The Neuros OSD is a device created by Neuros Technology. This is a device I am REALLY excited about buying. I first heard about it in the latest issue of Linux Format Magazine, which gave it a rating of 9/10. What’s so awesome about this device? It runs Linux! “So what?” You may say, “So does the TiVo.” That’s true, but unlike the TiVo, the Neuros engineers encourage their users to hack the machine! That’s right, while TiVo has some checksums to prevent users from tampering with them, a trait so onerous that the GPL version 3 specifically targeted them, the Neuros has a vibrant community dedicated to transforming the Neuros OSD into whatever is most useful for the consumer. What’s that? A company that actually wants the best for its consumers? That’s right!
You see, they are the early birds to the new revolution where manufacturers begin to realize that the best thing they can do is empower their users to change the devices they OWN as they wish. Not only does that satisfy the geek urge to tinker (and tech companies should try and please geeks as their main consumer base), but it gives Neuros Technology FREE R&D. They are taking the model behind the Linux kernel and bringing it to the hardware world. With Linux, if you want to get it to run on a watch and no one else cares about that, you can add in the parts you need to make that work.
For example, Linus Torvalds, BDFL of the Linux kernel, has stated that some of the parts getting the most work nowadays are in parts of the technology world that he cares little about. If he were the only one who could code Linux, some of these technologies would never be implemented. In the same way, Neuros Technology has primarily designed the OSD to be a device for archiving VHS tapes, a rudimentary personal video recorder (think TiVo or MythTV), and DVD backup solution. That’s what they’re working on with their R&D dollars. However, tons of consumers have already started hacking the box to do other things they really want to do. For example, projects have started to port a web browser, add support for streaming a last.fm radio station, and supporting the free Ogg Theora video codec. This code doesn’t cost Neuros Technology any money or risk, but it increases the value of the product. Now someone else can buy it and use it to view the web on their TV.
What attracts me to the project is that I can use it as a really, really cheap MythTV frontend. This is not at all one of the intended uses of the product as conceived by Neuros Technology, but they will get a sale from me just because of that. And right now its MythTV support comes down to the fact that MythTV and the Neuros OSD both speak uPNP. But if I wanted to, I could write code and load it onto the OSD that would access my MythTV recordings as seamlessly as if it had been designed for just that purpose. Then I can put this code online and even more people might buy an OSD just for that purpose. Afterall, the Neuros OSD is selling for $179 and it would cost me >$400 to create a suitable MythTV front end.
I look forward to more and more manufacturers working towards this type of system where they empower the consumer rather than enslaving them. Sony is slowly moving in that direction with the ability to install Linux onto the Playstation 3. There are now tons of people using the Playstation for Folding at Home where they are helping to find cures for horrible diseases by running the FaH project when they aren’t using the Playstation. Also, many research teams have been stringing Playstation 3s together to make super computers. Neither of these were envisioned by Sony, but they add value to product without costing Sony one dime of R&D money.
Neuros has a blog for getting out the message to consumers, a Wiki page for developers, and a discussion group for questions. Check out their Google Summer of Code 2008 page to see what’s coming thanks to the open model. Neuros is definitely serious about your digital rights.
I’ll definitely be buying a Neuros OSD as my next big purchase.