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Boxee goes beta

After what has seemingly been a never-ending "alpha" period for the famous XBMC fork, Boxee, tonight the Boxee crew have finally (as expected) unveiled the first beta release of Boxee.

For starters, they have totally revamped the user interface especially surrounding the home screen. Up top are the usual suspects movies, TV shows, music, etc. On the far left is the news feed which aggregates content recommendations from friends on Boxee, Facebook and of course Twitter. Proudly, in the middle, is the "featured" section which contains recommendations from Boxee staff and associated partners (read: this is where money is made). And on the right is a list of items in your queue, but more on that in a moment.

Read on for the TUAW overview of the Boxee pre-release beta.

One new feature, the queue, is essentially a master playlist of items that you would like to watch. Plus, it automatically includes new, unwatched content such as TV shows and displays it in bold. Already-watched content is still available in the queue, just less prominently.

Movies and TV shows sections have been updated as well. There is an increased focus on finding the content you want to watch instead of having to navigate in and out of a given distributor's app. I think this is a great idea because I always found it annoying to have to search in Hulu for one series and then search, for example, Comedy Central for another. In case you're worried that Boxee is just going to be an internet portal for watching 3-minute clips of episodes you can rest easy. The overhauled videos sections still organizes your own content, no matter where you got it from.

Another updated section is the global menu which is used for navigating to commonly used areas of Boxee without having to traverse through layers multiple layers of Boxee's menu tree. In short, you can be browsing photos from last summer and with very few steps be listening to your favorite tunes from the road trip over in the music section.

Adding applications is easier and less painful in Boxee Beta. You can now browse by popularity or release date. Clicking on an application's icon will allow you to either run the app (as a way to preview it) or you can choose to add it to your library of apps.

Some behind-the-scenes wizardry has also been included to improve performance on Windows. Specifically, Boxee Beta will use DirectX rather than OpenGL for the underlying graphics library. Also included in Boxee Beta is official support for Snow Leopard (no word on whether it's 64-bit or not) and support for Ubuntu Karmic Koala.

Boxee Beta is not going to be officially available until CES (January 7, 2009 2010 [Thanks Dosh!]) but it is accepting applications for the pre-release Beta. Applicants will be gradually granted access to the pre-release beta followed by existing Alpha users. All of this will be in an effort to smooth over any glaring issues present before the CES launch.

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