Windows XP: Streaming Forward

By the time this article will have been published, Microsoft will most likely have released its next-generation operating system, Windows XP. The system promises to bring a slew of enhancements to the PC desktop, making computers more stable and simplifying connectivity for FireWire (IEEE 1394), digital cameras, camcorders, and other devices.
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By the time this article will have been published, Microsoft will most likely have released its next-generation operating system, Windows XP. The system promises to bring a slew of enhancements to the PC desktop, making computers more stable and simplifying connectivity for FireWire (IEEE 1394), digital cameras, camcorders, and other devices.

Windows XP also introduces Windows Media Player for Windows XP, a name that's quite a mouthful (apparently, Microsoft overlooked simplifying some of its naming strategies.) This new player is the user's universal passkey to anything dealing with digital media. Like its predecessors, Windows Media Player for Windows XP can access Internet radio stations and play streaming video. The new player can also rip audio files from CDs and store them on your hard drive in MP3 format or the more compact Windows Media Audio format.

But wait, there's more! You'll no longer need third-party software to burn a custom CD. The XP Media Player does that for you. And it plays DVDs.

It all sounds very cool, but any time a new operating system is introduced-especially one that quickly will be adopted by millions of users-digital media producers get a bit antsy. What curves, they wonder, will this new OS throw at them? If Windows XP is installed on a production machine, will its rich media output be compatible? Will production routines have to be altered? And what about archived material? Will it still perform for Internet users with Windows XP?

David Caulton, product manager for Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division, says the answer to all these questions is "Don't worry!"

The XP Media Player supports the Windows Media Video 8 codecs, Microsoft's current release. According to the company's press literature, this ensures that users will continue to get "near-VHS quality at rates as low as 250 Kbps." For users who haven't upgraded software lately, streaming media produced with XP can be accessed by any version of Media Player back to version 6.4. That version is smart enough to recognize an incompatibility and automatically download the updated codecs necessary to play a file.

"The fundamental codec technology is always available on all platforms," said Caulton. "That Œreach' issue is really important to broadcasters. Everybody is going to be able to see the content they create with the new video codecs."

The economic turmoil that has rattled the broadband and streaming media industries has not shaken Microsoft's confidence in the future of these mediums. "We totally believe in streaming and the downloadable digital media mechanism," said Caulton.

Two factors have made timetables difficult to predict. Broadband access has inched forward slower than anticipated. And content providers are still thrashing about for a business model that generates black ink instead of red.

"We're very bullish on this, intermediate to long-term," commented Caulton. "And the big players are still preparing themselves for digital media to be a core delivery mechanism." When successful streaming media business models emerge," he promised, "we need to be sure our platform supports it very well."

IE Plug-In Problems

Has your tech department gotten complaints that QuickTime files no longer play in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE)? The problem isn't on the content provider's end. Recent releases of IE have dropped support for all plug-ins that conform to Netscape's browser plug-in specifications, as QuickTime's IE plug-in does.

The problem occurs when a Windows user upgrades to IE 6 Public Preview or IE 5.5 SP2 General Release. Microsoft rewrote IE's code to support its own Active-X technology after deciding that Netscape's code conventions have become a non-factor.

The two-step solution to keep QuickTime media accessible to IE users is simple. Apple (author of the cross-platform QuickTime) has posted an Active-X control for Windows IE users. It's available at www.apple.com/quicktime/download/qtcheck/. You might want your Web folks to help out Windows IE users that visit your site by posting a link to the 140 k download on your Web pages with QuickTime content.

The second step requires a bit more work but saves IE users the trouble of a download. It's a bit of HTML code that prevents the "broken plug-in" message from confronting surfers who haven't downloaded the QuickTime Active-X control. The background and HTML instructions can be found at www.apple.com/quicktime/ products/tutorials/activex.html.