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Windows Media Player 7 goes gold, browser wars II to follow

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The battle for supremacy in the media player field has taken a familiar turn with the release of the production version of Microsoft's Windows Media Player 7. It's slick, it's sexy and it's a part of "an open, easy-to-use and extensible platform ready for the broadband Internet," Windows Media Technologies 7. Effectively, Microsoft is reprising its successful browser war strategy against Netscape, with the target this time being RealNetworks.

As was the case with browsers, Microsoft has the advantage of being able to integrate the client software into the OS, and it's also pursuing deals with content vendors, EMI and Discovermusic.com being the latest allies. RealNetworks scored a useful deal with AOL last week, but there's still a lot of land to be grabbed in this arena.

Aside from making determined efforts to get its fingers round the distribution channel's windpipe, Microsoft - credit where credit's due - throws resources at making the software better. This succeeded versus Navigator, and new features of Media Player 7 up the ante. It supports custom CD creation, custom skins (offering a flavour of Whistler), a Digital DJ that's intended to play you the kinds of music you like listening to, and it claims near-VHS, near-DVD and CD quality playback. At half the file size of MP3? This is a most uncharacteristic checkmark for Microsoft.

The last piece of the jigsaw fits in with the content deals, and is the pitching of Windows Media Technologies 7 as a complete platform. Aside from the client the components are Windows Media Services for Windows 2000 for content delivery, Windows Media Encoder 7 for content creation, Windows Media Rights Manager 7 for digital rights management, and the Windows Media Software Development Kit (SDK) 7 for application development.

Media Services for Win2k is bundled with Win2k server, while Encoder is in beta and is expected to go gold this summer. Media Player 7 comes with Windows ME, and Microsoft has also released Media Player 6.3 for Mac and Solaris. RealNetworks still reckons it's ahead, but as we can see, the tanks are forming up... ®

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