing a few things. First I should say that a lot of people use the Apple Remote to navigate Front Row, but for people who don’t want to use the remote, they’re stuck using a keyboard. There’s not a way (that we know of) to use the mouse which is pretty inconvenient. Navigation with a keyboard is a little more difficult, and you’ll end up using the Escape key frequently.

The biggest downside to Front Row if we’re comparing it to Windows Media Center is that there is no way to watch or record live TV.

Content that you can access via Front Row include:

  • Movies – view movies stored in your iTunes library or in a user’s movies folder/ also option to download and play movie trailers
  • TV Shows – any you’ve download from iTunes will be displayed
  • Music – music is pulled from your iTunes music library/ includes option to listen to a preview of the top songs on iTunes
  • Podcasts – allows you to play podcasts that you are subscribed to, right from Front Row
  • Photos – pulls in photos you have saved in your iPhoto library
  • DVD (if there is a DVD in the drive)

Overall Front Row is nicest for watching movie trailers or maybe listening to your music but really it’s just a remote-friendly, fancy interface for iTunes. If they’d allow you to rent movies from iTunes via Front Row, that would be fantastic, but they don’t. They also don’t allow you to watch YouTube videos from there which is something that can be done on Media Center through an add-on, or even using Apple TV.

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Media Center Features

One of Media Center’s best features is the interface. Microsoft really did a fantastic job here. Another thing they did a great job with is packing a lot of features in under the hood. Not only does it come loaded with a bunch of features, but there are many add-ons that give you even more features like commercial skip and WebGuide which we’ve mentioned before. To Apple’s defense, because they don’t provide a way to record and watch live TV, there’s really no need for add-ons like commercial skip.

Another awesome thing about Media Center is that they’ve got quite the community surrounding it. There’s a website at where you’ll find thousands upon thousands of people who are there to post and answer questions. There are even members who work on the Media Center Team that will stop by to help answer questions. While Apple does have a developing community out there, a lot of them are for Mac computers in general and not specific to Front Row.


  • Record and playback TV
  • Music – listen to songs from your library
  • Radio (some TV tuners support FM radio)
  • Video – have videos on your computer? Watch them from Media Center
  • Pictures – flip through your picture library
  • Sports – keep up with games in progress or ones that have ended
  • and more…

Unlike Front Row, users are able to navigate through Windows Media Center using a mouse, and in fact, when they use a mouse or a keyboard, other navigational buttons appear on screen to make it a little easier.

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If we were asked to decide which was better, Front Row or Windows Media Center, without question we’d choose Windows Media Center. This is one of those things that Microsoft really has done a great job with in multiple aspects. Maybe Apple will “borrow” a few of their ideas to improve Front Row in the future?

While Windows Media Center may be superior, it also depends on what you’re looking to do. If you don’t have a tuner card and you don’t have any intentions of getting one for your computer, there’s no reason why you can’t get most of the same functionality out of Front Row as you would with Media Center.

Those of you looking for a nice way to manage your media, graphically both applications look nice and get the job done. If you’re looking to record TV, Media Center is the only way to go. So now our question for you is, do you think Apple will go the route of recording television, or will doing so distract people buying episodes of TV shows from iTunes which ends-up bringing in money?