How I Learned To Love Windows Media Player

How I Learned To Love Windows Media Player

I’ve used a lot of media players over the years, but I’ve always avoided Windows Media Player like the plague. Then I encountered Windows Media Player 12 on Windows 7, and suddenly I find myself singing a different tune.

Note: We realise that after almost six months in the wild, Windows 7 is far from cutting edge, but if you’re still under the misconception that Windows Media Player has nothing worthwhile to offer, do yourself a favour and read on.

Early on, Winamp used to be the go-to media player of the day, until one day, I started finding new releases of the program a little too bloated for my taste. Nevertheless, I remained loyal until I found myself wanting something called an iPod. This six-year old iPod had a caveat: it only synced with iTunes. Thanks to my iPod devotion, combined with a snazzy way to browse your music (look at those covers go!), I eventually — though reluctantly — made the switch to iTunes.

The problem with Windows Media Player was always that, frankly, it never seemed that good, and I could never think of any compelling reason to use it. That’s all changed since Microsoft released Windows 7 and Windows Media Player 12.

Seamless Media Integration with Libraries

One of Windows 7’s biggest strengths are its organisational tools, like Libraries. With the ability to customise libraries and group various folders, it organises your files by type or purpose easily. Since I like complete control over file structure, I’ve never particularly liked iTunes’ insistence to manage my music folders (or its inability to monitor folders — and no, the single, undefinable watched folder isn’t good enough). Besides a new interface to sort your music in Windows Explorer, I found that all the music that I put into this library was automatically added to Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player. I no longer had to manually add it via iTunes.

WMP 12 Offers Dead-Simple Media Sharing, Too

With several in-built features with Windows Media 7, it’s also easier to share music, movies and photos with any other Win7 computer over the internet or to other devices on your network. Coupled with a Windows Live ID, linking other music libraries to your Windows Media Player is simple.

There’s also a unique “Play To” feature embedded in Windows Media Player. It can stream to other computers in the HomeGroup networking feature or play back to your sound system. Through Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology, you can set up other devices as well. Microsoft has a list of supported devices, but theoretically, you can set it up using any device that supports DLNA, including your Xbox. Each device being Played To has its own playlist and playback settings and is controlled through its own little window. We’d like to see anyone do that with iTunes.

Better Codec and Syncing Support

While it’s still a poor player for syncing to your iPhone or Apple device (iTunes now lives on in a precarious state on my PC), Windows Media Player allows you to sync with other media devices. When you plug your device into your computer, it’ll ask you to identify your device and if you want to sync it to your library. If you’re using a device that doesn’t require proprietary software, it’s one less headache saved.

On the codec support front, older versions of WMP were always dragging a little behind, requiring users to hunt down and install codec packs to play pretty common file types. Luckily Microsoft’s also added a lot more video and audio support in Windows Media Player 12. It now supports H.264, Xvid and DivX video codecs along with AAC, 3GP, MP4 and MOV formats natively.

One Less Thing To Install

I like to run a mean, clean efficient machine with the bare minimum to get me by. Sometimes when I think about installing software, I know that it’s going to change my registry, and possibly leave a lot of junk on my computer. It gives me a headache. But Windows Media Player plays my music and video, is easy to use and integrates with Windows 7. It’s snappier to use than waiting 9382 seconds for iTunes to open. With additional features and a nicer interface, Windows Media Player isn’t still quite perfect but it’s no longer quite the pariah of media players anymore.

Maybe the biggest thing I’ve learned? I can live without cover flow.


  • I just haven’t been able to find another player as easy to use as WMP. I tried Songbird recently but it crashed every time it tried to read my 20GBs of music.

    WMP makes it easy to listen to music however I want to listen to it and that’s exactly what I look for in a music player.

  • I’ve had a similar experience. Was a die hard Winamp user before Windows 7, but now I haven’t even bothered installing it since moving to final W7 from the RC.

    The key feature for me is the active playlist – I kept by Winamp as it had easily the best UI for managing what was currently playing (ie no need to create a playlist, start playing music and it IS a playlist, meaning I can change what’s coming up without stopping what’s currently playing or ending up with a pile of temporary playlists like on my damn iPhone). But WMP12 does just as good a job. I still use GOM Player for video, but for music I’m quite happy with WMP.

