Linux computing on the couch, from across the room

Linux PC enthusiasts may be tired of hearing about all the ways Microsoft PCs are taking over the living room. Having conquered most home offices and dens, Windows is now running such entertainment apps as MP3 players, CDs and DVDs with its XP Media Center Edition, complete with a PC-friendly remote control that's similar to a cable TV or home electronics controller. But Linux can also play in the home entertainment arena, with help from a package called Linux Infrared Remote Control.

The software allows Linux computers to receive infrared signals and translate them into instructions that can be used to operate any application the box can run. By connecting a USB or serial IR receiver, or through built-in IR interfaces (such as IrDA ports on laptops), LIRC can be used to launch applications or other services, and control the operation of programs such as MP3 and CD players, or any other device attached to the PC. IR commands can even be mapped to mouse movements, allowing users to mirror point-and-click functions on a remote.

Most standard infrared remotes can be used with the system. LIRC commands are set up by defining a function - such as hitting "play" on an MP3 app, or launching a Web site - then mapping the function to a remote control's IR signal. The application "learns" the signal by pointing the remote at the IR receiver.

Once set up, a Linux PC with a remote control interface can become a powerful home entertainment gadget. A quiet-running LIRC-enabled Linux PC or laptop attached to a TV and stereo can provide lots of fun features, from couch-based Web surfing (great for live Fantasy Football stat tracking on the Web during NFL games) as well as bringing a library of MP3s out of the PC den and onto the living room stereo system. Outfitted with a TV input card and a fat hard drive, the PC could even take over as a cable television receiver and digital video recorder. (TiVo is, after all, a Linux-based appliance.)

It could also be argued that having a Linux-based home entertainment PC removes the risk of having "Slammer" or "ILOVEYOU" being added to your music collection, or the "BSOD" while trying to watch CNN or MTV.

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Phil Hochmuth

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