Is Microsoft's WMP8 merely viral marketing?

Writs add to reverse-bundle's allure

We're beginning to wonder if Microsoft's strategy for its Windows Media Player 8 beta is a canny piece of viral marketing, and no more.

What's certain is that in making a standalone Media Player contraband, Microsoft has gained far more publicity for WMP8 than it would have if it had pursued its usual beta download strategy. WMP8 now has the thrilling allure of being 'illegal' software... Wind0ws M3di4 P14y0r is k3w1 w4r3z!

Our cynicism is prompted by a couple of facts. Despite overnight reports that Microsoft had issued writs on Monday against sites hosting the standalone beta, most of the download sites seem to be hosting the software as before. And secondly, a clutch of reports from Reg readers report no more than trivial problems getting the "XP-only" player to work with existing versions of Windows.

"Any version of Media Player above 6.4 can download and use t[WMP8] codecs, and hence can be used to view content designed for wmp7 or 8. This can prove useful, as when you want to quickly view media files, 6.4 loads much quicker than either 7 or 8." notes one correspondent.

"The main point is that the wmp8 technologies - the encoders and decoders, and such, *do* work under previous OSes, and even under previous versions of wmp," he concludes.

Reports that the standalone beta breaks file associations (particularly for wave files) are common, but this is not too surprising - the tug of war that WMP, and Real Player engage in for ownership of these is one of the more annoying features of using a PC. (Interestingly, WMP7 for the Mac is impeccably well behaved in this respect).

So let's recap the sequence of events. First Microsoft lets slip that "certain features" of WMP8 will only be available with XP. It doesn't actually say it's tying WMP8 to XP, but it gets construed as tying, and anti-Microsoft lobby group ProComp steams in, describing it as a replay of the browser wars. Canny developers then extract the beta player and it becomes the hot download of the week. There's a report of legal threats that have yet to materialise.

Result: a publicity windfall, and not many dead.

It's one of these shaggy stories that's we're beginning to think never actually happened at all. Pinch us, somebody. ®

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