So long, Windows Media Player on OS X

by Chris Adamson

The first I saw of this story was when I got an upgrade-nag e-mail from Flip4Mac, which makes a QuickTime component to play, import, and/or encode Windows Media on Mac OS X (your feature set depending on how much you're willing to pay). What was so interesting was that the basic player was now free (down from $10), and being distributed on Microsoft's site.



Initial rumors that this represented a wholesale abandonment of Windows Media Player on the Mac seemed like an overreaction until Microsoft confirmed it.



So there are a couple points worth making here.



One: Flip4Mac is pretty good



At least as good as Microsoft's minimal-effort abandonware player, anyways. I sprung for a "studio" license in the previous version, which allows you to not only play non-DRM WM files, but also to import them into QuickTime, potentially for export into other formats. Here's an example of a Windows Media video from CNN.com, inside a web page (and thus, in the QuickTime plug-in):


image



Since I have QuickTime Pro (yeah, I paid for that too), I saved the file off to my hard drive and opened it up in QuickTime Player. Note the codecs in the info window (sorry about the scaling - maximum 450 pixel width on O'Reilly blogs), which say "Windows Media 9 Audio Standard" and "Windows Media 9 Video Standard":



image



It's pretty straightforward to export this out of Windows Media into better-supported standard formats, like MPEG-4. Here's the same file, following an "export to iPod":



image



Since Flip4Mac is a regular QuickTime component, it's available to other QuickTime apps too. Here's the original Windows Media file opened up in a sample code application from my book QuickTime for Java: A Developer's Notebook:



image



Then again, Flip4Mac giveth, but Flip4Mac taketh away too. Some Windows Media content that worked with the original player and plug-in don't work with Flip4Mac, including the live stream for KFOG-FM:



image



There are other things that neither Microsoft's player nor Flip4Mac can handle, though they're presumably functional on Windows. I picked up a fansub of the 40-episode anime series The Rose of Versailles (don't sue me - this series is never coming out in English), and unfortunately, the subbers chose to put many of the episodes in a hideous Frankenstein format: DivX/XviD video with Windows Media audio, in an AVI container. Yuck. VLC can play it, of course, but I'd like to import it into QuickTime in hopes of eventually getting it into a TV-friendly format like DVD.



Two: Thank goodness for QuickTime's component architecture



It's hard for people to get past the idea that QuickTime is more than a format, harder still to explain that its format is a container that can handle arbitrary contents (for example, you can have a .mov whose contents are, say, Windows Media video and AAC audio). So it's almost impossible to get people to understand that QuickTime is a media framework, and a crazy extensible one at that. With appropriate plug-in components, you can play all of the following in any QuickTime app:





There are others, including Apple's $20 playback-only MPEG-2 component and some third-party components listed on an Apple QuickTime Components page. Anyways, my point here is that QuickTime can be your one-stop media shop on the Mac.



Three: Is there hope for real standards?



Microsoft put Windows Media 9 into the standards process, where it was codified as VC-1. Anyone can pay a license fee and implement this standard. But, of course, Microsoft has proceeded onto WM 10, supported only by its OS and blessed devices. Does Microsoft's apparent inability to succeed with cross-platform Windows Media mean that other platforms don't matter, or that maybe real standards are going to win out, at least for those who care about getting their content out to the most viewers, and for viewers wanting access to the most content? Apple is heavily committed to MPEG-4 -- an "iPod video" is simply an MPEG-4 file with H.264 video and AAC audio -- and that's a format that is well-supported on computers and devices (hello, PSP owners!). On the quicktime-users list, Roger Howard saw the end of Windows Media for Mac as a sign of hope:




The upside for Quicktime is this: With Microsoft out of the way as a cross-platform media solutions vendor, and Real still struggling to get anyone to care, it would seem that Apple has a prime opportunity now to establish Quicktime as *the* cross-platform media delivery system, which will be quite desirable to a lot of content providers at this point. Of course we're still missing a set of DRM tools; if there was a better, smarter time for Apple to move on that front I can't imagine one.



Personally, I would take out "Quicktime" and insert "MPEG-4" above. If MPEG-4 succeeds, QuickTime will do just fine.



What do you think of the end of Windows Media on Mac?


17 Comments

qka
2006-01-16 12:07:15
Flip4Mac? No thank you.
qka
2006-01-16 12:10:40
Flip4Mac? No thank you.
What I meant to say....


I tried the free Flip4Mac player last week, on a PowerBook G4 with all the latest updates. It was buggy and caused Safari and Quicktime to crash after the first occasion of viewing Windows media. I removed it within a day of installation.


The Windows Media player, while feature poor, is at least stable.

mattfein
2006-01-16 12:18:20
Quicktime is everywhere
Don't forget that all those iPod users on Windows have Quicktime on their machines. And, with every update of iTunes, they get an update of Quicktime.
Andreas_Bachofen
2006-01-16 12:21:35
Fix
They fixed that with version 2.0.1. At least for me...
kollivier
2006-01-16 13:13:46
Converting Rose of Versailles
Great show, BTW. :-) It's really a shame it would never be licensed here, but the animation is old and oriented towards women, so it is certainly not targetted at the current (mostly teenage/young adult) anime market.


