On Settings

Posted By: Team XBMC on Oct 11, 2009 in Site News

XBMC has long been criticized and at the same time hailed for its multitude of settings. Depending on your point of view, it is either highly configurable or overwhelmingly confusing. In a sense, both are true.

Like many other open-source programs, we suffer occasionally from the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem. Many developers are often adding cool new features and tacking on options for them, but it’s less frequent that we step back and evaluate those options and how they are presented to the user. We are taking this time (while we’re overhauling the rest of the codebase and preparing for feature-freeze) to do exactly that.

Today marked the first round of the big cleanup. It started with simply setting some Good Defaults ™ and throwing out some rarely used or even non-functional settings. The more difficult part comes next, when we reorganize, regroup, and rename things in an effort to make configuration of XBMC a breeze.

Stay tuned for more. This is going to be an eventful week…

Share on reddit
Share on StumbleUpon


Discussion - 40 Comments

  • SunTseTong Oct 11, 2009 

    Looking forward to the feature freeze and big news. I am trying to report a bug (I think) and am unable to register to the XBMC Support Forum. The “Registration Image Verification” page does not display any images to click.

  • theuni Oct 11, 2009 

    @SunTseTong
    Not sure what to tell you, they appear just fine here. Be sure you don’t have anything blocking the images.

  • Jezz_X Oct 12, 2009 

    @SunTseTong
    indeed turn off any adblockers you have on and see if it shows

  • queeup Oct 12, 2009 

    Hmm @Jezz you have work to do then :)

    videolibrary.enabled & musiclibrary.enabled options gone. Your skins need modify.

  • Jezz_X Oct 12, 2009 

    @queeup
    ahh crap don’t tell me they broke the skins :(

  • queeup Oct 12, 2009 

    They did :( No library views anymore.

  • FLX Oct 12, 2009 

    Its still annoying that you have to fill in the audio hardware devices by hand, how difficult is it to make a list out of it?

  • SunTseTong Oct 12, 2009 

    @Jezz_X

    @theuni

    Thanks for quick replies. Bizarre. Do not have any add blockers installed on either browser. Tried again using Opera and was able to register without issue from same computer… Hmm…

  • Dan Dar3 Oct 12, 2009 

    @Team XBMC
    Good work team, sometimes you have to be brave to break the thing first to rebuild it properly.

    @theuni
    I like the new communication strategy, keep up the good work!

  • Bigfoot87 Oct 12, 2009 

    It’s good to evaluate this kind of things from time to time.. The settings are great for the ‘veterans’ who “grew up” with it, but at the same time pretty tough for the newbies.

  • oos Oct 12, 2009 

    Sweet! Really looking forward to the next release. Keep up the good work!

  • NinJustin Oct 12, 2009 

    Personally, For me the only problems I’ve had was when I first started using XBMC and could not figure out how to add content to my Libraries. I like having all the options but a simple mode might be needed for novices

  • Tacoguy Oct 12, 2009 

    Simple mode please. I’d be more confident to recommend to not so super techy people.

    This is a bit ot but is there gonna be a clean up (new implemenatation?)of the svn repo installer? There was a post a couple months ago hinting at that. Thanks. You guys do great work and I know you’re busy with more core functions.

  • Tammer Ibrahim Oct 12, 2009 

    So, there will be fewer settings for the nerds to tinker with, but an interface that still relies on associating 10-15 keys/remote buttons with their context-specific actions?

    The settings are not the problem. (OK, maybe allowing for a separation of advanced vs. simple settings would help.) The primary problem hindering XBMC from achieving widespread adoption is the plethora of context specific buttons. A remote only needs five or six buttons, and the consistency of their actions should be viewed as paramount.

    When I enter my living room, it’s not uncommon for me to see some of my housemates watching an American movie with the English subtitles on, simply because performing basic tasks like turning them off through XBMC’s interface is monumentally difficult for the technically challenged. Not only do you have to realize that the button usually associated with returning to the main menu has a completely different action during playback, but you have to navigate through two separate menus full of technical (read: scary) options, in which of course the usual “go back” button has no effect.

    I know that many of these things can be configured through complicated remote keymapping, but that’s not the point. Sorry for the rant, but to see a post on the main page that seems focused on increasing XBMC’s usability that doesn’t address the plethora of context-specific buttons seems absurd.

