Sunday, May 04, 2003

PRESS PLAY AND RECORD: Following on from the Media Player posts yesterday, Gary Marshall got in touch:
Just reading your thing about media players. You're right that the current incarnation of Windows Media Player isn't a bad bit of software, but it's worth remembering that for years, Microsoft's product was completely outgunned by pretty much everyone - winamp, real, liquid, etc etc etc. They've learned from their mistakes, though, and in fairness to MS the latest version of WMA kicks the arse out of MP3 and other ageing music formats.

You wrote: "if WMP becomes the only show in town" - it already is. Pretty much every digital download service uses WMA at the moment, and while Apple's move is nice, it's not really significant due to the tiny market share for Macs. That might change when the rumoured iTunes for windows comes out, but for now when it comes to legal music then the choice is pretty much WMA, WMA or WMA. There are exceptions - and eMusic spring to mind, both of which use MP3 - but not very many of 'em. MS has also been very proactive at getting hardware support: most portable MP3 players from the likes of Creative support WMA, whereas MP3pro, Ogg Vorbis support etc is still almost non-existent

As for other player suggestions: I rate MusicMatch Jukebox on PCs, although if you're really against DRM and stuff then get into open source Ogg Vorbis files instead of this MP3 malarkey. You can get plugins for players such as Winamp and it sounds fantastic :-)

To take a couple of your points - you're right that early versions of Windows Media Player was rubbish, but then one of the ways Microsoft got to be biggest was by letting other companies do all the research and development, and then - once the product is starting to get refined - pinch all their ideas and exploit the monopoly position and bigger firepower of Windows to ram their copy home. I'm using Internet Explorer as I write this - it's a nice piece of software, I feel like I should really be using Opera or Mozilla or something that doesn't have the stentch of Microsoft all over it, but... even Safari fucks up on simple things like the default font; I tried to use it for a while and although the functions built in are wonderful, not being able to read the stuff on screen without having my eyes burn like Graham Coxon peering through Alex James' bedroom keyhole was a bit of a minus point. And you just know rewind - probably called 'snapback' or something - will be in IE7.

As for all legal digital downloads being in .wma - I'm not sure things are quite that bleak. Most sites maintained by bands rather than labels seem to opt for .mp3 format, and the BBC sites are always trigger real player - except for the experiments they're doing with Ogg Vorbis. (Talking of which, don't you wish they'd chosen a much, much less offputting name for the format than that? Why not give it a really friendly name like 'Virus Ladened Harddrive Wiping Format' or 'Obscuarntis Latinic Taggis Forus Eggheadicus'). But, yes, it does feel like we're at the stage where the battle is lost...

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