Archive for April, 2009

This is hardly a new topic.  There have been multiple ways to get Front Row working on your pre-Leopard, pre-IR-Receiver, no-usb-IR-Receiver Mac throughout the years.  The most notable of these would be the famous Andrew Escobar’s Front Row Enabler, which has mysteriously disappeared from the web (the link here is for a web archive version)  for some unknown reason (with some mention earlier that he did not believe the email he received from Apple (C&D?) was legitimate.  And many may believe this topic is irrelevant, since Front Row comes with Leopard and works on all macs that Leopard runs on automatically.  However, if you don’t have the cash for Leopard, or your not willing to upgrade for some other reason, then you still need a way to have fun on your non-IR Mac.

There are multiple pages on how to do parts of this around the web, and several utilities, but as I’ve done a lot of research on it, I decided to put together a more complete tutorial.  Here’s the full scoop:

What is Front Row?

Front Row is a very nice and fun media center program well known to many modern Mac users, but if you have an older mac you may never have heard of it.  It gives access to a great interface for viewing your videos, playing DVDs, seeing Apple’s movie previews, your photos, and listening to music.  Front Row 1.0 came installed on any Mac Pro Tower (Tiger), and can be installed and run fine on any 10.4 (Tiger) and possibly earlier Mac by downloading the update from Apple’s website.  But it wouldn’t run on the Mac Pro, and the update package won’t let you install it on your Tiger Mac.  Front Row 1 only runs on Macs that have a built-in IR-Receiver (or a separately purchased USB IR-Receiver).  Even though the program is made to work just fine using the keyboard, Apple must not want you to have any fun if you can’t have the whole “remote control experience”.

Making it Install and Run Anyway

Well, this didn’t seem fair to a lot of people, who questioned why only some Apple users should get software that anyone could use, for the same price as the rest of us paid, just because their computer is newer and came with a remote.  So, users set out to get around these little arbitrary restrictions Apple placed on their software.

The Easy Way:

There is a great utility to get Front Row working on your Mac: Activate Front Row.  This little program will go online, download Front Row 1.3.1, modify the package, install Front Row, then modify your I/O kext files to allow Front Row to run, effectively activating Front Row in a few easy steps.  See the Readme on the download page.  It even can change your movie preview download resolution and put a little Front Row icon on your dock.  It also allows Leopard users to uninstall the new Front Row 2.1.6 and install the older 1.3.1 in it’s place (Front Row 2 is thought to be much uglier and harder use than Front Row 1 by many users, including myself).  However, some people don’t trust this program because there is no excessive documentation on it to tell them everything it does.  As it is mainly a script running applet, the methods it uses are pretty obvious.  For the wary, or for those do-it-yourself-ers, the many steps are provided below.

The Hard Way:


If you have a Mac Pro, Front Row is probably already installed on your system, you just don’t know it.  Everyone should go to /System/Library/CoreServices and see if there’s an app there called Front Row.  If so, jump down to Getting it to Run.

If you don’t have the program, you can download the full program (masquerading as an update) from Apple’s downloads site.  Just go here, or search for “Front Row 1.3”.  Download the .dmg to your desktop.

Historical Note-

When Front Row was first being toyed with, Front Row 1.3.0 was available for download.  Andrew Escobar created the Front Row Enabler program, that would allow you to install and fix the app to run on your 10.4.9-10.4.10 system.  Then Apple released the 1.3.1 update which broke Andrew’s method.  So he released the next Enabler1.5 release, which worked until Apple came out with OS 10.4.11.  Andrew’s Enabler won’t work with 10.4.11 as it checked your OS version to be safe.  The other drawbacks to Enabler are that it didn’t work on Intel Macs, patched your system binaries directly (which was less safe and more illegal), and has been removed from the web since Andrew’s site was taken down.  Although it can still be found, it is hard to find, and I figure everyone wants to be using the latest OS update anyway.

