Roku's second act: Amazon Video on Demand

When it launched last year, Roku was a compelling device because it was the first set-top box that streamed Netflix Watch Instantly movies to your television. Now, several other devices do that as well, including Blu-ray players, TiVo, the Xbox 360 gaming console and now LG televisions. Roku needed something else to help set it apart from the others — and today it got just that: Amazon Video on Demand.

Stayin' alive: Roku to open its box

Roku is a compelling little device — right now, anyway. The living room box streams Netflix “Watch Instantly” films. These are movies and television shows that Netflix members can watch anytime for free. The mixture of free instantaneous content and a box that costs only $99 is a nice combo. The problem Roku has is that competition from major players is coming fast.

The Netflix Roku box tosses the freshly emerged Apple TV right back in the woods — and they're thicker

After a lackluster start, things were starting to look good for the Apple TV device. With its 2.0 software update, the media streaming device was able to rent or purchase movies directly to television sets, play HD movies and thanks to a deal Apple cut with the major movie studios, had plenty of content. Just to top things off, Apple even cut the price of the device by $70. It finally looked like it could work.

Even more Ruby on Rails investment: Heroku gets $3M

San Francisco startup Heroku has been rolling out tools to help developers build, deploy and scale web applications, and it has gotten some pretty positive buzz in the process. But that’s just the beginning, says co-founder James Lindenbaum. Heroku has now raised a $3 million first round of financing led by Redpoint Ventures, and that means the company can “start to build out some of the rest of our vision,” Lindenbaum says. Heroku’s offerings are based in the Ruby on Rails framework, and they include in-browser tools to simplify the application development process, automated deployment through Amazon web services and, most exciting, application programming interfaces (APIs) that are the first to allow developers to edit their applications in the Internet cloud using any tools they want. Since Heroku first launched in October, those offerings have attracted more than 10,000 developers who have built more than 12,000 applications, Lindenbaum says. There’s still a waiting list, too, although Lindenbaum hopes to make the company’s test products fully available to the public soon. That’s particularly impressive for a team of three guys, and the company is already working to expand the team. With a larger staff and more financial resources (the startup was incubated by Y Combinator) , Heroku is ready to tackle other parts of the development process. Lindenbaum won’t give me too many specifics, but he says future releases will tie into the founders’ big goal of making the app development process easier and more accessible. That’s likely to include products related to collaboration, products focused on businesses and an emphasis on linking Heroku’s community of developers. Lindenbaum adds that there’s one thing that probably won’t change — the company’s focus on Ruby on Rails. (The field has seen two other recent investments from Benchmark Capital alone. Both companies — New Relic and Engine Yard — could be seen as Heroku competitors, particularly if the startup continues to expand its service.) “It’s the best language and framework for accessibility,” he says.

Heroku founder: Y Combinator developer tools request is a very big deal

While it might not seem so to outsiders, Y Combinator’s new Developer Tools Request for Startups (RFS) is a big deal. (Editor’s note: The deadline to apply is tomorrow.) This is a request from one of the biggest tech incubators for startups that make developer tools, and it’s an important sign of the increasing value and prominence of developer products and the companies behind them. And I’m thrilled about it.