We created Veronicas Radio as a demo for one of the Windows Media Center Mix 06 talks to show off the flexibility of the new UI framework (Media Center Markup Language) we had in the works for Windows Vista. It was eventually cut from the talk because we created the Q sample application (a podcast client) which was much more feature rich.

Little historical fact: The experience is so named because Veronica Law, a Program Manager at the time with the Windows Media Center team requested we create a way to listen to a couple of internet radio stations -- so it was literally "Veronicas' radio" -- and the name stuck.

We made this application available for a short time to those who wanted to install using a command line interface (in other words, not very user friendly). Basically, it's a mash up of a couple of samples we would later publish in the Windows Media Center SDK -- specifically FunHelix.mcml and ObjectModelMediaCenterEnvironmentPlayMediaAudio.mcml in the Windows 7 version if you want to follow along.

A fan of Windows Media Center recently emailed me…

"I have Vista Media Center [upgraded from XP] and have recently been clearing out programs I no longer use. One I did use [and loved the look and style of] was Veronicas Radio.  However, it no longer works.  I think the website which was hosting the associated files was the The Media Center Sandbox pages but the page displayed in the .xml file no longer exists."

In response I dusted off and modified the markup, updated some of the radio stations (including KIRO FM 97.3 to be able to listen to Seattle Sounders FC soccer games), deployed to my web server and created an installer. This applet works for both Windows Vista and Windows 7 and is a web application – the installer only registers the URL with Windows Media Center.


I also remembered a small applet we thought about shipping within the Extras Library for Windows 7 called Time + Date but ultimately cut due to time constraints. This was inspired by the memory of my parents calling a local telephone number (using a rotary phone no less) to get the current time and temperature.

The screen shot shows it running with the Sanskrit language selected in Windows and is another good example of a simple copy+paste from SDK samples (RulesChanged.mcml, TransformersDateTimeTransformer.mcml and ObjectModelMediaCenterBackgroundModes.mcml) to come up with something fairly useful. This applet works with only Windows 7 and like Veronicas Radio is a web application.


In the process of getting these experiences out there I began to remember some of things we wanted to do like the 5.x releases of the SDK back in 2007. It has been nearly a year since I ended my involvement with Windows Media Center so thought it fitting to celebrate that wonderful product and platform by putting a small package of things together for developers which echoes some of those post shipping plans. It’s a sort of curtain call I’m referring to as the ‘Windows Media Center SDK for Windows 7 Addendum’ although it’s not officially from Microsoft.


Included in the zip file is…

  • A couple of new and updated loose MCML samples (mostly to fix up the URLs to the defunct play.mediacentersandbox.com).
  • Source code for the Sample Explorer application you find in the Extras Library after installing the SDK as well as the desktop browsing tool. This is a good example of one approach for creating a testing / automation framework for your own application.
  • Source code for Animation Explorer and Preview Tool Launcher desktop tools. The Preview Tool actually has a pretty robust automation model itself and this source shows you how to take full advantage for your own authoring tools.
  • Templates and source code for the Visual Studio 2008 templates included with the SDK. Follow the instructions in Readme.txt for use with Visual Studio 2010.
  • Web Application Installer Template used to create the installers for the above applets. They are fully compatible with the InstallApplication Method in Windows 7 and can be used to craft installers for http://madeformediacenter.com/m4mc/.
  • You can dig into the readme for more details on these resources.


Categories: Media Center Markup Language | Media Center SDK Code Sample | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:24:38 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I finished up fixing the last few bugs for PowerPlaylist 2 for Windows Media Center in Windows 7 and posted the installer and source to http://www.codeplex.com/powerplaylist. PowerPlaylist adds a start menu strip with up to five tiles to Windows Media Center in Windows 7. Each tile represents an audio, slideshow and / or visualization combination which will start when the tile is selected and is highly customizable by the consumer resulting in a highly personalized Windows Media Center experience.


Also included is the PowerPlaylist Editor which makes it really easy to modify the start menu strip name and individual tiles.