  • seeker Oct 12, 2009 

    Perfect! This is great news! It’s not that the current settings are awful, but I bet some things are lagging behind, and some clarification never hurts ;) Keep up the good work, you’re awesome! :)

    Also I share the first impression with NinJustin that the threshold is a bit high when you first try out this program. On the other hand once get past that first step it’s amazing, and the software sure has come a long way in making it easier already.

  • Dan Dar3 Oct 12, 2009 

    How about the best of both worlds? If there is a need for advanced menus, why not make that as an option, that a user can tick and then you can have the “simple” mode as well as a “advanced” mode settings? Not saying that the settings model shouldn’t be reviewed, just throwing ideas…

  • Jonathan Oct 12, 2009 

    @Tammer Ibrahim: Give us a better default mapping and we’ll more than happily include it. It works just fine out of the box using the Apple remote with it’s 6 buttons, after all, due to users taking the time to work out a good navigation strategy so that it could work nicely. We cannot possibly do this for every remote out there, but we can make the default keymaps that we include as sane as possible. Feel free to pop over to the forums and suggest better mappings if you have them. As for the technical (scary) options – this is exactly what we’re addressing here :)

  • migueld Oct 12, 2009 

    Nice, can I participate? I can also “beta test” and serve as novice user perspective :)

  • Juvenal Oct 13, 2009 

    well i think you can make to option the standar and the expert mode, and the expert mode, like VLC.

  • theuni Oct 13, 2009 

    @migueld
    Our code is always open and there are several sources for development builds. If you’d like to be on the bleeding edge, a quick google serach for ‘xbmc nightly builds’ should get you what you’re after.

  • JDizzy Oct 13, 2009 

    It will be nice to have an updated version and to be able to use all the new features now available in some of the newer skins. A thought might be to add an option in XBMC to update to the latest SVN for those of us that are not so inclined to doing so from a command line…..(possibly an ‘advanced’ feature?)

  • Mark Oct 13, 2009 

    This has long been a problem. Some of the XBMC developers add features only for themselves rather than what people that actually use the software would like. Similarly, changes have been made to the library, the playlist functionality, that many would argue have taken steps backwards in terms of usability because the developers liked it that way.

  • Tammer Ibrahim Oct 13, 2009 

    @Jonathan
    Thank you for commenting. Looking at the wiki entry for the Apple remote, I can see that it’s possible to achieve a more streamlined keymap. However, I still see the context-sensitivity of the buttons as well as the necessity for button-holds to emulate more buttons exemplary of the problem I’m discussing. I love XBMC and all it can do, but my non-techie friends, not so much. They need six buttons that don’t require experimentation in different contexts, and don’t require making mental leaps like “if I hold the button, it does something different!” (I know, it comes completely naturally to us, but for many, many people out there it is a mental leap.)

  • Frank Oct 13, 2009 

    Since we mentioned the apple remote, I’d like to suggest the possibility of configuring all or part of XBMC via a web or remote interface. For instance, adding a network share takes a minimum of 12 clicks, plus some additional clicks to choose the folder, then another handful of clicks to give it a name. And what would be an instant configuration change with a keyboard and mouse takes almost ten minutes when you also take into account the lag of the apple remote.

    I would love if I could just get all of the configuration done outside of the interface on my computer, launch up XBMC and see if everything worked as expected, and if there’s a problem, I can do the fix on my pc.

    The configuration files are mostly XML, right?

    Thanks for listening!

  • Jonathan Oct 13, 2009 

    @Tammer Ibrahim
    @Frank
    There’s actually an ongoing discussion about keymap possibilities for the future on the forums right now – Feel free to contribute.

  • Jonathan Oct 13, 2009 

    @Mark
    I agree that there is the tendency to introduce functionality that works for us when it may not work for everyone – that is the natural way things go in a project where we’re working on this in our spare time, for fun. I think we eventually get things right for the majority, but it can take time. Once something is working (even if it’s suboptimal), we’re hesitant to make large changes to functionality until we’re certain that every contingency has been worked through – we don’t want to have to do it more than once! The playlist and video library areas certainly fall into the “sub-optimal” category. A library revamp is on the way – it’s just a matter of finding the time and energy to take the plunge – it is a huge undertaking. I’ve also requested thorough proposals for the playlist problem on the forums – pop over there if you’d like to contribute.

  • queeup Oct 13, 2009 

    Hmmm we need Notification for forum. Peoples are not looking here. To many error report on forum because of Library mode.

