Sad Donkey, Why Windows Media Player 11 Beta is Not For Me

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.

15 Replies to “Sad Donkey, Why Windows Media Player 11 Beta is Not For Me”

  1. Great review! I really enjoy your blog and your insight on the end-user experience. I’ve linked to your post on my blog as well.

  2. Performance is much improved on Vista Beta 2. I’m not sure any system is going to be able to handle your music collection “with ease”.


  3. I don’t understand, WMP11 was supposed to be more robust with large media libraries than WMP10. Now I’m understanding that this will not be true unless you start using Windows Vista?

    Tell me I have this wrong, please…

  4. Anonymous: WMP11 is much better than WMP10. It’s Media Center that’s not improved until Vista.

    Tom: I have to ask: Are you really holding your media library on slow external USB drives? Because, you know, I don’t see that any software is going to make slow hardware magically delicious.

  5. You mention search in MCE – I’d have to agree it has a few strange quirks that make it unwieldy for large libraries.

    For eg – you enter the first letter of your search term and it starts searching, which takes some time. Presumably it is cataloguing every occurrence of that letter? Surely it would be better to wait until either you finish entering the search term, or maybe the 2nd or 3rd letter in the search term? The other option would be to pre-build this 1st character index of course…

    BTW a search for B52 yields 0 results, you must try B-52; wouldn’t it make sense to ignore characters?

  6. I’ve been waiting to see what your comments would be. I too have been frustrated by WMP11, but like the front end more than WMP 10, so am stuck in Limbo. And I agree the WMP 11 & MCE is a retro step in the beta configuration.

  7. tbh i think u need to keep things in perspective. if u have a huge media collection, then just imagine it was all stored on cds or (shock, horror) tapes. Then i think ud b lookin at a bit more than 5 mins search time. So really it doesnt seem that bad to me.

  8. The only major gripe I have about WMP 11 Beta is that streaming audio or video is hit or miss if the server can connect. Otherwise, as listed above, transferring large libraries imported can take forever. This can be expected though.

  9. Since downloading Windows Media Player 11 Beta 2 from Microsoft, my video files are behaving strangely! I have some foreign films in DivX format, and they have separate subtitle files which worked fine in Beta 1. Now I have both files named identically, and in the same folder. The setting in Media Player is
    “display when avaialble” but they don’t appear. Also, when I put the player into full screen mode, it lasts a minute at that size tops, before returning to small screen – it’s really annoying. It didn’t do either of these things with Beta 1.

  10. HELP! Can anyone help me please.
    With regards to Media Player 11, I am having a problem. I want to make my own music disk by using the player to burn the tracks to. I can rip music, and I can also play music in my DVD R/RW writer. BUT, for some reason I cannot burn to a disk! As anyone else had this problem? I would be grateful for any advise/tips etc. Thank you.
    Signed, Frustrated!!!

  11. USB drives are not as slow as you might think if you get the right brands. In fact, my USB drive holds all my music and I get faster read and write speeds (due to a newer drive) than I do on my current SATA1 drive in the computer.

    As a user of Media Player 11 since it first showed up, it is much better, albeit for one issue I have. When I clean out my music folder, there is one song showing, 0 seconds, and it cannot be deleted. It also prevents the “Apply Media Information Changes” from working when I have the “Retrieve additional information from the Internet” checked. It worked for quite a while on one computer, then broke. Now it did that exact same thing on a second computer.

    To date, I have seen that Vista is SLOWER at handling folders with a large quantity of files.

  12. Actually, I found my fix. I just had to delete all the libraries (even though they were not quite as the instructions state).

    Click Here

    I found that I had to delete the version 10 file as well as the previous versions. When I only deleted the version 11 file, it did not fix it. Thus showing they did not test well vs setups with previous versions installed. *dies of shock*

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