Wither Android TV

This weekend I saw something truly ridiculous. An Android TV device running the latest version of Android TV apparently (it had an update a few weeks ago to 8.0) that completely refused to play YouTube videos.

The device, Xiaomi Mibox, I picked up a couple of years ago and never used was gifted to a friend of mine and used somewhat regularly over the last 10 or so months. I don’t know the problem but I suspect the device doesn’t support the format (possibly DRM?) Google is putting on the advertising on YouTube videos but whatever the issue it seems ludicrous that a Google operating system won’t play videos from a Google service. It doesn’t even give an error message, it just spins and spins and spins.

Digging through the apps installed to see if a recent YouTube app update had broken things, we saw that Android TV ships with a print spooler. No idea why a set top box for a TV would need one but it reaffirmed my frustration with Android as an operating system. If Android were just a series of packages for a traditional GNU/Linux system the print spooler would be easily removed when building for a television set top box but instead we have a fragmented mess where devices frequently ship violating the GPL, or with outdated drivers or a lack of updates from whoever might update things. It is free software often in name only with a kludge of binary drivers and proprietary components jammed into a device to get it working.

Contrasting this to the other popular proprietary operating system for such devices: iOS or tvOS or whatever nonsense branding is being currently applied and it’s clear that Apple’s approach works well for the half dozen or so devices they produce but probably would fail just as spectacularly if they tried to run it on the thousands of doodads that run some flavor of Android in 2018.

In the end, we unplugged it and plugged in an old $20 Roku device and with a fresh pair of batteries in the remote and a quick software update worked just fine and played YouTube videos the way they were meant to be played: that is to say, at all.

I wonder what this might look like with a standard computer running a desktop OS and some kind of decent remote control solution. Maybe such a thing exists, but I’ve not heard of it.

Medium.com doesn’t support my browser, and here’s why…

You probably don’t remember a web browser called Mosaic. It looked something like this:

This browser identifies itself as NSCA_Mosaic

Mosaic was one of the first graphical browsers for a non-Unix environment. The original browser, WorldWideWeb later renamed Nexus, and the ViolaWWW browsers were already around, but didn’t run on Windows and Mac OS.

Back in 1994, Jim Clark and Mark Andreessen started Mosaic Communications Corporation, hired many of the developers of Mosaic, and later that year released Mosaic Netscape 0.9, before renaming their company to Netscape Communications Corporation and their product to Netscape.

You may remember Netscape, it looked something like this:

Codename for Netscape: Mozilla, which stuck and has been in user agent strings ever since.

Eventually, Microsoft caught onto the web, released Internet Explorer 1.0 for Windows, which looked a bit like this:

Also identifies as Mozilla, but isn’t

There was a thing called the browser wars, which split the web into two chunks: web pages designed for Internet Explorer and those that weren’t. The ones which weren’t often kinda worked in IE anyway, but the ones designed just for IE didn’t work at all well in Netscape and other browsers.

This seemed bad at the time, especially because Microsoft didn’t make a browser for anything but Windows (and later the Mac) and because Internet Explorer was proprietary, the web felt kinda weird for people using free software operating systems.

So Netscape released the source code to their browser as free software. A new project was born: Mozilla.

Mozilla went through a long period of development, but with regular releases. I ran “Mozilla” (officially Mozilla Suite and later SeaMonkey) from mid-2000 right through until Firefox 1.0 came out in 2004.

The great thing about Firefox was that finally, we had a free software browser and it also happened to be one of the best browsers out there. People celebrated by donating money to the newly formed Mozilla Foundation to put a two page ad in the New York Times:

On a recent trip to San Francisco I got to see some of these names on the sign outside the Mozilla offices. I even spotted a few people I know.

For a few years, things were pretty great. And then in 2006, a whole bunch of stuff happened which basically came down to Mozilla and Debian arguing over a trademark, and Debian rebranding the browser and email client as Iceweasel and Icedove respectively.

Which is why Medium doesn’t support my browser.

Medium hearkens back to the “good old days” of the web, when you have to have the right browser installed to view a website.

My browser identifies as:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:35.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/35.0 Iceweasel/35.0

Yep. It identifies AS Firefox as well as Iceweasel.

And this is what I see if I use the User Agent Switcher to claim to be Mozilla Firefox™ (akaMozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:35.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/35.0)

Yes you do. I just wrote my entire post in it, and I have to say, your editing interface is pretty nice. Now just stop using 1990s-techniques to figure out if I have the right browser or not and just show me the page I requested without trying to second guess me.