Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Why Boxee loves Apple

April 2, 2009: 12:06 PM ET

boxee-on-macHere's an interesting statistic about Boxee, the freeware media browser that makes it easy to find and watch Web video and streaming TV shows on a computer screen.

Of the 370,000 people who have downloaded the free Boxee client since it became available last June,

  • 67% are running it on Macs
  • 25% are running it on Apple TVs
  • 4% are running it on Linux boxes
  • 4% are running it on Windows PCs

This is not the way the world usually works. Developers as a rule will walk through the desert in their socks to get to an installed base, which generally means the 8 or 9 out of 10 computers in the world that run Microsoft (MSFT) Windows.

So we asked Avner Ronen, the Israeli-trained software engineer who founded Boxee, how it came to be that 92% of his users are running Apple (AAPL) products?

The reason stems from a decision he made two years ago, when his team first started developing Boxee.

"We were all switching to Macs as our personal computers," he says. "And we felt many of the early adopters were going there as well."

It helped that Apple's hardware was standardized across the product line, which made it a more attractive multimedia development platform than PCs running different versions of Windows and manufactured by a host of different companies. And there was one more little thing:

"The Mac Mini and laptops were coming with remotes at the time, which made them great media center platforms. We just thought it made sense to start with Mac and then move to the PC."

Although the Mac version is in its second alpha and headed for beta, Boxee still hasn't been officially released on the PC. A Windows alpha came out earlier this year, but only by private invitation. A public release isn't expected for another six or seven weeks.

Even so, Boxee has been getting a lot of attention lately, especially after it won a Best of the Best Award at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It now offers content both from Web sources like Blip.TV, Joost, TED and Revision3 as well as TV shows from mainstream outlets like PBS, CBS, HBO, CNN, Comedy Central, WB, NBC and Fox.

Over the past six weeks Boxee has been engaged in a game of cat and mouse with Hulu, the joint venture of NBC (GE) and Fox (NWSA) that streams TV content from nearly 450 shows, including such hits as 30 Rock, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. Hulu has twice tried to pull its content off Boxee -- most recently this week -- but Ronen's programmers keep finding clever ways to get it back on. See here and here.

In March, Ronan drew more attention to Boxee by engaging in a fierce and widely read debate with HDNet's Mark Cuban over the future of video entertainment. It was set off by a Cuban editorial entitled "Why Do Internet People Think That Content People Are Stupid?"

Last week, a Boxee press conference/meet-up in New York City drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 700 people. Most of them were Mac users.

Boxee's love for Apple, by the way, isn't exactly reciprocated. Boxee came to the Apple TV as a hack that gives owners a way to get around the set-top box's restrictions and watch content that isn't available on the iTunes Store.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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