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What is MP3Beamer?

Linspire released a product called MP3Beamer at the start of 2005. MP3Beamer looks to give both Microsoft and Apple a run for the money. But what exactly is MP3Beamer? Well, it's several things.

MP3Beamer - The computer

For starters, you can buy a PC in the US for $400 called the MP3Beamer. This is a small, quiet Pentium 4 2.4GHz PC that uses an Asus Pundit case, has an 80GB HD, a combo drive and 256MB RAM. There is also a BUDGETBeamer for $319. This is a Sempron 2400+ in a standard case with a standard CDRW drive.

Both systems come with Linspre 5.0 and MP3Beamer Software.

MP3Beamer - The software

Linspire's software is also called MP3Beamer. It consists of several programs that more or less work together. The MP3Beamer software is supposed to be tied to Linspire 5.0. However, upon closer inspection I'm fairly certain that this is an artifical limitation. Read on...

MP3Beamer is really just a collection of unrelated programs. Moreover, if one chose to substitute Lsongs for iTunes on both the Mac and Windows, the whole system could be had for free. This isn't to say that there's no value in what Linspire has done - far from it. They've cleverly tied together disparate software to produce a product that is easy to use, administer and is affordable. If you're already a Linspire user, you can pay $10 through CnR to use MP3Beamer. This is how I tested it out. Overall, it's a very intriguing product.

Here are the components:
  • Daapd (Announces Lsongs to Apple's iTunes)
  • Twonky Server (Announce itself to uPnP devices like SMC)
  • SlimServer (Announce itself to Squeezebox, iTunes (stream), PalmOS, WinCE, WinAmp etc.)
  • Lsongs, which saves the DB in an iTunes-compatible XML file.
That Lsongs saves the DB in an iTunes-compatible XML file is the key to how MP3Beamer works. This is the case because:
  • SlimServer integrates with iTunes in that it can read the XML file for playlists/updates etc
  • Twonky also recognizes iTunes XML format, so it too can read and deal with playlists/updates
So, SlimServer can talk to a Squeezebox. Because the SlimServer also serves an MP3 stream, it can work with WinAmp, xmms, Beep, PalmOS and WinCE. The Twonky server handles the rest. It talks uPnP, which hits the SMC box, a D-Link box and many other streaming audio devices.

The neat thing is that the Twonky server is available as a free download for WinXP, Mac OSX and Linux. It's not open source, but is available as a free binary download. For $20 you can buy a binary-only version that streams movies and pictures as well as music.

I had never heard of TwonkyVision before. It's very cool and uses relatively few resources. Since purchasing MP3Beamer and discovering the twonky server, I have since used it to integrate with my existing iTunes/Windows setup. Now, the SMC uses Twonky integrated with iTunes, SlimServer integrates with iTunes, which can import SlimServer's generated playlists, and all of our devices work more or less seamlessly. We can use SoftSqueeze on the local machines to get access to everything. All told, it's pretty cool.

Improving MP3Beamer

I, for one, applaud Linspire's efforts. With this base, I hope that they move forward and add the following features to their offering:

  • Further Integrate Slimserver and Lsongs so that SlimServer can save playlists directly into the Lsongs XML file.
At the moment, Linspire has disabled playlist setup through Slim's web interface. It can be done with a stock SlimServer. Furthermore, iTunes (and presumably Lsongs) can import SlimServer's .m3u playlists. I'd like them to cut out the import phase and make it so that SlimServer saves straight to the XML file.

  • Make Apple's Airport Express work with MP3Beamer

  • Speed up Lsong's database access
This one is quite serious. My P3 1GHz with 512MB of RAM runs iTunes/XP with a 13,000 song database. The search/play performance is fine. My MP3Beamer test system is an Athlon 64 3000 with 512MB of RAm. 5,000 songs _kills_ the computer. Apple hired some seriously smart people to make iTunes as fast as it is. Heck, my old 700MHz G3 could handle the 12,000 songs. Linspire really needs to worj this out if they're promoting MP3Beamer as a complete solution.