Microsoft has released Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP. Besides offering such incremental improvements as better sync and search capabilities, this latest download is the first with URGE — MTV Networks’ digital music center — directly embedded into the application as a default setting. This release also lets consumers test drive Media Player 11 for Windows Vista.
“Windows Media Player 11 is the first media player to be truly designed with the digital entertainment lover in mind,” said Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows at Microsoft. “The fresh, exciting new look, the ability to find songs and videos in an instant, and the enhanced capabilities for syncing with portable devices are not only exactly what customers have asked us for — they’re also a preview of what’s to come in Windows Vista.”
A major highlight of Media Player 11 is its integration with URGE — one of Microsoft’s many strategies to counter Apple’s dominance in the digital music space.
In previous releases of Windows Media Player, Microsoft provided users equal access to the growing number of compatible music services. Windows Media Player 11 still offers this access, but now URGE, which is directly integrated into the product, occupies the top spot in its list of services.
Not too long ago, URGE’s partnership with Media Player was viewed as part of Microsoft’s strategy to knock down some of Apple’s digital music share. However, that was before Microsoft announced Zune, its forthcoming digital music player.
Zune is creating a lot of uncertainty for Windows Media Player partners, including URGE, said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst for JupiterResearch. “Until Microsoft releases Zune in a few weeks, we won’t know for certain what the impact on these companies will be,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That said, URGE is still the centerpiece for Media Player with its catalog of more than 110,000 artistsand 2 million songs. The new search capabilities of Media Player 11 are designed to help users scroll through the offerings of URGE and other music services faster. Called “Instant Search,” the feature keeps narrowing results with each entry. There are also new drag-and-drop capabilities to build playlists and move music to portable players.
Right now, more than 200 portable and home networking devices worldwide can run Windows Media Player 11. In addition to URGE, there hundreds of online music and video services and radio stations compatible with the new player, according to the company.
Other new features include shuffle sync and reverse sync; simplified navigation capabilities; new shortcut options; dedicated category views for music, photos and video; audio fingerprinting capabilities that recognize and import track information for unidentified or misnamed audio files; and new formats for ripping and music playback, including Windows Media Professional and WAV Lossless.
The improvements are nice, Roger Kay, principal of Endpoint Technologies, told TechNewsWorld, but he would like to see Microsoft taking a more holistic view of its digital music applications. “I have noticed when you have all of these features loaded onto a system, it can be a bit much for the consumer.”
Microsoft has been developing Media Player as its own entity, he noted. “My thought is that it would be nice to see it all integrated.”
For his part, Wilcox would like to see a little less complexity in the application. This version of Windows Media Player does offer some improvements, he acknowledged — but the application in many ways is very similar to previous versions. “The more Microsoft does to make it a simpler, easier application to use, the better,” he said.