Categories: Extras | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 6:14:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   


Here’s why…

  • Windows Media Center always shipped that way. Even in the Windows XP Media Center Edition days when it was shipped ‘out of band’ every year it was still as a feature of Windows. Changing to a different development model is harder than most people think and brings more risk than might be necessary. Staying on this path allowed the Windows Media Center team to focus on shipping the next great set of features.
  • The distribution model is a big win both for customers (it’s right there) and the Windows Media Center team (it’s right there). There is the hurdle of hardware (think tuners and remote controls) but shipping standalone raises the hurdle higher. Hurdles, generally speaking, are bad for adoption and user friendliness.
  • I think the community would agree there are awareness problems with Windows Media Center – those would be compounded (multiplied) in a standalone application. Once the consumer becomes aware they can immediately begin using.
  • The engineering task to build as a standalone product could very easily double (perhaps even triple). Windows Media Center relies on a lot of technology built by other teams throughout Microsoft and the Windows organization (three that easily come to mind: Windows Media Player, .NET Framework, Home Group). Generally speaking, you naturally get the ‘latest, greatest stuff’ when you ship simultaneously.
  • Windows Media Center isn’t really all that unique when you think about it – more of an alternative user interface on features already present in Windows. Why force consumers to download / acquire something else?
  • The business model works out this way. Standalone would automatically mean much fewer resources which in turns means much fewer features. Some would argue that might be a good thing – feel free to leave a comment with an opinion. I think the key takeaway here is the resources might force you to cut features beyond what most of the market would consider ‘must have’ and make the overall value proposition much less.

I’d be interested in your opinion: Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?

Categories: Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [9] | # | Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:58:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Edit: I've locked the thread from further comments. The conversation got out of control with such negativity that it ceased to be helpful to those involved or the community.

Niall Ginsbourg posted this the other day…

“…unless you’re after some pretty specific (and less than useful) changes offered in the Win7 incarnation of this SDK – my best advice to developers would be to completely give this SDK a miss – and instead revert back to Vista Media Center SDK /along with Vista Dev platform (if you do plan on persisting with Media Center development).”

Bad advice. I mean really, really bad.

Windows 7 is generally accepted by the industry as a whole to be much better than Windows Vista. By the time all is said and done it will sell loads more copies and be much more prevalent than Windows Vista. The Windows Media Center platform has quite a few improvements for Media Center Markup Language (MCML) and the Managed Code Object Model which gives you the most seamless and elegant chance to have a great experience.

Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [10] | # | Posted on Saturday, August 22, 2009 1:48:39 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I got this question a lot when I was on the Windows Media Center team. Usually it assumes the enthusiast market is an undesirable place to be and I never agreed with that position. Reading Chris Anderson’s 'The Long Tail' convinced me of that a long time ago.

Before I give my answer let me define 'beyond the enthusiast market' for the purposes of this post: I consider items like televisions, DVD players, cars, computers and phones as things which have gone beyond the enthusiast market. Leave a comment to tell us how your definition might be different.

My answer: It's possible, but highly unlikely at this point.

Products which become mainstream are usually very simple in nature to use (televisions, DVD players, phones) or are complex yet fundamentally market changing over a very long period of time (cars, computers).

The user interface for Windows Media Center greatly simplifies the enjoyment of core media experiences (music, pictures, videos, TV) but underneath the covers it's highly complex. It's also very complex to setup for most mainstream consumers for two big reasons (among several smaller ones)...

  1. It's an interface designed for and best used on a television with a remote control. The mainstream market doesn't typically place a computer next to their television.
  2. The unique core value proposition* is the digital video recorder functionality. Getting the TV signal to the computer is a challenge for the mainstream market.

The Windows Media Center team did a fantastic job of overcoming the first hurdle (co-location with a TV) with the introduction of the Extender. At the same time it also introduced another barrier: the home network. Throw in the fact the mainstream market doesn't have Ethernet jacks in every room next to their TV. This requires a high availability wireless network to push lots of [HD] video around which presents yet another hurdle.

So, given it's relative complexity can it be one of those fundamentally market changing items over a long period of time?

Probably not. Windows Media Center had its genesis with the coax cable (referring back to its unique value proposition) and it was a game changer in that context. There were many others doing broadcast TV on a computer long before Windows Media Center. Windows Media Center brought a scale and awareness not seen before.

As with many things (especially in technology) the market around it dramatically changed. The game changed.

