Update 4:15 p.m. PDT: Two clarifications. First, Remote Media Streaming is not limited to music--you can also stream video and pictures. I focused on music because that's the main topic of this blog. Second, you are required to associate a Windows Live ID (which used to be called Passport) with each computer whose library you want to share, and each computer you want to be able to access that library. I assume Microsoft took this step to avoid complaints or possible litigation from content owners.Apparently, Microsoft still has a few surprises left regarding digital audio in Windows 7.
In the announcement of the impending release of Windows 7 RC (basically the final beta), Microsoft on Wednesday confirmed a rumor that I first saw reported by Zack Whitaker of ZDNet last month: a new feature called Remote Media Streaming will let you access the music library on your home PC from another computer over the Web.
It's like Slingbox, only instead of accessing the cable box or DVR sitting in your home, you're accessing the music files stored on your home PC.
It could get really interesting, if combined with Windows Live ID--simply associate a Live ID with your home machine, and you could get immediate automatic access to your music library whenever you log on with that ID on another machine (though you might need the Windows Media Player 12 on that accessing machine).
This is the first exciting new digital-media feature I've seen in Windows 7, but it seems to be at cross-purposes with other Microsoft efforts. For instance, one selling point of Windows Home Server is the ability to access files remotely, and while I suppose that some families might use that feature to access their financial records or homework, it seems like digital media would be the most interesting use. Offering that feature in Windows 7 takes some of the steam out of Home Server.
Then there's the whole Zune factor--for the last two years, the Media Player has languished untouched while the Zune PC software has been updated several times. Now, just when I had finally abandoned the Media Player, it looks like I'll have a reason to re-employ it.
From Microsoft's perspective, does it really make sense to have two product teams working on different digital-media clients for the PC? I don't think so, and eventually, Microsoft may have to pick a winner. I thought that Zune had the inside track, but now I'm not so sure.