Who's really afraid of Windows Media Player?

Legions of pundits such as yours truly have enumerated the myriad problems that Windows has brought -- and in many cases continues to bring -- to the desktop, and the worst the European Union can do is force Microsoft to ship Edition N? (Does the N stand for "Not with WMP [Windows Media Player]"?) Another blow to my faith in humanity.

If you wear a merciless systems-administrator hat and believe that absolutely no fun should be allowed at work, then you've probably already made a homegrown version of Edition N by configuring desktop images without WMP or by denying users access at the directory level. Thanks to grey-suited hard-liners such as you, Edition N might actually sell some licences simply for convenience's sake.

But for the EU to "investigate" Microsoft for as many months as it did, only to come up with the decree of "separate Windows Media Player", is, well, nuts. And if we're doing it for Windows, why aren't we doing it for Linux? Or OS X? I haven't played with OS X very much, but the Linux distributions I've been batting around, including Xandros, SuSe 9.1, Slackware, and Novell Linux Desktop, all have media players resident in the OS. The only difference I see is that WMP 10 allows automatic access to Microsoft's music-shopping site. Click on Buy Music and you're on the Web and surfing through titles.

If I were an IT administrator, that would bug me, but it's easy enough to block off the desktop. Frankly, if I made a list of Microsoft's peccadilloes at the OS level, the inclusion of WMP wouldn't even make the list. Maybe you have to be European.

What does make the list is Microsoft's constant nagging for attention for its other products, and perhaps WMP now falls into this category, but it's a fairly small-time offender. I'm worried about much more dangerous issues such as the Passport/MSN (Microsoft Network) relationship. Forget excluding WMP; how about removing that ubiquitous hook to MSN that creeps in at the OS level or, if thwarted, tries to creep in again during the Office installation? Some user accesses it, and the next thing you know you're fielding calls from people asking, "What's this Passport thing?"

Now it looks as if Microsoft is trying to sneak Passport in again in Longhorn. The next Windows will have what Redmond is calling "personal data repositories" installed on every system. These will "securely store" all your most personal information, including little things such as credit card numbers, Medicare numbers, and passwords.

Just as I thought, this "feature" will be native to the new OS. But Microsoft reveals that the feature is called Infocards and will be administered as a service. Now it sounds exactly like Passport. So why the name change? Could it be because Passport was compromised so quickly and users have lost faith in that brand name, by any chance?

Even if Infocards is running off an entirely new and totally secure code base, my question is, how does this differ from WMP's automatic shopping hook?

The feature is there, but you don't have to use it you don't want to. There are certainly competitors to both WMP and Passport/Infocards, and enough of these competitors work just fine over Windows XP. Those vendors whose products don't cut it can no longer claim it's some kind of Redmond conspiracy. So what's the problem?

The problem is government interference based on what amounts to anti-marketing hype. Microsoft has practiced bad business in the past, and governments probably should be aware of the tiger they're letting in the door when Microsoft comes calling. But if cracking down on Redmond's unfair business practices is really a priority, then let's hit the relevant issues such as secure coding practices and fair licensing schemes, to name just two.

Going through months of investigation and litigation only to come up with "sever Windows Media Player" is a waste of time.

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