Thursday, September 02, 2004

A Look at WiMP 10 and iTunes

Today Microsoft released Windows Media Player 10 (WiMP 10) in addition to it's new MSN music service. It is obvious that Microsoft wants to own and be king of whatever market it enters. Just scan the press today and they (MS) make no bones about the fact that they aim to compete heavily, if not crush, Apple's iTunes Music Store (iTMS).

I'm finding myself fatigued in my wish that Microsoft would let others dominate in some markets. Wish of the day, impossible as it is. It would be like asking Caesar to let the Gaul's have their country. Caesar's answer was an undeniable and thunderous "NO".

So here we are with Microsoft's entry into the music store download arena. Microsoft is the big, overweight gladiator, Real Networks is the sickly guy who's there for the easy kill. Apple, however, is the not-big, but polished, popular gladiator loved and adored by "the Mob." (references to the movie Gladiator abound, so if you don't get it, go watch Russel Crowe in an awesome flick).

From here I'll briefly look at the actual players from Microsoft and Apple as opposed to the stores and the store experience.

WiMP 10: Much cleaner interface than WiMP 9. Did I mention a MUCH cleaner interface? The sound is great as well, but I found that even though the interface was the best MS has put forward to date (IMO), it is not as intuitive as iTunes.

Don't get me wrong. WiMP 10 certainly takes cues from iTunes' design, but it is a lot more complicated. It is as if WiMP 10 is trying to do too much. Take a peek at the included skins. Yuck with a capital Y. Same old skins with the last two iterations of the WiMP family.

On my machine, the install defaulted the menubar as "OFF" - so I don't see "File, Edit ..." etc. I could change it, but to do so there's this little down-pointing triangle/arrow on the right, next to the minimize/maximize/close buttons. Odd place, if you ask me, and unintuitive. I didn't expect it to be there.

What I do like is the inclusion of Movies & TV. It is a one-stop-shop for checking the latest news headlines, special interest, online movie stream rentals and such. Something I think Apple will do in the future.

iTunes (Mac or Windows). Staying on the Movie & TV topic for a moment, Apple does offer movie previews via the iTMS and that is neat, but it is not the same as what MS is offering. MS clearly adds to the experience in this arena where, as I mentioned above, Apple will likely do - dare I say - needs to do down the line.

iTunes' interface is notably simple, the signature of Apple products and software. WiMP 10 trimmed down their interface to a *more* simplified design, but Apple still holds the gold medal in this category. Apple's UI design guru's are sure to be copied when they come up with something "new", and iTunes is no exception. MS must have felt that Apple's design was better, hence WiMP's resemblance.

iTunes is simpler when it comes to visualizations and engaging them while playing music. I had to hunt and peck for it with WiMP 10 - finally switching to skin mode did the trick. I thought it would be different this time, I was wrong.

One thing I like about WiMP that I wish Apple did with iTunes (though you can with 3rd party, sort of) is integration into the menu bar. For WiMP, if you've enabled the option, when you minimize the player, a mini-metallic skinned player becomes part of the task bar. A little window pops up when songs change, or you can watch videos this way - if your eyesight is good. Visualizations work in this mode as well. Nice.

For iTunes, I downloaded You Software's free You Control iTunes menubar controller. A very nice, low CPU utility. Though I wish it would work w/o opening iTunes, but alas, none of the menubar controllers for iTunes do. But it's a start.

Stores: Briefly let me mention that Microsoft's store is less flashy than iTMS, and offers fewer genres. For instance, I like to hit the "Inspirational" genre in iTMS to see what new (or old favs) Christian artists have been released. Can't do that - at least it wasn't obvious - on MS's store.

Furthermore, on iTMS you do a search, say for Phil Keaggy and all of his stuff will pop up. Same with on MS. However, on iTMS, you can tell his genre - generally, more information is available at quick glance in iTunes. However Microsoft offers a bio of the artist when you are at his/her page. That is slick. I've been a long-time fan of King's X and am familiar with much of their history; however, I learned a few things from the band bio on the MS music store. Really nice.

iTMS is more colorful and fun to browse. Hands down. iTunes is a better all-around player with the exception, IMHO, of the exclusion of Movies & TV viewing. But that ability is NOT that big of a deal, honestly. A jukebox is a jukebox and should try to be the best jukebox it can be. Trying to do all things for all people is not necessarily the best choice for a jukebox.

Anyone else try it that has been using iTunes (either for Win or Mac?). Like it, hate it?


Darren Mahaffy said...

gjc - I removed your two duplicate posts, FYI.

It will be interesting how the whole music store biz plays out, though. I'm not sure it is the best idea for Apple to be making "cat calls" at MS (as CNET puts it).

Folks don't like a sore loser, NOR do they like a sore winner. So I hope Apple plays this right.

deeje said...

iTMS has artist bios as well. For instance, here is the bio for King's X on iTMS

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note: Phil Keaggy, Glass Harp, and King's X are three of my long time favs, and it was a treat to see them get a little piece of the column. (Okay, the Glass Harp thing is just my way of adding them on. I wish their stuff was in iTunes.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you know iTunes has a cool music video section and movie trailer section.

And the Billboard and radio charts are fun too.

Audiobooks also .

Anonymous said...

while it's not GUI, when itunes is running, if you click on the itunes icon in the dock, you get a popup menu & you get many choices to navigate itunes.