Will Windows Media Eclipse MP3?

SAN FRANCISCO (07/17/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s audio format Windows Media Audio gets a double boost this week with the release of Windows Media Player 7 and the availability of tunes from EMI Music in the Windows Media format.

On Monday, EMI begins supporting on its online retail channel more than 96 albums and countless singles in the Windows Media Audio format. Also, DiscoverMusic.com, a provider of song samples for Internet music retailers, will release its 2.5 million song previews in the WMA format.

Labels Embrace Digital Downloads

The EMI announcement represents the largest single release of digital music on the Web by a major record label, says Kevin Unangst, group product manager of Microsoft's Digital Media Division. EMI chose the WMA format because it offers CD quality sound, supports twice the compression of MP3 files, and uses digital rights management, Unangst adds.

Digital rights management technology enables record labels to monitor and make money from music downloads. With the EMI collection available in the Windows Media format, you'll be able to purchase and download whole CDs of EMI music at retail music sites.

"Microsoft and EMI will also provide 30-second samples of every song in Windows Media," Unangst adds.

To purchase and play the music, you'll need jukebox software that supports Windows Media format, such as MusicMatch Jukebox, Nullsoft's Winamp, Sonic Foundry's Siren, or, of course, Windows Media Player 7. Microsoft will post its Windows Media Player 7 for download from its site just after midnight Tuesday.

The unit combines a jukebox and streaming media player into one.

Updated Player Burns

Windows Media Player 7 also supports CD burning of both its format and MP3, Unangst says. Other jukeboxes, including RealJukebox 1.1 from RealNetworks, also can burn CDs.

This release adds more skins in its choice of interface. For example, a Digital DJ skin gives you more control when creating playlists, Unangst says.

Although Windows Media Player 7 will play, catalog, and even burn to CD the music in the MP3 format, it won't rip your CDs as anything but WMA files.

Consumers don't care about format; they care about quality, Unangst says. He claims WMA files are half the size of MP3s.

Nudging MP3

WMA may be edging toward MP3's ubiquity. The format has picked up support from portable players like RCA's Lyra and the Rio 600, and now major labels are making their tunes available in WMA format.

When Windows Millennium Edition ships this fall, you'll be able to play WMA files without even downloading a player. Windows Me bundles the Windows Media Player 7.

In many ways, MP3 owes its spread to its very lack of rights protection.

Imagine all those Napster fans paying for their cyberneighbors' songs. While record labels are unlikely to ever love the MP3 format, it's unclear whether the music fans who started the digital music revolution will jump on a music format that bears restrictions.

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