MS vows to clean up Mac Media Player

The man in charge of the much-criticised streaming media player says that despite delays, a shipping version is still on the cards

If you want to get a Mac user riled, three simple words will suffice: Windows Media Player.

The reaction runs the spectrum from head shaking to deep sighing, to the sort of disgust typically reserved for a complete rebuild of the Mac operating system. Whatever the reaction, there is little love -- or apparent use -- for the media player many Mac users love to loathe. "Let's face it: We're not loved by a large segment of the Macintosh population," Geordie Wilson, product manager for Microsoft's Digital Media Division, told MacCentral. Nevertheless, he said the company remains committed to the Mac side of the streaming-media equation.

Market numbers indicate that Wilson's humility is well-founded: Microsoft's Windows Media Player for Mac ranks a distant third among multimedia players used regularly by Mac users, behind RealNetworks and Apple Computer's QuickTime technology, according to market research firm PC Data.

Despite tepid reactions from Mac users, Microsoft said it is committed to improving the Mac Media Player and one day bringing it up to par with its Windows-based counterpart. Windows Media Player for Mac wins its dubious distinction for a number of reasons. The product has long been in beta form (it's currently at Version 6.3, Beta 2, according to the company's Web site); it suffers from a long list of admitted bugs and conflicts; and it has never been actively promoted by Microsoft.

"Just look at where they bury it on their own Web site," Teri Harmon, a Mac user from the US, commented. "I think the Mac software division of Microsoft is so embarrassed by the product, they don't even point to it on the Mactopia.com Web site."

But despite its tepid reception and the company's admission that it hasn't spent as much time concentrating on the product as much as many users would like, Microsoft said it is committed to improving its Media Player for Mac and one day bringing it up to par with its Windows-based counterpart.

"We share some of the frustrations with the lag in being able to bring to the public a truly stable, cross-platform functional player for the Macintosh," Wilson said. "But we certainly are committed to that. Internally, we have a development team working on this product."

Wilson readily acknowledged that the current beta version's feature set is less than robust, but he said it represents progress.

"This is not intended to be everything that the Windows Media Player is at this point. It's a basic and versatile streaming tool," Wilson said. "I would disagree with those that call Media Player Version 6.3 Beta 2 simply a bug fix. Sure, we fixed about two dozen bugs. The biggest advance is the ability to digitally protect content from being copied. That might not be a big deal for end users, and I will admit that. Now we move on to more advanced functionality."

Wilson said the development team is working to complete Version 6.3 for a summer release. Wilson would not discuss exact improvements, except to say they would be "minor".

Wilson would not disclose the size of the development team working on the Mac version of Windows Media Player; however, sources said there is not a development team exclusively working full-time on a Mac product, unlike other Macintosh products such as Office and Internet Explorer.

Windows OS first Wilson said he believes Mac users need to understand where Microsoft's commitment is and why.

"Windows Media Player is fundamentally a feature of the Windows operating system," Wilson said. "That has been the focus of our development effort. It is a commitment to provide a cross-platform media solution for Macintosh as the need may arise. But the focus of development efforts is first on the Windows media platform, and then we bring it to the others."

As for the next major Mac upgrade -- probably to be labeled Version 7 -- Wilson said the soon-to-be-released Version 7 of Windows Media Player offers a good indicator for what Mac users can expect, eventually. Although he declined to provide details, Wilson said he hopes the product would ship in final form "next year at the latest".

"I know users are sick of waiting for a final release of Media Player 6.3 for Mac and a more robust version in the future. They're sick of hearing 'Just keep waiting'," Wilson said. "But I would take some heart with what we've done with Windows Media Player 7 and realize that is the direction we're going with Media Player for Mac."

"I think users should look at this product for what it is and not only what it could be," he said.

"Windows Media Player 7 offers a lot more. There's no doubt about it. For now, Media Player for Mac is simpler and not as robust. But it works and works better than it has in the past in a clean and simple way."

For up-to-the-minute Mac news, check out MacCentral.com

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