Josh (the blog)

Hey there. I’m Josh, a SydneyCanberra-based maker of Internets. I don’t update this very often.


Windows Media 11 and ripping alternate formats

I said yesterday that I’m a fan of what Microsoft have been doing of late and Slashdotters are idiots. One reason for that is IE7, as that post discussed, but in terms of what other things Microsoft have been doing I didn’t really mention anything. Well, one new Microsoft product that does immensely sensible things is Live Messenger 8.1 Beta (see, I didn’t call it MSN anymore!) which finally lets you appear offline and continue conversations without having to close windows… it’s a polish release, and feels good.

More significantly, though, is Windows Media Player 11. It’s got a new interface, plenty of usability tweaks, a bunch of music store enhancements (eugh, sorry, I can’t be positive about this one) — notably URGE — and probably more DRM to go along with it, and an even-better-than-version-10 CD-ripping interface.

It’s designed as a one-click process, but makes selection of format, bitrate, etc. completely quick, easy, and painless.

Screenshot: Windows Media Player rip dropdown format options

It’s great.

My only qualm is that it’s impossible to select any other format than the ones originally presented. Sure, this is a Microsoft product and it’s targeted at computer-illiterate types the world over and having an “add your own command-line encoding option” option probably isn’t great from a usability for all perspective, but what’s wrong with having the option there? I’m not going to rip my music in a DRM format, ever.1 It’s just not going to happen. I’ll sooner be stuck listening to CDs and scratching them to death and then buying new ones. You already give me the option to rip an MP3, so why not other formats you can’t control?

The only reason I can come up with is that other, competing, formats are technically superior. You feel threatened by FLAC (were it to become widely adopted) as it is superior to WM Lossless… probably because it lacks DRM. Justifiably, you don’t feel so threatened by MP3 as it is, in general, inferior in every way (except it lacks DRM) — even though it has massive penetration.

Even that penetration is slipping because people don’t change defaults and are ripping their music using Windows Media Player or iTunes. So, you know, there’s less to be lost by letting the geeks play with their zany open source formats. The proles will never actually know or care enough to embrace them, you keep your control, and an underclass (or silent ruling class?) benefits and is endeared towards your brand. And, of course, geeks are vocal about products: I love Windows Media Player 11, but this little thing really gets to me. If you give me that, then I will be so happy with it I’ll be constantly trying to convert iTunes users — admittedly, I’ll probably fail because their collections are under proprietary lock and key and their hardware has bound them to it, but in a couple of years when their iPod batteries die they’ll see the error of their ways.

Geeks will too readily prostitute themselves and become product evangelists — but, beware, we are notoriously given to infidelity.

1. I will, however, rip my music in non-rights manage formats and let software convert it as necessary for playback on retarded hardware devices. I haven’t required hardware that has such draconian requirements yet, but if I ever do, this will be the closest I get to compromising.