Media Center will be in Windows 8, but not right away

In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky confirmed that Windows Media Center will be in Windows 8. But the code won't be in early releases, and it's still not clear how this little-used feature will be delivered.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky confirmed that Windows Media Center will be in Windows 8.

“I want to reassure customers that Media Center will definitely be part of Windows 8. No doubt about it,” he said.

But don’t expect to see this feature in early releases such as the one widely expected to come out of the BUILD conference in Anaheim.

Media Center will not be part of the first pre-release builds. Some other features/capabilities will not be in the first pre-release builds including: Windows 7 games, DVD Creator, upgrade setup, Dot Net 3.5 (I will leave room for perhaps a couple of other relatively low profile items). These are engineering decisions as well as business decisions.

According to Sinofsky, Microsoft’s developers “still have work to do to make sure the quality and compatibility with add-ins is what you would expect even in pre-release … when we work on the underlying video engine, as one example, we have to make sure features that push these areas receive adequate coverage).”

Sinofsky also delivered some telemetry data to document how much – or how little – Media Center is actually used.

Our opt-in usage telemetry shows that in July, Windows Media Center was launched by 6% of Windows 7 users globally with the heaviest usage in Russia, Mexico, and Brazil (frequency and time). However, most people are just looking around; only one quarter (25% of 6%) of these people used it for more than 10 minutes per session (individual averages), and in 59% of Media Center sessions (by these 6% of users) we see almost no activity (less than a minute or two of usage). TV was the most common scenario we observed, and not surprisingly, traditional media (DVD and CD) are less common (and declining over time) than streaming and file-based content.

In this case, a small percentage of a large number is still a large number. With 400 million or so Windows 7 customers, that equates to about 24 million occasional Media Center users and 6 million who use it regularly. That group tends to be extremely enthusiastic, with an influence well beyond its numbers.

One detail that Sinofsky pointedly left out was how Windows 8 users will get their hands on Media Center. “Interestingly,” Sinofsky said, “the feedback about Media Center was predominantly ‘we will pay extra, just include it’ based on the input directly to me.” Currently, Media Center is a feature in premium editions of Windows 7, which means OEMs (and by extension, their customers), are already paying for it.

It’s possible that Media Center could be delivered as an add-on for Windows 8. Microsoft has already confirmed that it’s working on an app store for Windows 8. A downloadable Media Center app wouldn’t have to cost much to contribute to Microsoft's bottom line.

We already know that some video codecs and Dolby Digital capabilities will be left out of the base Windows 8 product. At a buck or two per copy, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses for Microsoft over the life of a Windows release—and it's difficult to justify those outlays if 94% of users don’t want or need the licensed components. Shifting the cost directly to enthusiasts via a $5 download would take care of those issues completely.

Update: there's precedent of sorts for en extra-cost delivery. In the early part of the last decade, Microsoft included only a bare-bones MP3 codec in itsWindows Media Player. If you wanted the capability to rip tunes using MP3 format at higher bitrates, you had to pay for a third-party program. You also had to pay extra for DVD decoder capabilities. One vendor sold the MP3 decoder for $10 and a bundle with the DVD decoder for $20.

What you were really installing was a set of codecs. Microsoft's decision to distribute them in a third-party add-on package let them offload the headaches of accounting for and paying the necessary license fees.

Meanwhile, Media Center enthusiasts will, to their great relief, be able to stay tuned.

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