KODI – A Guided Tour

 

It’s fair to say Kodi software has become very popular of late.  An open source media centre software previously called XBMC (X-box Media Centre).  First developed in 2002 and designed for use across multiple platform operating systems such as Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.  Primarily for streaming lawfully owned media such as video, music, podcasts and games streamed from the internet.

Over the past couple of years Kodi has become increasingly popular for home entertainment and evolved to provide a cheaper alternative to TV & film subscription packages with the big providers namely Sky, Virgin and Netflix.  The software is free and completely legal but has come under criticism since becoming known as a tool for accessing illegal or pirated content through third-party add-ons (an update designed to increase the software's capability).

Kodi can be used in a number of ways  - on a PC, laptop, Android phone, tablet or TV-streaming USB stick such as an 'Amazon Firestick'.  Not so straightforward on Apple devices (iPad and iPhone) which involves jail breaking (hacking) the device which isn’t advisable.  Another popular method is purchasing a set-top box which connects directly to the TV with the Kodi software pre-installed or to be added as you go.

The whole thing is highly customisable and the appearance of the interface screens can be personalised to suit.  Known as 'Skins' - colours, backgrounds, layout, menus can all be changed to suit the user's preferences.

Once installed, Kodi comes with a default skin which can then be changed.  

 

So listed below in no particular order are five of the best Kodi skins available to try out.  

 

Confluence

Aeon Nox

Xperience1080

Metropolis

Titan

There are thousands of add-ons out there designed to enhance the user experience for viewing, listening to music, gaming and so on.  The majority are free and legal.  Some are dodgy and vary in levels of quality.

One method for applying new add-ons is a program called 'Add-on Installer' used to apply or update the add-on to the software.  Installing add-ons in my opinion is not that straight forward a task for the novice user.  No doubt one day Kodi will evolve to a Plug and Play format where everything happens in the click of a button.

 

There is vast amounts of information on the web and ‘how to’ guides dedicated to Kodi.  Much more than can be covered in this post.

I found the Kodi Wiki to be quite intuitive and easy to follow.  It covers almost everything you need.

http://kodi.wiki/view/HOW-TO:Install_Kodi_for_Android

 

Here are some of the more popular Kodi add-ons currently available.

Again, note there are many more out there to choose from.

Exodus

Currently the most popular giving free access to large amounts of content including live TV, movies and so on.  Available through Kodi’s add-on installer

UK Turks Playlists

Another popular add-on giving access to large amounts of classic TV shows, movies, cartoons, documentaries and adult content.  Available through Kodi’s add-on installer.

Specto

Similar to Exodus with more choice of streaming options.  Popular for the latest TV shows, live TV and movies.

YouTube

An unofficial Kodi add-on but gives access to pretty much everything on YouTube.  Also available through Kodi’s add-on installer.

Disney Junior

Access to children’s TV shows and the like.

iPlayer WWW

Unofficial add-on for BBC iPlayer.  Gives access to all the regular catch up features and live BBC channels.

FILMON Simple

New in Kodi software version 0.17 and provides TV streaming much like it’s predecessor FILMON.  Tested in the US and only likely to be available in the UK using a VPN.

SALTS

Another new add-on that allows streaming from different sources.  Also includes features for library integration of playlists on different devices.

Sports Devil

Live sports mainly from the US including NFL and NBA.

Maverick TV

Popular for streaming TV channels from around the world.  Previously called Joker TV.  Includes live sports, music channels and radio stations.

Apparently, using Kodi software to publicly show streamed movies, premium channels or pay-per-view sports events is illegal (e.g in a pub) because it involves money where the source is profiting from illegal content.  As a home user you're not actually breaking the law while streaming content and not actually downloading (saving it) to your device.  This is because online streaming creates a temporary or cached copy of the content without actually saving the data.  At least that’s what my research shows at the time of writing!

The Football Premier League issued a court order earlier this year to block illegal streaming of live football matches on Kodi.  It basically blocks the third-party add-ons from streaming the games making it more difficult to access them.  The court order affects the big ISPs (Internet Service Providers)  like Sky, BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk who pay between them something in the region of £5 Billion for the rights to show live Premier League games.  A similar UK court order was enforced in 2013 against Peer-to-Peer sharing sites. 

More recently certain add-ons have become inaccessible or disappeared from Kodi menus.  This could well be the start of the some of the restrictions mentioned earlier.

Earlier this year, Kodi again came under criticism for supporting DRM (digital-rights management) which restricts viewing of copyrighted content.  For example, a DVD purchased on the high street would be protected by DRM.  Since Kodi is currently open-source software, it does not have DRM built in - but as it moves toward being more of a paid for TV streaming service e.g Netflix, it will need to have DRM tools for use on Android devices and Chrome web browsers.

