A Windows Media Tip

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

If there is one application on the Mac the mere mention of which brings tears of laughter to the eyes of the community, it is Windows Media Player. Despite its name, this application has very little Playing abilities and even less Media-related punch. While I am sure that Windows Media Player on a Windows machine is a relatively decent piece of software (at least I hope), I can only say that its Mac counterpart is going to great lengths to prove to million of users that Microsoft and the video world will never understand each other.

Luckily for me, and despite my routinely working with Windows-based customers, almost all of the files I receive are QuickTime compatible — mostly .mov but also some more esoteric codec/wrapper combinations that I am always surprised QuickTime handles so smoothly. This being said, I bumped last week into a Windows Media file I needed to open: it had been sent to me by a customer hoping to give me an idea of a specific look they were hoping to get for their next run of ads.

No matter what I did, though, Windows Media kept telling me that "An error occurred." (Nice!) or that "The URL could not be found" (which, given I was trying to open a file locally had me wondering whether I had lost my sanity). I know Windows Media Player 9 for Mac does not handle all the fancy DRM the latest version of the Windows software introduced but, as the file was a couple years old already, it didn't seem like it would be protected in such a way.

Having test machines is one luxury I never appreciated so much until yesterday. I re-installed everything Microsoft I could think of on it — from Internet Explorer to Windows Media Player —, restarted, tweaked settings to no end but also to no avail. It was three in the morning and my dark circles were threatening to reach the point where they're beyond any chemical help when I, almost by accident, stumbled onto the site of a small music festival, offering files for download.

At the bottom of the page, a footnote stated that, due to a bug in the Mac version of Windows Media Player, it was necessary to have Classic installed to view the files. Uh?! With a shaking hand, and being by now resigned to spending my night staring at splash screens, I proceeded to install Classic onto my test machine, something I hadn't done in about 4 years — hats off, by the way, to the people who designed the latest Classic installer, it's a dream to use.

A little tinkering (namely restarting, creating a fresh account and allowing Internet Explorer to set itself as the default browser) solved my problem. A last double-click on the movie file opened Windows Media Player, then opened Internet Explorer. The blinkety blinkety show thrown by my routing gear seemed to indicate that something was being downloaded indeed. Then, the movie started playing, as if nothing had happened.

Had Classic been launched? Nope! I kept a close watch on a couple indicators and can confirm good old TrueBlue hadn't been called. However, it looks like Windows Media Player 9 for Mac OS X (a recent application, might I add), expects to find something, be it a library or a file, that belongs to Mac OS 9 on the drive and fails if it doesn't.

I'm sure it's mentioned somewhere in a technote but, despite my efforts, I couldn't find it. If this little tip can help anyone around squeeze a few pictures out of our beloved Windows Media Player, I'd be glad!


2005-09-01 08:38:17
Flip 4 Mac
Give up with the Microsoft player, and get the Quicktime plugin which plays Windows Media 9 files. It costs a very small amount, or a large amount if you want to be able to encode Windows Media files too. It also doesn't do the current WM 10 stuff :-(

Anyway, you can get a demo from:


2005-09-01 08:39:11
DON'T YOU dare tell this any doubtful PC-user listening to Mac-raves. They will keep telling everyone that video on the Mac is not so easy as we keep promising. Because the combined effort of M$ using THREE different OSses (Win to develop, OS X to try it out, OS 9 (Classic, a.k.a. iWishItWouldStillBoot) to check on hidden files so WMP on OS X does THEORETICALLY run.
Now and then they still succeed in turning my lovely AluBook into a PC.


2005-09-02 01:19:49
Hmm. Okay, this is cumbersome, but my instinct would be to install Fink or DarwinPorts and then VLC: http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

That should play any oddball format you throw at it, not only WMV but anything QT happens to choke on.

2005-09-02 01:25:50

First of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Yes, VLC is indeed a very convenient application and it does come to the rescue whenever QuickTime is experiencing a playback issue.

I do not think however that it can handle protected Windows Media files, as these rely on Windows Media downloading a specific license, through some proprietary mechanism, to be played back properly. I wish I were wrong, though… :^D


2005-09-06 16:46:27
QT player is Crap - sad but true
as we all know by now, QT player (5,6,7) is a very fragile app ... it chokes on almost any file not created by quicktime.

it routinely freezes even if you just so much as look at it the wrong way ;-)

VLC and others do have a bit more robust error-handling ability, it is true; but they too will die most of the time on os/x when dealing with the whacky PC video formats (heck, even apple admits that it handle certain kinds of muxed mpegs - which seem to proliferate on pc).

it would be nice to have a totally reliable/independent media app to not use QT at all, just so there was some element of safety to running video on a mac.

i just cant believe how apple keeps shooting itself in the foot by sabotaging itself at every turn.

until apple starts making a huge investment in tools (and contributing to the standards committees - notice who is almost NEVER in attendence?!), quicktime will constantly be losing ground to ms because of compatibility or performance or quality issues ....

as a sign of things to come, just look how they have basically conceeded the entire huge infrastructure-rich ITV market to ms with tvIP (not to mention the easy low-hanging DVR fruit with TVio). the only commercial signifigance of quicktime for apple is audio (ipod), not video.

at apple's current rate of decline/indifference, QT is going to become the next WebObjects - another great apple franchise destroyed by neglect.

sad but true.


2005-12-13 04:05:02
hello people! i am having trouble with installing my window media player on my mac, i dont know why but my other mac computer which is not tiger just oanther i had no problem with installing it but when im using this computer that has tiger i cant install the program of windows media player pls help me e mali me att adrian147258369@yahoo.com pls i need help
Vinay Lohar
2006-05-09 04:36:46
The windows media player 10 has a decent interface. However it does not contain most of the codecs required to view formats like wmv or avi. I wonder what makes microsoft leave loop holes in whatever they do. I think microsoft should rethink about integrating Audio and Video formats. This increases the time required to play any of the supported files.

Windows Media Player is far better than other freeware programs such as RealPlayer, MPlayer, Nullsoft's Winamp, and Apple Computer's QuickTime and iTunes. However some players like RADLIGHT and FreeMediaPlayer are much more impressive.

Lets hope that Windows Media Player 11 also called ' Polaris' has all the required codecs to support WMV, ASF and AVI formats.

2006-05-09 10:44:59

Thank you for your comments and for sharing your experiences!

Would you care to elaborate on your comment as to why Windows Media Player is better than QuickTime? I know the digital media community is heavily divided on the issue so any insights would, I believe, be of great interest to MacDevCenter readers.


2006-05-26 02:17:17
I use an eMac running OS 10.3.9.

Where can I find Mac OS 9 to download? It's not on the Apple downloads site.

Have checked my system files and it's definitely not on my Mac's hard drive.

Thanks for your help.

2006-05-26 02:27:20

Should your Mac be able to run Classic or Mac OS 9, you should find a Classic installer burried within the Restore CDs or DVD that came with your computer. This is your best bet to get Classic up and running on your machine and it does not require downloading Mac OS 9. Note that modern Macs (such as Intel machines) cannot run Mac OS 9 or Classic.

I hope this helps,