For some odd reason, the new Windows Media Player 11 Beta reminds me a lot of iTunes with a bit of Songbird flare thrown in. Not only is it just as big a memory hog, WMP11 Beta has inherited some of iTunes’ features that have made it successful.
The WMP11 user interface is extremely trimmed down and not as confusing as it has been in previous versions. Sporting a default black glossy look, with some Microsoft Blue accents mixed in, it is both visually pleasing and easy to navigate. While the MTV URGE network sign in button may be a bit distracting, the interface is otherwise slimmed down and does nothing to distract from the listening experience. As always different accent colors can be chosen.
WMP11 also sports some new, more advanced sorting features absent in previous versions. An enhanced library view allows you to not only see songs, albums, and artists, but the album art is also present to help you pick your way through music you may only be familiar with through sight.
One basic feature I miss is the tiny button that, when selected, opens a drop down menu listing all albums, artists, and play lists in the library. This allowed me to pick and choose what album or artist I wanted to hear without having to fully open the player or navigate to the library.
Those of you using WMP on a laptop or desktop short of memory are undoubtedly familiar with the Windows Media Player toolbar, otherwise known as the Mini-Player mode. In this version the mini player sports the same black and blue color scheme. As in the full size player the quick select menu has also been ditched, requiring a full sized view of the player to change play lists or albums.
There is some bad news for all of you plug-in and enhancement lovers though. First off, Microsoft has ditched many of the default visualizations that you may have grown used to, but all custom visualizations seem to work just fine when upgrading. All plug-ins are automatically disabled, and most, if not all, do not seem to be compatible, meaning you’ll have to either wait for an update to the plug-in, or revert to an older version of WMP.
All custom skins are also incompatible. While they may load and intros may play, WMP11 seems incapable of displaying any media information, not moving past the final frame of the introductory movie or animation. This leaves you guessing where certain controls, like volume and seek, are.
The Final Verdict
While Windows Media Player 11 Beta may need a lot of work, and many are sure to find it lacking in the more important areas, it has some real potential. The slimmed down interface adds to the overall pleasing experience and I personally can’t wait for an update to the beta, or even an official release. But don’t get your hopes up, this looks like it’s been built for Vista, so an official release probably wont be coming anytime soon.