When it comes to the legal issues, Kodi themselves haven’t done anything wrong so they are probably a bit miffed at the bad publicity around illegal streaming through 3rd party add-ons.  That said, they are no doubt glad of the increased publicity as Kodi rises in popularity.

Some of the popular Kodi 3rd party add-ons no longer working or becoming inaccessible is mainly down to internet restrictions on content by ISP's  (Internet Service Providers) blocking copyrighted content.  Users will always find a way around the system when it comes to free stuff.  One method is to install (and pay for) a VPN (virtual private network) which allows for internet access outside the control of the provider.  One for the slightly more advanced user or those keen to find a backdoor.

Streaming on-demand content (TV, movies, podcasts, music etc) is definitely on the increase and Kodi is built for that purpose.  It will be interesting to see how it develops and if it can maintain its popularity at the same time.

 

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Cloud Computing….What’s it all about then?

I first wrote this article in 2013.  It's basically my take on the concept of cloud computing and what it actually is.  It's a bit long but I hope you enjoy it.

 

Are we witnessing a boom industry without realizing it?  Quite possibly.  Cloud computing has over recent years become the next big thing, not only within the commercial IT industry but also for individual home use.  So what is it?  In essence cloud computing is the evolution of how IT services such as email, online services, applications and actual data are stored and handled via the internet.  As opposed to traditional computing methods such as storing data on hard drives and managing it on the customer’s premises or at home.  Outsourcing your IT on a pay-as-you-go basis where you are only charged for what you use could also be a close definition. 

 

The term cloud in IT terminology derives from the internet and the analogy of a big fluffy entity somewhere out there.  In this case, the internet being a network of servers in data centres all over the world is the platform or road that takes us to a hosted cloud environment. Bringing efficiency, security, convenience and cost saving benefits to businesses and home users.  Previously only large businesses were adopting cloud but more recently mid- sized organisations are getting onboard.

 

Individual users (you and I) are probably using cloud computing without realizing it: Social networking, email, music and video streaming over the internet, storing documents online, online banking, gaming and shopping. It is predicted that by 2020, 92% of our everyday online services will have moved to cloud computing in one way or another.

 

Mobile phone technology is another example where the services and applications within a smart phone aren’t always stored within the device itself but are out in the cloud being securely managed by the mobile phone provider while the user goes about their business and sleeps at night. 

 

Multimedia entertainment such as television, films, music and online gaming are moving toward the cloud based world where these services are streamed into our homes over an internet connection and accessed wirelessly.  Physical media such as DVD and CD are becoming a thing of the past.  Digital television in its High Definition or Standard Definition formats could well be replaced in time by Internet Television.  These days, accessing films and music via the internet on a pay-per-view/listen basis seems more favourable than a house full of disks.

If there is a technology band wagon to climb onto, the consumer world will no doubt do so.  The cloud band wagon moves on with companies popping up everywhere offering cloud based services.  Those with a keen eye for investment and innovation could make a lot of money if they act quickly before market saturation sets in.  In the business world in a climate where cost savings and making use of utilities for a cheaper price is top of the list of priorities, cloud computing looks like a saving grace.

So how does it all work?  There are various types of cloud model and how they are deployed depending on the business or consumer/individual user need.  There are three primary deployment models - public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud; 

 

Public cloud

The larger IT companies or service providers (Google, Amazon and Microsoft among others) offer private cloud services to either the general public or to businesses.  These services include anything from personal data storage to a complete hosted IT solution in a shared cloud environment.  One of the key points here is the importance of the customer’s data being kept secure and protected from unauthorized access or loss.  Microsoft are investing 90% of their research and development budget ($8.6billion) into their cloud computing technology.  Other business sectors such as Professional Services, Insurance and Transportation are investing heavily in cloud technologies at the moment.

 

 

Private cloud

A dedicated cloud solution dedicated to one customer or organisation.  This approach in a way mirrors IT services as they are today since the customer still pays for dedicated infrastructure such as servers and network hardware.  

Scalability and flexibility mean the customer has more control of their own resources and less dependency on individual IT departments.

In similar fashion, personal online data storage services are used day to day by the consumer - Google Drive, Dropbox, Mega, Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive to name but a few.  In fact, 50 million people currently use Dropbox to save around 1 million files every minute as well as 150 Million people use Apple’s iCloud who receive around 47000 app downloads every minute.

 

 

Hybrid cloud

This is a combination of the other cloud deployment models.  Where businesses, depending on customer need, use different elements of a private and public cloud solution.  For example, a mobile phone provider using public cloud for data storage also using a private cloud solution in the same data centre environment for handling of sensitive information such as customer details or billing.

