We obviously want speed when accessing files over the network; I would even say that for just the media files, it’s the only thing that we care about. (Security is only a factor when dealing with personal media, or when letting everyone add and delete from the folders) I take care to make sure that the home network is secure, and set unique passwords or use encryption keys when necessary – This serves not only the function of making sure the kids only watch what’s rated for them, but also a test bed for the smaller business clients that I work with. Unfortunately, large file access has continued to be an issue – there’s no true cross-platform file system that allows files over 4GB (which is small for a HD movie), and cross-platform network file access is also rocky, with SMB/CIFS being the ‘standard’ because a lot of work went in to reverse engineering what windows uses so that admins could run linux and not have everyone burning their doors down because of how much things changed.

Samba (SMB)

Of course, SMB is notoriously slow and bloated as a protocol, but it’s also built in to every major operating system and very simple to configure, making it the obvious choice. CIFS, which speaks the same language, is the preferred choice in many cases, but it’s like organizing a piled-high room without taking anything out of it. Better, but not good. (note: in many cases, SMB and CIFS are terms that are used interchangeably, and the differences are in specific situations)Unfortunately the raspberry pi, with it’s lower powered cpu, starts to reveal just how bloated this is, leading to slow scraping, slow directory lists, and even buffer issues in some cases. My media server is set up for SMB since it shares to all number of devices, but now we have to look ahead a bit further.

Apple Filing Protocol (AFP)

AFP is great for communicating between Macs running OSX, but is not at all cross-platform. Again; the work being done by countless dedicated volunteers means that we can set up Linux to be an AFP file server (it takes some doing), but it’s far from cross-platform. Thankfully as of XBMC 11, we have support for connecting to AFP servers so we can do some testing.

Network File System (NFS)

The only open standard that I would still consider as a ‘standard’ method of accessing files, and seems to be the preference for many people using XBMC on low-cpu machines. I’ve not been in any scenarios where it was a valid option for deployment, so have not taken the time to dive in to it. On the surface, it’s very obviously designed by people who value organization and covering all bases with complexity; great for large scale and high-availability server situations, but not so much fun just so I can (hopefully) shave the directory listing times down to something reasonable and test out the buffer issues (which means rebuilding the library), but worth testing.

Special Mention: Plex

Plex, since it split off from XBMC has taken many user experience and user interface cues from Apple, and has shifted from XBMC’s Everything and the kitchen sink on your desktop (and all the desktops) to a server-client model. This means that the library and the files are all kept in one place, and the Plex client simply asks for them in a sane way, with the server transcoding the content when it’s the right choice. Why I mention it here, is that having a native Plex client on the RasPi would mean I don’t have to even think about network file access, nor do I have to think about making sure that the kids don’t press play on any R-Rated movies… But, we’re not there yet. Interestingly enough, this Raspberry Pi project, while exposing me to the current stage of XBMC (which I have not run for a few years) has really made me long for certain functionality and control in Plex that is not there. I’ve mentioned before that my ideal setup is Plex media server. I’ve added Pseudo TV to the wish list, and I’m now realizing that without a TV-like experience, TV gets taken too seriously and a lot of the content is never actually watched. It’s like having a walk-in closet full of clothes and being comfortable in the same 4 outfits.. Triply so when it comes to reconciling the tastes of 4 kids with a netflix subscription… The lowest common denominator is the one that’s always on.. With TV, there were many unexpected enjoyable family watchings of the food network or documentaries that cropped up, and even the stuff that’s not first pick, but worth at least 15min never gets touched when the choice is always active.