April 17, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
XP and Vista to get new media player
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Media Player 11 also sports an updated look. Libraries can be viewed not just as an endless list of song tracks, but also using album art in stacks, an effect that looks a bit like a group of old record covers stacked one on top of another. Indexed searching allows users to quickly find whatever they're looking for just by typing a few letters, again borrowing a popular trick from iTunes.
Microsoft also tries to do a better job of showing what rights a user has to a particular song. With iTunes, customers own their music, and all of the tracks can be burned to a CD or transferred to an iPod. But Windows Media supports a number of different options.
Some tracks can be played on a PC but not burned to a CD or added to a portable player. Others can be put on a player but not burned, while still other tracks can be used in all three ways.
"Windows Media Player 11 includes features that make it easier to understand these rights and troubleshoot any problems that may arise," Microsoft said in the Vista product guide.
It's still unclear which of these new features will be part of the XP incarnation of WMP 11. One thing that will definitely be included, Microsoft says, is the integrated Urge music service. Microsoft is hoping the new subscription service will help the company better compete with Apple's popular iTunes-iPod combination.
Urge is important, Gupta said, because Microsoft needs a really compelling service before Windows Media-based digital players can really compete with the iPod. One of the challenges, though, is that the business of selling music online tends not to be that profitable.
"Online music is a low-margin business," Gupta said. "Apple can make it work for them because they have another source of revenue" (the iPod).
But with MTV, Microsoft may have found a partner that is willing to invest in a top-notch service, even if it can't make tons of money selling songs or music subscriptions.
"MTV has other ways to leverage their online service," Gupta said. "They don't need it to be a profit center."
Plus, MTV can flog the service on its huge collection of TV stations.
"If the Urge service does gain popularity and it does drive a lot of usage, that may lead to a more open market for digital music players and more competition for the iPod," Gupta said.
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