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Windows Media

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Windows Media Player

Spring Internet World

New Windows Media Technologies Software Leads the Charge of the New at Spring Internet World
By Dave Kramer

At the trendy House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Allchin took to the stage to unveil the latest version of Windows Media Technologies. After warming up the crowd with his own rock guitar riffs, Allchin blew the ears off audience members with the sounds of music encoded with Windows Media Technologies version 4.0 software.

Mick Fleetwood with Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Allchin Offering sound quality comparable to the popular MP3 audio format, the Windows Media format also includes an array of features designed to appeal to consumers, Web site developers, and music industry executives equally. Internet users will appreciate improved audio and video quality as well as the smaller files size, which translates to quicker downloads and smaller storage requirements. Business customers will enjoy the easy commerce solution, anti-piracy features, and new potential revenue streams.

And it doesn't end with sound. The player also supports enhanced video playback that scales from crisp compressed images at modem speeds to full-screen broadcast quality picture at broadband speeds.

Users can download the beta version of the new Windows Media Player now. In fact, if you already have the version 3.0 of the Windows Media Player, you might already have the upgrade. The approximately 70K MSAudio codec downloads transparently into the player the first time you access a Windows Media 4.0-encoded file.

Taking the "taste test"
To show a live audience the difference between Windows Media 4.0 sound and the competing RealSystem G2 format by RealNetworks, Microsoft conducted a live "taste test" moderated by rock legend Mick Fleetwood.

Listeners were first treated to the raw CD quality sound file for both classical music and rock. Then the same clips, encoded in the G2 format, were played. The latter files were noticeably compressed; Fleetwood noted that the high-end range of sound was absent.

Finally, the Windows Media format was played. "It's a slam dunk," Fleetwood said of the Windows Media sound, which he found virtually indistinguishable from the source music. "It's a tremendous result."

A similar demonstration compared Windows Media audio files to sound encoded in the popular MP3 audio format. In this test, the sounds played were virtually identical, even though the Windows Media files were half the size of the MP3 files.

This live test was reinforced by data from a study of consumers by NSTL, an independent test lab, which found that 81 percent of listeners picked Windows Media over G2, and 71 percent preferred or couldn't distinguish Windows Media from MP3 audio files.

Casio's color Palm-size PC The flip side of Internet audio
On the other side of the coin, Microsoft executives were quick to point out that Internet audio - especially as its quality improves to the point where it's comparable to CD audio - opens the door to piracy concerns.

"Piracy's been a problem in the software industry for a long time," said Will Poole, Microsoft senior director of marketing and business development for Microsoft's newly formed Streaming Media Division. Microsoft is no stranger to this issue, he said, and it's one that
Casio's color Palm-size PC powered by Windows CE, can play one to four hours of Windows Media audio. it sought to solve by building a solution called the Rights Manager into the new version of Windows Media Technologies.

Here's how it works. A copyright owner can distribute content files as widely as possible. When a user first tries to access the file, Windows Media Player 4.0 checks to see if the user has a license for that content. If not, the user must conduct a transaction - which can be as small as demographic data such as e-mail address and age, or in other cases a small fee or micropayment - to obtain a license. Reciprocal, a third-party company that is working with content sites to provide the infrastructure for such transactions, handles the backend and transmits the license through the content site to the end user.

With more than 60 hardware and software providers, the Windows Media launch already has momentum. One cool new product that's due out in May, an update to Casio's color Palm-size PC powered by Windows CE, can play one to four hours of Windows Media audio through a standard set of headphones.

Welcome to Spring Internet World! Not your father's Internet
Appropriate to a show about online technology, there was a lot less paper being handed out in the Microsoft booth at Spring Internet World. Visitors could sign in at a kiosk by scanning their show badges and then have product information transmitted to them digitally via e-mail. If that wasn't enough, roaming show workers with handheld Windows CE-based devices were also scanning badges for visitors who were moving too fast to stop at a static kiosk.

Apart from Windows Media Technologies, which reprised its taste test for showgoers, many other new and forthcoming Microsoft products were on display. A demo of Office 2000, due for a wide release in June, explored the connections between the various applications in the software suite. For instance, table data embedded in a Word document can be converted on the fly into chart form, and then published instantly to a Web page.

In a nearby booth, a Microsoft Web page was getting a five-minute Microsoft Agent makeover. Driven by an ActiveX control and a snippet of Visual Basic scripting edition code, a three-dimensional animated genie popped up on a Web page and began pointing out features of the site's navigation elements. With a little customization, the genie took on the visage and voice of Microsoft President Steve Ballmer.

Other products featured in the booth included DirectX Media, MSN, MSDN, Microsoft Site Server Commerce Edition, and the forthcoming Windows 2000 Server. There were also a host of third-party products featured in the Microsoft Partner Pavilion, including a number of innovative new solutions for Windows Media Technologies.

As one Microsoft partner, Raveworld.net, aptly advertised in a promotional video it demonstrated via Windows Media streaming technologies: "The revolution will not be televised."

It's clear from this show that this is not your father's Internet.

Dave Kramer edits the Microsoft home page and, most recently, covered Fall COMDEX for microsoft.com.

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Last Updated: April 15, 1999