Up until version 7, I quite liked Windows Media Player. Its one irritating quirk seemed to be that if it couldn't resolve codecs.microsoft.com (when you opened a media file of unknown format) it would then try the same site fifteen times - very annoying if you have a modem and have to cancel the same stupid dialog box every time. Apart from that one flaw, it did the job quickly, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss - just how I like my software.

Windows Media Player 7 has changed all that. It is has changed into this horrible behemoth of a "Media Hub". It tries to do everything media related, and in the most intrusive way possible.

I like my media player to open promptly when I double-click a file - I do not want it to spend five seconds malloc()ing half my RAM. I do not want my media player to scan my hard disk for media files: I am not a moron, and know where they are. I do not want my media player to open a web page full of adverts when I play a music file, however tailored to the ID3 tags it may be. When I alter ID3 tag information, I want my media player to alter the actual file so that other programs can see the change, not store the information in its own proprietary database somewhere else. If I had a portable MP3 player, I would like to transfer files to it as I would any other disk: as a disk mounted in Explorer, not via the program I use to play media files. If I want impressive visual effects along with my music, I will use Winamp's AVS, as it is several orders of magnitude more impressive than Microsoft's lame attempt. Finally, I do not want my media player to constantly try and assimilate the rest of my computer - once I have told it not to associate itself with every media filetype in existence, I want it to stay told!

Please, join me in a big Fuck You to Windows Media Audio.

I received a message recently informing me that a lot has changed with WMP since I wrote my writeup, so I took a look at its ninth incarnation.

What's changed? Well, there's a new skin that does make the player look better (better, not good). It also sports a spiffing EULA that apparantly allows Microsoft the right to do evil stuff to your computer.

Apart from that, the player is still slow, bloated, annoying, limited, the visualisations are still crap, and it still tries to associate it with every type of media file under the sun. Of course, since WMP9 is made by Microsoft, it is privy to some kind of feindish, hidden mechanism that allows it to maintain its control over the filetypes it chooses, even after you have gone into Explorer's options and specified that you want the filetypes to be associated with your chosen media player.

One thing that was missing from my writeup before was a plug for a wonderful piece of software called Media Player Classic. Its site appears to be down right now, but you can download it from <http://www.divx-digest.com/software/media_player_classic.html>. It's basically what Windows Media Player *should* be... a player, not a borg collective of half-assed software components. It does one thing (playing movies) and it does it damn well, be they MPEG, DIVX, Quicktime, Realplayer, or any other format. It does so efficiently and unobtrusively. It is lightweight, minimalist, perfect. But don't take my word for it... it's an 800K download! And since it doesn't assimilate your file associations, if you try it out and decide you like some other player better, you can just delete it.

WMP has recently reared its ugly head on the Macintosh. Now, I don't need to tell you that Mac people tend to be a bit anti-Microsoft. We must have some problems with Microsoft if we're willing to go with a less-supported platform just to avoid using Windows, right?

First of all, the phrase "Windows Media Player for Macintosh" is self-contradictory. I don't think I need to explain it. I'd certainly like to THINK that I'm not using a Windows box. Do I need this mischevious little devil sending me subliminal messages? I think not.

Ok, so I download this monstrosity from MS's website. It comes in the fairly standard VISE installer package. It searches my hard disk for older versions. It does not remove them, even though I instruct it to do so. It also installs some browser plugins for Netscape, which manage to increase said program's launch-delay by about half a second. Good job!

Ok, now, let's see...it does not play any of the following:

I would have tested it on more file types, but I figured I was starting to see a pattern here. Basically, it's a media player that really doesn't play a whole lot of media. And it is worth noting that any Mac app can invoke QuickTime at will to play any of the above media types. But wait, wouldn't that be sleeping with the enemy? Anyway, the one thing that it was able to play was MP3s. However, I already have about 3 or 4 MP3-capable apps on my system, and WMP has other problems that would preclude me from using it as my primary MP3 player.

Secondly, it ignores many, many of the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines. For those who are unfamiliar with Mac software development, Apple publishes a set of "rules" that developers are advised to follow when designing apps that use the standard Mac GUI. (ie, anything but a full-screen game) The result is that (almost) every Mac app has almost the same interface, and predictable behavior. Everything from whether buttons should be disabled when the app is backgrounded, to how many pixels should be between a control and the edge of the window are spelled out in this guide.
First of all, WMP for the Mac doesn't even USE a standard OS-level control in its main windows. Only in the about box, does it conform in this way. In windows where it does use OS-level controls, there is the usual tacky bit of white border around the perimeter here, the oversized text field there, the misplaced OK button, and so on. It also stubbornly refuses any attempts at drag-n-drop, a feature which is absolutely essential to my usage patterns, and which should also be supported by any app that works with files.

Not that any of that is surprising, considering almost every other MS app for a Mac breaks these guidelines to some degree. Anyway, there you have it. Less functional than the Windows version, abrasive to Mac UI conventions, and on top of that, it seems to be much slower than any comparable media-playing app. It takes longer to refresh windows, longer to draw dialogs, and so on. All in all, a shitty port of what the general consensus seems to say is a shitty app. Nuff said.

Ahh ... Windows Media Player. Version 6.4 is a dream: small and uncluttered with decent full-screen controls. Unfortunately, in a totally unsuccessful effort to upstage RealNetworks' RealPlayer, version 7 is a monstrosity. Can you imagine an upgrade to a media player which loses on-screen controls? You can't even use the spacebar to pause movies anymore. They took everything we hate about RealPlayer and rolled it into Media Player. Great.

There is only one reason to download and install Media Player 7, and that is to play variable bitrate Windows Media 8 content. Other than that, Media Player 6 should satisfy most of your video playing needs, save Quicktime.

After installing Media Player 7, you'll probably want to unassociate it with all file types except .wmv files, which are usually WM8-encoded files. Unfortunately, MP7 will not restore your old file associations, so you'll have to choose Media Player 6 manually when you open each type of file for the first time afterwards.

Fear not, for the old media player is always available: select "Run..." from the Start menu and type mplayer2, et voila! If you're feeling nostalgic, you can even run the Windows 95 media player if you type mplay32 instead.

The worst thing that installing Media Player 7 will do to your machine is disable the Fraunhoffer MP3 codec's higher bitrates. Often, reinstalling l3codeca.acm and l3codecx.ax (such as by running the DivX ;-) installer) will have no effect. This is a serious problem if you are into making XDVDs.

It is also important to remember that you can always download the Media Player 6 installer from Microsoft's site: just follow the link for users running Windows 95 or Windows NT 4. As of May 2001, the download is located at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/en/download/default.asp?pcode=4.

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