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(Remote) Controlling Your Windows XP PC

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Find music on your computer the no-hassle way! Using an infrared remote to control your PC-based MP3 player may sound strange at first, but soon you’ll spend an hour looking for your PC remote control rather than use your keyboard. Kulvir Bhogal shows you how to get to the next level of laziness with a low-cost remote control solution.
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If you're like many computer users today, your computer has become your stereo system. Having all your MP3s on your hard drive is simply more functionally convenient than having to fumble through your CD collection. You find the tediousness of inserting your CD in the CD player is far too much physical work when compared to just pointing and clicking through your MP3 collection with your mouse. Alas, you are still forced to use your keyboard to perform simple tasks, like lowering your computer's volume or jumping to the next track in your MP3 playlist. Wouldn't it be nice if we could use a remote control with our computer just as we can with our home stereo, and throw out the keyboard altogether? In this article, I'll introduce you to low and no-cost solutions for using a remote control with your PC. In particular, I'll show you how to control Winamp with a remote control using free software. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume you are running Windows XP as your operating system with Winamp 5 as your MP3 player.

Gathering Our Ingredients

As promised, I will keep our remote control project low budget. The hardware we'll need to begin is the Packard Bell FastMedia Remote shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1. The Packard Bell FastMedia remote

The remote control, available for about $9 from TekGems, comes with an infrared receiver unit that plugs into a serial port on your machine (see author's note). You'll need to download a couple of free pieces of software, and a configuration to file to make this happen.

WinLIRC, which at the time of this article's writing was in version 0.6.5, is the Windows port of the popular LIRC project that allows for the infrared based remote control of Linux PCs. You can download WinLIRC from http://winlirc.sourceforge.net/. WinLIRC is an application that sits in your system tray, waiting and listening for signals from your remote control. WinLIRC ships with its source code, so if you are curious about how the C++ program works, you can study the code to your heart's content. Add to that the second piece of software, WinLIRC Plugin (a.k.a. gen_ir), which you can also download from the WinLIRC SourceForge website. (The WinLIRC Plugin was in version 0.4 at the time of this article's writing.) The WinLIRC Plugin works in tandem with WinLIRC and Winamp—and in fact, think of the WinLIRC Plugin as the bridge between WinLIRC and Winamp.

Next you should download the Packard Bell Remote's configuration file, which lets WinLIRC learn how to interact with the Packard Bell remote control. You can get this file from http://lirc.sourceforge.net/remotes/packard_bell/packard_bell.

You can't simply use a File>Save As... approach, since doing so embeds HTML code into the configuration file, making the file uninterpretable by WinLIRC. You will need to copy and paste the contents of this configuration file and save it as a new text file with cf as its extension. For example, you might copy and paste the contents as a new file called "packard_bell.cf".

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