  • Sean Oct 14, 2009 

    I found a lot of settings to be over my head but I’m sure a lot of them could be very useful. I think vlc player hit the nail on the head with a box marked “advanced”, when ticked it showed far more options. I think this is in the right general direction!

  • Gerwin v. Nöthen Oct 14, 2009 

    Good to read.
    i’d prefer the “standard” and “expert” mode too.
    standard for just enjoying and browsing and watching in a fast way.
    expert for setting all things up to its best (my own) conditions.

    keep going on! wonderful project! wonderful developer! ;-)

  • grat Oct 16, 2009 

    Another vote for split “Basic” / “Advanced” modes. Removing a feature that’s useful because it might confuse someone is the height of elitism. Not only are you essentially saying “The user is an idiot”, but it really annoys those of us who want to customize their interface as much as possible. The “Linus vs. GNOME” from a couple years ago is a classic example– Gnome removes buttons and widgets to keep from confusing people, then provides a tool about as user-friendly as regedit for “power users”.

    Microsoft solved this problem years ago with the “More Options” button, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for Gnome or KDE, both of which are suffering from “do it my way” syndrome.

  • theuni Oct 16, 2009 

    @grat
    Patches welcome.

  • SAMCRO Oct 16, 2009 

    I agree about the Expert/Basic modes. I also think that there should be some explanation via right click menu about some features like Stack, where the user may not really know what they are.

  • SAMCRO Oct 16, 2009 

    Also, I am running XBMC on my server at home and remoting in via UVNC. IT works nicely.

  • Andrew Oct 16, 2009 

    The hardest thing for a newbie when you start using XBMC is adding content to the library. It took me ~5 minutes to figure out how to install skins and about 2 weeks to get my songs added to the library correctly and about 2.more weeks to grt everything added properly using media info plus.

  • hikaricore Oct 17, 2009 

    A list of these “unimportant” settings might be nice so we can we can provide real feedback.

  • queeup Oct 17, 2009 

    @hikaricore
    It’ too late. They are gone already.

  • Jonathan Oct 18, 2009 

    @grat
    We’re not actually assuming the user is an idiot (though to be fair, that IS a consideration), rather we’re looking at the options from a perspective of “do we actually need a choice here, or is there really only one reasonable choice to be made?” In this case we remove the option – there’s no point of it. If we think there IS a point in the option, but that only “advanced” users (or an extremely small number of “normal” users) will ever care to change it, then we simply hide it from the UI, which thus means it’s available via advancedsettings.xml.

    For those that wish to know what’s going the best option is to monitor SVN. As soon as we’ve finished the removal phase, we’ll move into the cleanup/reorganisation phase.

  • xbmcfan Oct 19, 2009 

    Would it be too much to ask for built-in support for XBOX or XBOX 360 controller, preferably in XBMC Live? That would make the transition for the hundreds of millions of XBOX XBMC users so much more simpler.

  • bob Oct 20, 2009 

    xbmcfan :
    Would it be too much to ask for built-in support for XBOX or XBOX 360 controller, preferably in XBMC Live? That would make the transition for the hundreds of millions of XBOX XBMC users so much more simpler.

    pff im still busy to get x360controller working in linux.
    maybe a menu for choosing different working keymaps?

  • diggeridoo Oct 25, 2009 

    Just wanted to give my perspective on XBMC’s complication: The whole reason that I use it is that it was the first “media center” to have a setup that was simple enough to be up and running in less than an hour, but still powerful enough to do everything that I ultimately wanted it to do. Sure, it took me another month to get it exactly where I wanted it, but it was working during that whole time and steadily improving, unlike some of the other software I tried which had a tendency to fall over whenever I poked a bit too far into the settings.

    I’ve got a store of movies all beautifully stored in the library for instant access, along with using it as my myth frontend for everyday use and access to video games. Plus, it looks beautiful too boot, with everyone who sees it asking what it is and how it works.

    I won’t say that some people may not have legitimate complaints about the settings options, but in my opinion it is light years ahead of every other media center project I have used.

About XBMC

XBMC is a free and open source media player application developed by the XBMC Foundation, a non-profit technology consortium. XBMC is available for multiple operating-systems and hardware platforms, featuring a 10-foot user interface for use with televisions and remote controls. It allows users to play and view most videos, music, podcasts, and other digital media files from local and network storage media and the internet.