With the first release candidate (RC1) of Windows Vista on our doorsteps, some of its high-profile components are coming over to Windows XP too. One of these is Windows Media Player 11 (WMP11), which has just entered its second public beta version – download it from Microsoft.
The tabbed menus along the top are the same as in WMP10, save for the drop-down menus now attached to the bottom of them. It’s about all that remains of the previous interface, though, with the left-hand tree view simplified to a non-hierarchical listing by Album, Artist, Song, Genre, Year and Rating. More complex views can be accessed via menu commands.
The central section of the interface is now the key focus. In a break from the text-based approach of most other media players, WMP11 makes full use of album art. Assuming you’re reasonably organised, it’s a visual feast, making music selection a more intuitive exercise.
Best of all, this beta greatly improves on WMP10’s sluggish performance. Even on a library of 2500 albums, we could scroll up and down smoothly, and the ever-present search box returned accurate results in less than a second. There’s also better integration with media hardware, with Microsoft’s Media Connect server now built into Media Player rather than having to be manually configured.
It isn’t perfect – organising errant folders of files is a major pain (and just about impossible without a broadband Internet connection, which it uses to check your files against an online database), and there’s still no easy way of repairing playlists with renamed or missing files. You can at least paste missing album art into place now, though.
For those with larger libraries, the speed improvement is enough of
a feature to already make this a tempting download, and for anyone looking to inject life back into their music collection, WMP11 looks very promising indeed.