Windows Media Player 11, which on Monday was released in beta version for Windows XP, uses a graphical interface that is more visually appealing than previous versions. When CNET.com's reviewers first installed the program, it automatically pulled in all the media they had on their hard drive. They noticed that a lot of album art was missing, and spent some time filling it in. It's as simple as copying the art and pasting it in--or WMP 11 can do it for you if you right-click and select Find Album Info. This feature had some issues in the beta-testing version, so the reviewers found pasting the art in themselves to be easier.
Microsoft opted for shortening the left-hand organization tree in favor of looking at music, photos, and videos separately, with music taking center stage. You can access the photo or video libraries by clicking the split menu under Library or by clicking the music note in the upper-left corner, below the Back button. If you have more than one album for an artist--in this image, look at Faith No More and Gorillaz--you get a neat, stacked, and fanned album-art effect.
Choose to sort by album and you get a visual representation of each album you have. If there's no album art, a blank graphic appears with the words Paste Art Here. CNET.com's reviewers filled in some of their missing art by hand but didn't have the patience to do all of it. They're waiting until Microsoft fixes the aforementioned bug so that WMP 11 can fill it in automatically.
The song view offers the most textual information, though you still get the album art along the left side.
Although probably not a frequently used option for most people, sorting by year gives you an interesting look at your music collection. It also offers the most extensive fanning-of-stacked-albums visual effect.
WMP 11 has separate libraries for music, photos, and videos. In the photo library, you get big thumbnail views of all your photos. You can sort by title, date taken, size, keywords, or rating. You can also create separate folders for organizing pictures into albums.
The video library also displays visual thumbnails. You can sort clips by title, length, release year, genre, actors, rating, size, and parental rating. The video library is particularly compelling for Media Center PC users who record video from TV. When this screenshot was taken, CNET.com's reviewers were experiencing a bug that caused several of their video clips to display the run time as "0 minutes."
Search results are instantaneous ...
... and are narrowed down with each letter you type.
WMP 11 does a nice job of seamlessly integrating devices into its interface. The gas gauge--which indicates how much space is left on your device--is particularly nice. However, in CNET.com's beta version of WMP 11, the gauge didn't always work properly. In this shot, the text says there's 2GB left on the reviewers' 2GB Clix, but the gauge graphic shows that it's part full (there was actually about 1.2GB left).
Version 11 of WMP still offers a percentage-based look at each track as it syncs to your device. However, now you can add files to the sync queue while tracks are already being transferred. Unlike with Napster To Go, though, you must click the Start Sync button again once the first sync has finished.
To conserve screen real estate, WMP 11 lets you choose whether you want to view the playlist/syncing column. It was hidden by default when CNET.com's reviewers first ran the program, but a simple click of the blue arrow in the upper-right corner brings it sliding into view--or back out of it. You can drag and drop albums, whole artist collections, or individual tracks into this pane.
Of the features new to WMP, and one of the handiest, is the automatic splitting of burn lists on to multiple CDs. If you have a massive playlist that you'd like to burn, WMP will select the optimal place for splitting the list to put it on as few CDs as possible. If you don't like how the songs are divided, you can easily drag tracks from one place to another, though they'll then displace other tracks in that section.
Like the previous version, WMP 11 integrates various music stores and services into its interface. Options such as Napster and Rhapsody are carried over from before, and they look essentially the same inside WMP 11 as in their respective client programs. Of course, the real star of the music service show is MTV's Urge, which was designed to go hand in hand with WMP 11.
The main page of MTV's Urge is dominated by a promo area at the top that is selected by MTV staff. MTV's reps stated that artists cannot at this time pay to be represented in this area; it's purely editorially driven. Just below that is a selection of new releases, which is magnified and highlighted as you mouse across them. There's also a button that takes you to Urge's music blogs, called "The Informer." Like WMP 11, Urge is visually stimulating.
The Urge playlist section is surprisingly flush with handpicked playlists. You can choose from must-haves, celebrity playlists, and super playlists, which are giant genre-driven playlists.
Every playlist has an image associated with it. If you add the lists to your library, you can navigate through them visually.
Urge offers an extensive collection of live-radio stations. These can also be saved to your library.
Note that the Urge library is organized exactly like your own library within WMP 11. This helps create a seamless relationship and flow between software and service.
Individual artist pages offer abundant information, including related playlists and radio stations, an Auto-Mix link that generates playlists of similar artists, a related-artist list (with links), and available videos. All the albums by the artist are listed in the pane below.
If you're an Urge All Access To Go subscriber--and you have a compatible device--you can drag and drop content from anywhere within Urge directly to the device-syncing window. Urge All Access subscribers can save content to their libraries and create playlists by dragging and dropping content from anywhere in Urge to the playlist window.