As for converting the files, have you tried converting the files using VLC? If you select File->Open File, then selecting the "Advanced Output" checkbox and clicking "Settings". A new dialog will appear, giving you options to output to file rather to to the screen, and to transcode the video/audio into mpeg format as well. It is a rather tedius and sluggish process, but the upside is that AFAIK VLC can do this for any content it can play.


With Mac sales growing at a brisk 40% or so per quarter, and MS abandoning support for the platform, I think we're going to see more people complaining to particular web sites about their choice of video formats. :-) I really think this is good news, rather than bad.

Rambling Sid Rumpold
2006-01-16 18:37:09
Windows Media Player and DRM
But.....where does that leave us Mac users who want to watch content controlled by the DRM component of WMP?


I had the faint hope that Microsoft might eventually get to implementing DRM in the Mac version. Without that happening, is there a solution which would allow viewing of DRM content, (which has been purchased legitimately)?


pele325
2006-01-17 07:29:05
Flip4Mac? No thank you.
I got the exact same results, and this was with the most recent version, downloaded just two days ago. Flip4Mac would cause Quicktie and Safari to crash any time a movie finished playing. It would work fine while the movie was playing, but as soon as it ended (or I stopped it) it would crash. It's garbage software that I recommend avoiding.
sjk
2006-01-17 22:11:11
Flip4Mac? Works fine for me
Did you even try 2.0.1, as Andreas_Bachofen suggested, before writing it off as "garbage software"?


Chris -- if you paid $10 for the original WMV Player that upgrade-nag e-mail has a coupon that'll get you a free upgrade to WMV Import if you register it through the System Preferences panel.

invalidname
2006-01-18 02:31:34
Flip4Mac? Works fine for me
Actually, I paid $50 for the original "Player Pro", which is now the $30 "Import" product. The upgrade-nag offered me a $20 coupon towards an upgrade to another version 2 product, but I don't really want to spend even more money to move up to their "Studio" product, which allows WMV export.
sjk
2006-01-19 10:51:41
Flip4Mac? Works fine for me
By upgrading from WMV Import (formerly Player Pro) to WMV Studio through System Preferences and applying the coupon you may have enough credit to get Studio for free. I'm guessing you'd qualify to pay for the price difference between the two, which the credit would cover, since you already have a valid serial#.


I had $30 credit when upgrading from Player (which I'd paid for) to Import, which confused me at first because the eSellerate page refused to accept my credit card# when I thought I had to pay $10.


Without any risk, you could try upgrading to Studio and omit your cc# to see if you qualify for upgrading without paying more.

invalidname
2006-01-19 11:14:38
Flip4Mac? Works fine for me
Wow. You're right. What you get from the upgrade coupon is confusing, but it was just enough to get me from Studio up to Studio Pro, meaning I can now export QuickTime to WMV with canned export values, but not with a custom selection of encoders and bitrates (which I guess is in Studio Pro HD).


Not that I think the world needs any more WMV files, of course.

invalidname
2006-01-19 11:27:39
Re: Converting Rose of Versailles
Thanks for the VLC suggestion. I haven't found a suitable combination of VLC-encodable codecs yet, but this approach appears well worth pursuing.


As for RoV skewing female... um, have you seen who's buying manga and going to cons nowadays? It's not guys who are making best-sellers of shoujo like "Fruits Basket". I think the problem for RoV is the age and dated animation, which is probably why we're never going to see "Galaxy Express 999" over here either.


--Chris

Violet_Khirot
2006-01-22 19:48:13
Re: Converting Rose of Versailles
My understanding was that English rights for RoV in any form were the very devil to obtain, particularly ever since the English-language live-action film failed. (That said, I'd be shocked if someone didn't procure the manga by the end of this year.)


As for 999, I wouldn't like to presume; Viz have the films, and nearly every single other Leijiverse property not already bound up in Saturday morning licensing hell has been procured.


We should, instead, be pursuing wide release of the dreadful Lady Oscar music video from Italy.


2006-01-29 16:43:46
Ok I have a new iMac with the Intel core duo and there is NOTHING out there for the new system that will play windows media, no medi player will work, nor will flip4mac. Go figure

2006-02-11 13:37:29
Yep I am in the same boat. I am also using the new mac with intel core. Flip4mac nor window media will work on this machine. It's rather fustrating. I just hope that some outlet comes out with a software that will allow us to use windows media plugins on the new mac's.
BlueBerry Pick'n
2006-05-25 18:48:02
I'm still having 'sticky icky' playback with my NEW MacMini I picked up a few weeks ago


I was hoping they would have cleaned up this app' problem before a new product (Intel Duo) release.
Very irritating.
BlueBerry Pick'n
can be found @
ThisCanadian.com
"Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"

BHEAE
2006-06-14 21:34:29
Flip4Mac does not work well on intel Macs. Atleast not yet but it is better than windows media player. The problem is that there are major web sites (URGE) and Yahoo who have hitched their lines only to Windows media player for much of their video content. I think it is time to COMPLAIN at every site you find that has only windows media as an option. So far Yahoo's and MTVs response has be "Too BAD" we do not support your platform! That to me is a major issue of freedom on the net and is playing right into Microsoft's monopoly. We as consumers have to stand up for our rights and demand things change or we shall call a boycott of such sites that do not give us options of players to view content. Asking for soledarity from our friends we use Windows as well to just avoid such sites and get them to use Quicktime and Real player options like we did with Firefox.