Windows Media Player Is Dead — HOORAY!!

By shipping a specific media architecture with their operating systems, both Apple and Microsoft have lured a lot of users into believing that .MOV or .WMV files, respectively, must be the only available option for storing digital video and audio. If this weren’t the case, why would so many folks send out media files in these formats, instead of using fully cross-platform alternatives like plain MPEG with non-proprietary codecs?

As a result, most of us have learned to live with having several media players installed on our machines to make sure we can open any media files that come our way. E.g., on my machine, there’s QuickTime Player, RealPlayer, and Windows Media Player, although I’d be more than happy just to rely on the comparably un-cluttered UI of QuickTime Player only.

At least I can remove the Windows Media Player from my Mac now, because Microsoft has recently announced that they will no longer support Windows Media Player for Macintosh. As a replacement, they offer for download a piece of software called Flip4Mac aka “Windows Media Components for QuickTime,” developed by a company by the same name.

QuickTime as a platform supports the concept of components, which you can think of as plug-ins for QuickTime that expand its features by, for example, supporting media file formats beyond those supported by QuickTime right out of the box. As a component, these feature extensions are made available system-wide to any software that makes use of the QuickTime architecture. Since Flip4Mac is just such a component, you can watch Windows Media content right inside QuickTime player and the QuickTime browser plug-in.

You don’t need to be overly critical of Microsoft to complain that Windows Media Player for Mac was not really that great a piece of software: it was limited to a single open file at a time; it was useless for jumping to a specific spot in a movie — both local files and, even more so, network video streams –, because WMP failed to resync audio and video, if it continued playing at all; and, at least on my 867MHz PowerBook G4, it would regularly simply stall and stop while playing larger-size movie files.

By using Flip4Mac, these three flaws are now fixed: you can open several WMV files in QuickTime Player at the same time; scrolling through a video happens almost as smoothly as it does with regular .MOV files; and it solidly plays back even bigger videos. As an added bonus, the preview in the Finder also works for WMV files just as it does for any other QuickTime movie format.

All in all, a definite improvement over the neglected Windows Media Player. Besides getting the QuickTime UI, which I, personally, find more stylish and elegant than Media Player’s, you can also stop worrying about the rumors which claim that Windows Media Player would send information about what you’re watching to Microsoft.

How about a big applause for Microsoft for making the right decision on this one, then. Now, if only there were a QuickTime component that supported Real media…

P.S.: For a few more QuickTime components besides Flip4Mac, have a look at this list on the Apple QuickTime site.

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