Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Slim Devices' Squeezebox and Roku's SoundBridge series are the two best products in the point-to-point digital media receiver market for music. Unlike the AirTunes functionality in Apple's AirPort Express, both products allow you to navigate libraries at the point of listening and neither requires you to turn on your television to hear music as multimedia offerings from a number of other companies. Operating over standard Ethernet or WiFi networks, the third-generation Squeezebox surpasses the sleek industrial design that marked the company's freshman effort, and retains the line's reputation for excellent sound quality when used with capable speakers. The bright vacuum fluorescent display that has long characterized the device illuminates a surprisingly effective and intuitive interface, although the dearth of navigation cues in its two-line presentation can sometimes result in disorientation.
The minimalist appearance of the Squeezebox is actually a facade for a complex array of options. It's actually a client for two content sources -- SlimServer, the browser-accessible open-source server that can run on Linux, Mac OS X or Windows XP, and SqueezeNetwork, a set of Web-based content options. Much of the device's versatility can be chalked up to these sources. SlimServer, for example, has a plug-in architecture that allows the use of iTunes libraries, graphical screensavers, an alarm clock, and what may be the least fun Tetris clone ever created. It also has a large number of arcane configuration options for the advanced user.