Windows Media Player
October 15, 2022
The first versions of Windows didn't support playing music or watching videos. Of course, we're talking Windows 1.0x and 2.0x here. Those early versions of Windows were Microsoft's early attempts at implementing a computer graphical interface, first shown off at a COMDEX show in 1982 and even earlier at Xerox PARC.
The early versions of Windows were not commercial successes, and it wasn't until the 1990 release of Windows 3.0 that Microsoft started selling many copies of Windows.
Windows 3.0 didn't support audio or video playback. Why? Well, computers in the early 90s lacked the storage space needed for audio and video files. Software to compress audio and video files to take up less space didn't exist yet, either. Plus, most computer hardware didn't support audio or video playback.
Widely available in 1992, Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions (yes, that was the name on the box) took advantage of new multimedia capabilities thanks to the proliferation and third-party sound cards and enhanced graphics cards in the marketplace. Windows 3.0 with Multimedia Extensions included a new application called Media Player. Now, Windows could record and playback digitized audio, play music from CDs, and make startup and shutdown sounds.
Media Player became an all-around media player for later versions of Windows, absorbing other early multimedia Microsoft products and technologies like Video for Windows (an Apple QuickTime competitor), Directshow, and NetShow (a RealPlayer competitor.)
Over time, Media Player became Windows Media Player (WMP) and added support for visualizations, CD ripping, playing Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected audio and video files, and even skins to change the look and feel of WMP. Versions of WMP have shipped with every version of Windows in the last 30 years. There was even a version for the Mac.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Microsoft product without some mistakes. For example, WMP version 6.0 removed support for MP3 files, a feature of WMP 5.0. But don't worry; WMP version 7.0 supported MP3 files once again.
While not directly related to WMP, in 2006, Microsoft released the Zune desktop media software, which could sync songs on Microsoft's Zune MP3 player with your desktop songs library. You know, like iTunes.
Interestingly, fast forward to 2021 when Microsoft included a legacy version of WMP v12 in Windows 11. It's interesting because, since Windows 10, Groove Music has handled audio playback and library functions, while the Movies & TV app took care of video. So it sure looks like Microsoft may bring back Media Player in future releases of Windows to put audio and video playback back into one application.
Happy 21st Birthday
Do you know who else has a birthday this month? Windows XP, one of the most stable and popular Windows releases ever, went on sale in October 2001. By 2004 (the last year for official sales numbers,) Microsoft had sold over 200 million copies of Windows XP. Best guesses for the number of computers still running Windows XP are in the millions, even today. Most of those computers are old hardware running proprietary commercial applications that haven't, or can't, be updated to newer versions or in countries just joining the technological age.
And, some people don't like Microsoft. At the release of Windows XP, one of those people wrote this critical review of Windows XP: "Windows XP is a 32-bit extension and a graphical shell for a 16-bit patch to an 8-bit operating system originally coded for a 4-bit microprocessor, written by a 2-bit company that can't stand one bit of competition."
If you've still got a copy of Windows XP running somewhere, buy it a beer.
It could happen
If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared, what would be the most challenging thing to explain about life today?
One answer: "I possess a device in my pocket that can access all the information known to humankind. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers."
Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at email@example.com.