Futuristic Note-

You can also download the whole latest Front Row 2 from the Apple Downloads page as an update, and you can follow these methods to install it to your Tiger OS.  It doesn’t require an IR-Receiver so it should work, right?  No. It crashes out on load with this Link (dyld) error: Symbol Not Found: _kUTTagClassFileNameExtension referenced from the BackRow Framework.  As far as I know no one has figured out how to make Front Row 2 work on an older operating system.  It only runs on Leopard.  Hopefully someone will get on that for all those Tiger users who want to run the newest, but uglier and clunkier version…

Once the .dmg is downloaded, it may try to install.  Go ahead and try to install it, just to see how it stops you.  Now, to get around the installation checks:

  1. Open the .dmg, drag the package to your desktop (you need to write to it)
  2. Command-click the FrontRowUpdate.pkg, select show package contents
  3. Open contents, command click the FrontRowUpdate.dist file, select open with -> other.
  4. Find textedit, select it, hit open. Now you’re looking at the package’s script to check your system
  5. Scroll down until you see or search for the text “if (!hasIR())
  6. Remove all text (all the if statement) from that to ” return false; } “, only remove the if statement. (now the function installationCheck() should just have return true inside of it)
  7. Now, scroll down to the line that says: “// must have Front Row”, remove everything from there to just before line “return true”, (leaving “return true” and removing both if statements that check to make sure you are updating an existing Front Row version).
  8. Notice all the rest of the if statements and what they do (there’s one to make sure your running 10.4.5 or later, and one for if you’re running a server, etc), you can make the installer run on anything by experimenting with taking out more if statements inside the volumeCheck() function.
  9. Save the file.
  10. Double click on the package on your desktop again, it should now allow you to install.  If it doesn’t, go back to the .dist text file and make sure you didn’t take out anything extra.  If you’re getting other install messages than the IR and OS version messages, examine the rest of the if statements to see which ones to take out.

Getting it To Run

If you’re done doing stuff yourself, you can now use Front Row Activator to activate Front Row, or if you still want to do things the hard way, you can follow the steps below.

Since Front Row requires an IR-Receiver, you need to make it believe you have one.  Andrew Escobar’s Front Row Enabler patched binary system files to make the OS register the presence of an IR-Receiver when there wasn’t one there.  Some people modify kernal extension files to register their mouse or keyboard as an IR-Receiver.  Patching binary files isn’t very safe and modifying existing extensions can be difficult if you don’t have a common setup, so the best way (and the method Activator uses) seems to be to add a new extension file.

  1. Go here and download this Apple IR Emulator called IRKeyBoardEMU.
  2. Don’t install it, just open the .dmg.
  3. Command-click on the package and select show package contents.
  4. Open contents, then d-click on Archive.pax.gz.
  5. A library folder is installed to your desktop, open it, then open StartupItems/IREmu/
  6. Copy the IRKeyboardEMU.kext file and paste it in /System/Library/Extensions/
  7. Command-click on IRKeyBoardEMU.kext, select Get Info, expand Ownership and Permissions, Owner should be root (or admin), and group should be set to wheel.
  8. Command-click on IRKeyBoardEMU.kext, select show Package Contents. The Contents folder should have the same permissions
  9. Go to Applications/Utilities, open the Terminal
  10. Type sudo touch /System/Library/Extensions
  11. Reboot

For even more info see some of these posts where I got this information:

Adding an Extension: Another Way to run Front Row on any mac.

Modifying existing extensions: Trivially Running Front Row on a Mac… or   Enable Front Row on Mac Pro

Running Front Row

After following these steps or using Activator, you should now be able to open Front Row by pressing Apple+Escape on your keyboard.  The Front Row Activator will put an icon in your dock to run Front Row.  Don’t bother downloading the Front Row dashboard widget as it won’t open this Front Row.   If you have a USB IR-Receiver, your software should include an option for running Front Row.

If you experience some problems with Front Row, make sure that your iTunes and Quicktime are fully up to date.  For example, after getting Front Row working on my G4 tower, I was able to play, but unable to actually view movie previews.  After updating to the latest iTunes version, however, the problem was solved.


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