Entertainment, Backups and a Whole Lot More
So, let’s talk entertainment, or wait, backups…Or no, file share interoperability between Mac OS X and Windows…Oh, and don’t forget Linux.
If that seems like a lot to cover, you’re right! However, I can sum it all up in one simple word, “Ubuntu.”
Ubuntu is an open source Debian Linux-based operating system that is fast becoming the Linux distribution of choice for anyone who wants to get things done and I’m going to explain how you can use this amazing OS to bring the world of computing together in one simple solution. [I will be breaking this up into multiple posts so stay tuned!] But, for now, let’s start with entertainment.
This may seem like an odd place to start but follow my thinking here. Everyone has some sort of video, picture or audio content hanging out in iTunes or randomly located across a computer hard drive. Let’s say you want to share this content with your living room, family room, rec room, or all of them at once. Well, if you’re a Mac guy – like me – that means converting all those files into the proper container, codec, bit-rate and audio stream and then putting them into iTunes. I would still have to edit tag information which by itself is a huge undertaking. Once I have all this done I still need to make sure I leave the computer on, logged in and running iTunes. That’s just a mess! You mean to tell me that in the more than 10 years that iTunes has been around, Apple hasn’t seen fit to give us the option to run iTunes in the background as a service?! This doesn’t seem like any kind of “solution” to me.
So, I present an alternate scenario…One where all your media files live on a hidden server somewhere in your home or office. A scenario where the server figures out what kind of media file it is and gathers tag information appropriately based on scanning the file and reading the file name. A scenario where you don’t have to convert anything because the server software will do it for you. Best of all this software is free! That’s right, I said it FREE!!! Personally, I believe in rewarding amazing projects like this one with cash and prizes, but they will let you download the software sans gift. The amazing software I’m speaking of is Plex. Plex is an app that was born from the XBMC project and has grown into the best server/client media system in the world. I use the term server/client and not client/server on purpose here. The media server is definitely my favorite part of the system. This is not to say you can’t run them both on the same box, but who wants a server attached to their TV in the living room with all those fans and noisy hard disk drives.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into Plex. Plex Media Server can be run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and multiple NAS Appliances. The front-end Media Center will run on Windows, Mac OS X, iOS (iPhones, iPads and iPods), Android devices and a ton of other “Connected Devices” like Google TV (yea that’s still around) and Roku. If you want to run both the server and client versions of Plex on one system then Windows and Mac OS X will be your best friends. I’m going to cover the Media Server installation on Ubuntu, remember that was my one word solution to so many needs. I will not be covering the Ubuntu installation. There are plenty of other people who have done an excellent job at explaining that. I would recommend installing Ubuntu 64bit Server edition, at the time of this writing the current version is 12.04.1 LTS (Long Term Support). Once your Ubuntu server is built, you’ll need to install a few pre-requisites. All commands listed will be run from a terminal window. Either connect via SSH or use the main terminal with a keyboard, monitor and mouse.
First we’ll need Avahi. Direct from the Avahi-daemon MAN page:
- The Avahi mDNS/DNS-SD daemon implements Apple’s Zeroconf architecture (also known as “Rendezvous” or “Bonjour”)
- $sudo apt-get install avahi-daemon
This will have some prerequisites as well, so don’t tell Apt-Get, “No,” when it wants to install them. Next, let’s install Plex. In the interest of making this simple and updatable, we’re going to add the Plex Repo to Apt’s sources.list file:
- $sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
Add the following at the end of the sources.list file:
- # Plex repo source
- deb https://www.plexapp.com/repo lucid main
Even though every other repo in this file has “precise main” at the end, use “lucid main” or this will not work. Use Ctrl-X to exit and choose, “Y,” to save.
Run the following commands in sequence:
- $sudo apt-get update
- $sudo apt-get install plexmediaserver
Once completed, Plex is ready to go. During this process, Plex will set itself up as a background daemon so every time the server is rebooted Plex will start and be available. Get the web interface here.
Before you visit the address, I would recommend creating a couple of folders somewhere like, “/opt/FOLDER,” to store your media files. It may be best to create a multimedia folder and nest other folders, like Movies, Television, Photos, Music and so on, below the main folder just to keep things organized.
Once you visit the web address of the server, Plex will guide you through the process of adding sources for your media files. You can also add channels to your Plex server for use on your end-devices. Stuff like Revision3 or Vimeo are available. Plex has too many features to cover here, so check it out and get rolling!
Oh wait, I almost forgot! How do you get all your files to the server? Ahhh, well that will be covered in the next exciting edition!
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