Microsoft releases Media Player 7 beta

Microsoft Corporation on Tuesday released the first public beta of Windows Media Player 7.0, the first feature-complete look at the company's next generation all-in-one tool for digital media (the company had previously released a developer-only preview). Windows Media Player 7 plays a variety of digital video and audio formats in a manner similar to previous versions, but it also introduces a radical new user interface, support for CD-quality recording, media organization capabilities, and links to over 1900 Internet radio stations. Windows Media Player 7 will ship with Windows Millennium Edition ("Windows Me") and be made available over the Internet for users of other versions of Windows.

"This is the version that's going to take digital media really mainstream," says Dave Fester, the general manager of marketing for Microsoft's digital media division. "Digital media is clearly where the next level of excitement really is." Windows Media Player 7 beta includes SRS WOW audio enhancement technology, bass enhancement features, a redesigned user interface with all-in-one functionality, one-click access to portable music devices, and a new "skinning" feature that allows users to customize the look and feel of the player. Microsoft says that the feature set was derived from customer requests.

The inclusion of such a full-featured media product in Windows Me is, of course, somewhat controversial, a point that was first made in WinInfo long ago. But Microsoft sees the integration of digital media into Windows as the next natural step in a long history of such bundling. Besides, Fester notes, Microsoft has always bundled a media player in Windows, though previous versions were decidedly less powerful. "Windows 95 integrated MS-DOS, and Windows 98 integrated the Internet in a very deep way," Fester explains. "The task with \[Windows Me\] is how to take advantage of digital media, really making a platform that rides this digital media revolution."

To counter Microsoft's announcement, chief media rival RealNetworks announced Tuesday that its RealPlayer product has a user base of over 29 million people, more than all competing products combined. But one is reminded of similar bold statements made by Netscape Communications over the years, as Microsoft released ever more capable versions of its Internet software that eventually swamped Netscape and instigated its sale to America Online.

For more information about Windows Media Player 7 and the free beta download, please visit the recently revamped Windows Media Web site

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