Thursday, June 29, 2006

Windows Media Player 11 Beta

Finding very little to do at work, I downloaded Windows Media Player 11 Beta . I was slightly surprised that the URGE music service isn't part of my installation; clicking on the Online Stores button turned up empty. Maybe URGE is still unavailable in the Philippines. Not that I care much about online music stores, much less this one, but I'm quite sure that I saw it on my co-worker's PC the other day.

Well anyway, here are my thoughts on this beta version of WMP:

  • The default interface is GORGEOUS. I'm talking about aesthetics, and (I know this might sound shallow) for me that's almost as important as the usability of the interface--they must come hand in hand. The shiny black look of the XP version offsets any possible eye-candy-related disappointment of not having Aero Glass. The minimized WMP toolbar needs a bit more polish, though.
  • It's probably me being stupid again, but why isn't there an obvious way of opening playlists (or anything, for that matter) from the Now Playing view? The previous versions had a dropdown list for existing playlists and things. Now I have to go to the Library view, which isn't so bad since that's where I usually stay even in the previous versions. But I wonder why they even kept the Now Playing view if they were going to degrade its usability. What, they kept it for the visualizations? Please... At least they should have made the Instant Search bar available there, or something.
  • The new Library View is a lot of fun to use. There's plenty to explore during the first few minutes of using it. Lots of album art eye-candy, what with the "stacks" way of viewing albums and stuff ( see screenshot). The different forms of media (music, video, pictures, etc.) have been separated into different categories that are hidden unless you choose them. So if you wanted to look at your video collection, you'll have to click on a drop-down menu to change the current category to Video, etc. This less cluttered look might confuse a certain class of users at first, but I think it's an improvement overall.
  • It's slightly disappointing that they kept the Burn and Sync views, when it's painfully obvious that their functions should have been integrated with the Library view. The only difference between those views is the type of list pane they use. Even the Rip view looks like a big waste of space. There's this area on top of the list pane that's wasted on big-ass icons that don't do anything; they should have used that space instead to give users the option to rip, burn or sync straight from the Library; a small drop-down arrow would have done it.
This beta version of WMP 11 is already very promising, and I hear that podcasting support will be added in a later release. If Microsoft play the cards right, Windows users will only have one reason left to use iTunes, and that's if they own an iPod. Me, I'm content with the tiny Media Player Classic. But it was fun playing with this new Windows Media Player, and I'll sure download it for my home PC once it comes out of beta, if only for my sister to enjoy this cool product.

Update: Yesterday the Urge music service finally appeared on my WMP Beta installation. Maybe one day I'd be urged to use it. Heh.