 

Within the deployment models, there are different types of service depending on the customer requirement.  The primary types of cloud service being Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  There are more but we will just concentrate of these three for now;

 

Saas

Software as a Service (SaaS) is based on making applications available to the customer from within the cloud.  By just using the internet web browser and not having to install programs or applications onto the customer’s PC, SaaS is the simplest and most direct type of cloud computing.  Web based technologies are fast developing.  Which means common Internet browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Crome are enabled to deliver rich content or media rather than simply taking the user to a webpage.  In order to open a media file such as a film clip, the user would have previously had to install or run a particular video player application.  Most of the news based website’s pages for example are equipped to play media clips, display photos and graphics just by clicking on the page.  These are also called Rich internet applications and are a type of SaaS.

Online Gaming, Google Docs and Dropbox are again examples of Saas. Google Docs offers a suite of office applications including word processing and spreadsheets.

 

PaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is the next level of cloud computing where operating systems are available to the customer and developers can create their own applications and manage them within their own environment or website.  Microsoft Windows Azure and Facebook are examples of PaaS.

 

IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) used by the large IT services providers giving the customer the ability to develop, run and manage their own applications or store vast amounts of data within a cloud environment.  A method called server virtualization is used where hardware is replicated within software making it more cost effective and providing more virtual space or data capacity than physical servers could provide.  Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an example of Iaas where the provider offers the service of running vast amounts of data across vast virtual and physical servers on behalf of the customer.

The benefits of cloud computing are its main selling point and the fact it takes us into a new world in technology.  The main benefit is lower cost for the customer where the services are delivered cheaper compared to previous methods of storage and management.  The customer would have paid for the hardware and software up front in the old world to the point they own it regardless of how much they utilize it.  In the new cloud world, maintenance and running costs are reduced significantly as the provider only charges on a utility basis. In the same way we are charged for electricity to our homes paying only for what we use. 

 

The option of scalability is another benefit in that the customer can increase or decrease their use or the amount of space they need.  The hassle of physically hosting and running hardware is removed and passed onto the service provider who can manage the cloud environment in a centralized way within their premises rather than the customer’s environment.  Since cloud computing is delivered via the internet, as long as the customer has a connection, they will be able to access their services from wherever they are.  Cloud could be seen overall as a much more efficient, cost effective, easily accessible and secure method than traditional methods of IT hosting.

 

The Security aspect can be seen as an advantage in that the services provided by the cloud environment are more secure than they would be if hosted at the customer premises or at home.  Within the cloud the provider offers the facility to back-up the data and keep it safe.  The fact that the road leading to a cloud environment is via internet could bring this into question.

 

 There are disadvantages to cloud computing that could out weigh the advantages at this early stage in the game.  After being on the scene for around five or six years, cloud is still in its infancy.  The two biggest disadvantages are its dependency on an internet connection as well as security of the data.  Since cloud environments are reached via the internet, if the connection is lost or even suffering from performance issues, access to the services is either delayed or lost altogether.  Those services could be business critical data, email or applications.  Or personal data such as family photos, music files etc.

 

Cloud providers are fully aware of this and eventhough measures are put in place to prevent loss of service or outages, things can still go wrong at times.  That said, cloud environments are built as resilient solutions which means if a man in a digger in the next street road works accidentally cuts through some underground cables cutting off the local telecoms exchange, then a back-up (resilient) circuit should ensure the connection is not lost and the business critical application such as payroll at the end of the month is still processed or a home user can continue to stream data using BBC iPlayer and not miss a second of East Enders.

 

Security will always be a hot topic where cloud computing is concerned.  With the data being out on the internet, it raises the question of how safe data is against malicious attack or loss.  Businesses pay more money for additional security and protection of data e.g. Government related or sensitive data.  There are all manner of security methods that can be put in place – encryption of data, firewalls, intrusion detection - the list goes on.

 

There are other considerations that relate more to the internet connection dependency such as performance where peak times of day will affect the connection hence having an impact on the service e.g. email at 9am when large numbers of people are logging on at work or when people surf during their lunch hour.  Again, businesses can pay more for higher internet bandwidth in the same way we can at home to get around such issues but like most things, the cost then starts to increase.

 

 

Cloud computing is an evolution in IT and offers increased efficiency, capacity, security and cost effectiveness via access from the Internet.  It allows businesses or individual users to no longer worry about investing in or running their own IT infrastructure.

So in summary..

On a personal level, am I ready to move my data to the cloud?  I would say yes and not from a jumping on the band-wagon point of view but from the point of view of convenience, confidence in the concept and the idea that it’s the direction we are heading in.  My tip for the day – keep an eye on what the big hitters in technology are doing.  In other words providers such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon (all doing ok financially when I last checked) are all fully integrated and onboard with the cloud.

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