Beta software. I’ve always believed that it’s wrong to be too harsh or critical on beta software because the beta tag is a kind of automatic confession that you should expect bugs. It’s a let the buyer beware warning that this software is unfinished and while fun to play with don’t set the current state as your expectation of the product. Which is why I titled this post “Why Windows Media Player 11 Beta is Not for Me” rather than “Windows Media Player 11 Sucks the Big One.”
Of course there is the concept too of a perpetual beta and the recent history of software spending an awful lot of time there even as it becomes widely distributed to the public and really probably should not be called beta anymore. Flickr recently went gamma, which seems to me a funny way of commenting on the situation.
But I’ve been playing around with the Windows Media Player 11 public beta the past week or so and I’ve been pretty disappointed. I was the one that on this blog when I learned of the upcoming Windows Media Player 11 beta for XP shouted a loud and initial hot donkey.
My first problem with the beta software is that it works horribly with Media Center with a large digital library. One of my biggest gripes with Media Center over the past few years has continually been that it is horrible for use with large digital libraries. To be fair, I have an unusually large digital media library and am on the bleeding edge not the norm. 10,000 or so tracks might just work fine. But for my much larger library Media Center has never worked well. The search function for music is impossible to use and even when pulling up album or artist views to manually find things in my digital library it can take from two to five minutes — an unbearably long time to wait for your digital music every time you want to listen to a song and unacceptable in my opinion.
I had been hopeful that WMP11 beta would change all of this. I had talked with folks at Microsoft who gave me assurances that Microsoft was dealing with the large digital library problem and in fact had tested WMP11 on a library with as many as 2 million songs in it (much larger than mine by the way). Unfortunately I have not had that experience with the beta. While I find Windows Media Player the application slightly faster and better. It still feels clunky and lacks the speed that I need. Even worse though the integration with Media Center feels much slower.
I confirmed with a Microsoft employee that the new beta will do nothing to speed up your large digital library in Media Center. This is unfortunate. I was also told by the same Microsoft employee though that the large digital library problem with Media Center has actually been addressed in Vista and that the most recent Vista build is probably stable enough to run and that I should be able to test this out and confirm this. Microsoft’s PR agency Waggener Edstrom is sending me the most recent version of Vista and when I get it I will check this out. But in the meantime I’d recommend you *not* install the Windows Media Player 11 beta if you are using a Media Center PC.
Another problem I had with Media Center is that when I’d make playlists (about the only bearable way to try and load music in it for me) in WMP 11 beta, these playlists would not show up as options in Media Center.
Another major annoyance for me with Windows Media Player 11 is that it seems to require you to completely build your digital media library when you encounter a problem. Three times now (on two different PCs) I’ve launched Windows Media Player only to find that a problem had occurred and that no media is in my player. The player says that it is searching for media in the background or that I can manually reimport tracks.
The problem with manually reimporting tracks is that when you have a large digital library this can take *forever* — seriously, days. I have my media on several different external drives and just can’t be reimporting every single song every time WMP encounters an error.
I also found that, for me at least, frequently when I’d double click on a headline (say song title for instance) to alphabetize my library of songs that this would not occur.
Again, please note that this post is meant to be my initial thoughts on beta software. I do not fault Microsoft for these problems, I’m just saying that the new player is not for me… yet. The player obviously can still be improved and hopefully when it comes out of beta will do all the things I’d like it to and more.
Michael Gartenberg liked the software more than I did and especially liked the URGE music service. Paul Thurrott also wrote up a much more detailed review than I expressing his pleasure with the service.