There, I said it. Get rid of WMC. With three words and an acronym, I just managed to piss off 90% of the people that would ordinarily frequent this blog – it’s probably a good thing nobody does.
I should start by saying I love Windows Media Center. My family (yes, even my wife and kids) and I use it nearly every single day – for almost everything it can do… in Canada, which quite frankly, is next to nothing compared to the WMC feature-set south of the border.
For those that don’t know, the (nearly complete) WMC experience you have on your PC, can be “extended” to a TV via an Xbox 360 – or other hardware devices that have been mostly discontinued by 3rd parties. This is the primary method used to enjoy WMC in our home.
I have two Xbox 360’s in my house. The first was purchased long ago (and subsequently replaced due to a “Red Ring of Death” – RRoD) as a gaming rig – it has slowly morphed into a dedicated WMC Extender (MCE) for our family room, and hasn’t so much as sniffed a game disc in about 4 years. The second (a new 360 S(lim)) was purchased for the sole purpose of being an MCE and set-top box for Telus’ Optik TV (Mediaroom 2.0) service, on the new TV upstairs in the Living Room.
I use and enjoy WMC, but it and it’s associated cousin Windows Media Player (due mostly to their use of the same poor back-end media indexing database) has to go. Why? One word. ZUNE. Since the Zune PC software (and by proxy, the Zune HD handheld personal media player’s) release, MS has been maintaining three client-side (PC) media consumption platforms. Zune, being the most recent addition, though lacking some of the functionality of the more mature products that came before it, is by and large, a far superior product; both in form and execution. Take for example these quick screenshots, comparing something as superficial as the UI/chrome.
Windows Media Player (WMP):
This interface has clearly been designed for the medium it has typically been executed on, a PC with attached mouse and keyboard.
Windows Media Center (WMC):
This interface is, to my knowledge, the first product to feature the beginnings of the “Metro UI” design. Optimized for both remote control navigation (up, down, left and right buttons) as well as touch(screen) input. It feels as if good mouse/keyboard use on a non-touch enabled PC was an afterthought, as it’s a rather clunky control method. On a TV or touch based PC however, it’s near perfection.
Zune (PC Software):
Here’s an evolution and merger of both the WMP (traditional application UI) and the WMC pioneered Metro UI. The resulting application is easy and intuitive to navigate/use on a PC with a mouse/keyboard and although I haven’t seen it used on a touch enabled PC, it looks designed for that as well. The PC is a flexible consumption platform, it makes sense to give people a richer experience on this medium. This design echoes the simplicity of WMC plus the rich experience you can not get when you design something for interaction via TV and remote control (WMC) – it’s an optimized experience tailored and maximized for the medium it’s delivered on.
For those interested in Metro’s history, theory and potential:
I’m sure you’ve picked up on where I’m going with this. Now, dumping WMC and WMP in favour of one single, unified (Metro inspired) Zune experience is no easy task. As I mentioned before, Zune is not necessarily superior in terms of it’s functionality (or feature-set), although there are a number of redundant overlaps. A few features people would surely miss (off the top of my head) are:
- WMC; TV Tuner and DVR capability
- WMC; 3rd party plug-in/app extensibility
- WMC; optimized for the TV experience
- WMC; “skunk works” Mediaroom 2.0 IPTV integration (tunerless HDTV)
- WMC; Extender (MCE) functionality, taking WMC to the big screen (TV)
- WMC (on Windows 7); video transcoding to extenders (MCE’s)
- WMC and WMP’s; (by comparison to Zune) extensive video codec support
- WMP; DLNA based media server functionality
- WMP; “Play to” feature
Additionally, Zune (on the PC) does have some of what I would consider to be the same flaws that plague it’s predecessors. The lack of ability to add embedded album/video art and no support for “soft captions” are two examples – something the generally appalling iTunes can do. By and large though, Zune is a great start.
If the key features I mentioned (and some that I didn’t) could be properly aggregated in Zune (read: not just badly ported), you would have a seriously killer app/platform. You’d also eliminate the user confusion caused by offering multiple products that have overlapping and differing features. Oh, and you’d maybe stand a chance when it comes to publishing/advertising these (this) under-represented media experience(s), that has (for a long time now), shipped in the box with Windows – something only geeks knew about.
The biggest reason Microsoft has to move on this, is that media consumption and entertainment is no longer simply a value-add feature for consumer operating systems (and I should be clear, I DO believe Microsoft finally gets this). It is a (if not, the) killer app required in consumer computing today. Apple’s success in the consumer space are all the evidence required to support this argument. They don’t advertise awesome document or spreadsheet creation, or the intuitiveness of their desktop OS – they advertise consumption of media in an easy to use and delightful way (as well as image/lifestyle, but that’s another article). This is what people enjoy and want out of modern day computing and gadgets.
So, it wouldn’t be fair to just point out what I think the problems are, without fully addressing the solution. In this case, I’ve talked about what Microsoft needs to do (and how; on the PC), but I haven’t talked about how it should take Zune to two specific spaces; the other two screens (phone and TV). Microsoft needs no help or advice on how to take this stuff to the phone, you need not look any further than the impending release of Windows Phone 7 for the answer here.
In a future post, I’ll talk about how I think Zune needs to be taken to the TV. Here’s a hint though, the Zune experience for all 3 screens (TV, PC and Phone), needs to be customized and optimized for those specific mediums and use cases. For what it’s worth, I’m nearly positive they are headed where they need to go.