  • Using Windows Media Player as my main player works well for me. There’s something that I just don’t like about the iTunes layout and it’s always seemed buggy.

    I’ve made sure everything in my library is properly tagged and has cover images, that way it all works when I use Windows Media Center on my TVs.

    The other thing I use is a plugin called Dopisp, it’s not free but it allows me to sync my 5th gen iPod using Media Player – that way I can use WMP for everything.

    Overall, WMP12 is pretty good, especially when your library is set up correctly.

    • I agree it’s annoying. What I do is keep a cover.jpg in each folder and once WMP has indexed my collection for the first time, I use a batch file to delete all the newly created windows files and then it copies cover.jpg to folder.jpg. After that it seems to keep the new folder.jpg intact.

    • You have to embed the art in each media file, otherwise WMP will overwrite folder.jpg

      The most dangerous time with WMP is when it re-trawls your music to rebuild a library as it will go hunting for whacky incorrect album art again. This can occur when you move to a new machine or upgrade WMP/Windows.

  • DivX wasn’t supported for ages since it was a hacked version of a Microsoft codec, but I guess MS gave in to the popular support for it on hardware devices. (Something you won’t find on an iPad…. )

    There are still many problems with WMP, and new problems introduced in v12, plus many features present in versions up to v11 that were removed. e.g.

    1) indexing the Recycle Bin
    2) adding folders to the library that are not in the specified folder scope. It also re-adds folders that you’ve removed.
    3) no way to stop it mixing up album-art and other music-associated images with your photographs.
    4) “Recently Added” music is no longer supported in v12 (which I get around now by adding an extra genre tag “YYYY-MM” for month of purchase.)
    5) You can no longer jump from what’s playing to find that music in the library.
    6) v12 removed the Advanced Tag Editor
    7) there are many problems with handling of Album Artist and Contributing Artist tags (edit one and you can overwrite the other).
    8) lack of undo for simple edits

    but yes, it’s still snappier and less crappier than iTunes
    9) No support for indexing media on NAS drives
    10) completely unpredictable lazy write threads for updating metadata in media files
    11) UI frequently unloads, leaving wmplayer process running and locking files/folders.

  • I used to love it, but it kept changing my tags.

    Using Foobar, finding it annoying because I never find the right skin to suit me.

    Might try Winamp.

    But yeah, careful, WMP changes tags, I’m always particular about my tags.

    • Yep. WMP and iTunes are absolutely horrendous for tag-safety. Turning off those update options does not, and has never (since before v9 at least) worked in WMP.

      In particular the only way to protect album-art is to embed it in the media file, otherwise WMP will just look for some random cover – or if it can’t find it in its pathetic closed database, replace the real cover art with a generic placeholder.

  • Seamless integration with Windows 7 libraries? Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it!

    WMP12 picks up all my pictures, and I’ve got a CRAPTON of them, and then it wants to SYNC the damned things to my MP3 player. I do NOT (!!!) want to use space on that for pictures, it’s for MUSIC.

    Do you know the only way to stop that? Remove all the folders from your Win7 libraries. Yep! That’s your only choice. If you want WMP12 to deal ONLY with music, you can’t use the Pictures or Videos libraries…at all.

    Nice going, Microsoft! WMP12 is so Mac-like that it’s REALLY Mac-like. It knows better than you do what you want, silly human. Don’t contradict the MACHINES. Ack.

    • Yup. The benefits of having a 140GB photo library are destroyed when WMP is involved.

      Responsivity of the app is also declining because it’s always indexing stuff I don’t want indexed ( my pictures, my recycle bin, sample music sequences from applications, my iTunes library ).

      This appears to be an index that duplicates the effort of the Windows indexer, yet with less benefits: it’s MUCH slower to find stuff, and it doesn’t support conflation of vowels for data with accented characters.

    • 3 years later, and this issue is STILL a pain in the ass…I have a lot of pictures, and I like to organize my picture library to music, which ends up fouling up everything because WMP just “has to” update every time I make the smallest change! I do hope they change this in the next iteration of WMP because it’s damn annoying.

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