To remain relevant (and become mainstream) in a market where the internet will increasingly be the dominant way of getting nearly all forms of commercial content the Windows Media Center team must fully embrace the internet rather than simply leveraging. Over the course of Windows 7 development the equivalent of three people (one each PM, Dev, Test) on the platform team tried to do just that with the Data Access Model Items, Media Collection and Page Model, Navigation and State API work. Another relatively small team continued to crank out the Internet TV features for customers in the United States. By comparison a significant number of resources continued to work on the traditional TV pipes paradigm (broadcast, cable, satellite) for Windows 7. In a nutshell, very little embracing.

All that said…

I do believe Windows Media Center has paved the way for much richer, elegant and interactive experiences for the television beyond what game consoles are offering today. It gives the mainstream market a glimpse of just how powerful the next wave (or two) of internet connected devices in our home might become in the future. I challenge folks all the time to tell me what other distributed audio / video / photo system has as much bang for the buck. It's a pretty hard value to beat. Nothing else on the market allows me to enjoy all of ‘my’ content (personal and commercial) in such an elegant AND affordable way. Leave a comment if you believe you have a worthy contender.

It may be niche, but the niche sure is sweet!

And because of that I’m quite bullish on the future prospects despite the hurdles faced. Like you, I’m now waiting to see what comes next while I enjoy what I have today.

Got a question about Windows Media Center for someone who worked on it once upon a time?Ask on Twitter via @charlieo.

* The unique thing about Windows Media Center compared to other features which ship with Windows is the digital video recorder and electronic programming guide. Most (if not all) of the other key features (photos, videos, music) have equivalents on the desktop.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [30] | # | Posted on Friday, August 21, 2009 7:49:13 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

The Windows Media Center team posted the RTM version of the Windows Media Center Software Development Kit 6.0 for Windows 7 to the following location.


You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

Kudos goes to Niall Ginsbourg for breaking the news.

Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Sunday, August 16, 2009 9:24:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

We just posted the release candidate of the Windows Media Center Software Development Kit 6.0 for Windows 7 – same url as the beta release:

[Hyperlink Removed] The RC release has been superseded by the RTM release. Visit this post for the download location.

You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

Note to developers: For all intents and purposes we are done with Windows 7 – if you want to report issues (application compatibility or otherwise) you should immediately grab the Windows 7 Release Candidate and this SDK and test, test, test – last call! :-)

Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Saturday, May 16, 2009 12:24:32 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

This has been available for beta testers via Connect for a while now and we *finally* got it posted for everyone else.

[Hyperlink Removed] The RC release has been superseded by the RTM release. Visit this post for the download location.

And for those of you who are interested in working with the WTV format we introduced last year…

Consumption of a WTV file in DirectShow

You can leave feedback here or chat about it over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

Categories: Software Development Kit | Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Friday, February 13, 2009 6:50:40 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

If you are an application developer on Windows Media Center you've probably experienced some pain with our Details view of the stack trace, mostly because you can't copy + paste nor see the entire stack traces if it is over a certain length. Starting in Windows 7 you can now launch Event Viewer and navigate to the Applications and Services Logs > Media Center node to see these stack traces. For example, the screenshot below is what you would see if you ran the MarkupDebugging.mcml sample within Windows Media Center and pressed the button labeled 'Crash The Application'. Note this is independent of the EnableErrorDetails registry key enabling the 'Details' button on the dialog end users see when an application crashes -- this event will always be written. This log file is one of those gathered with the Media Center Diagnostic Tools I posted about here making it really helpful to communicate your applications crashes to us during the beta.

Categories: Tools | Windows Media Center | Debugging | Comments [0] | # | Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2009 12:44:23 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I'm really, really glad our team did the work to make these publicly available. The Media Center Diagnostic Tool gathers a lot of pertinent information very useful to the team in troubleshooting issues with Windows Media Center. If you ever file a bug report during the beta or are working with someone at Microsoft to determine what's happening it's a good idea to have these tools installed and take a snapshot of your system to share with the person helping you.

Media Center Diagnostic (MCDiag) Tool [x64]

Media Center Diagnostic (MCDiag) Tool [x86]

Categories: Tools | Windows Media Center | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2009 12:26:58 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

If there is one technical oriented blog you should read it has to be Scott Hanselman. This morning I read Be Aware of DPI with Image PNGs in WPF - Images Scale Weird or are Blurry and instantly went 'gee willikers'. Most of the images you use with Media Center Markup Language (MCML) will be in the PNG format if they are part of your <UI> if for no other reason you can embed alpha transparency information within the PNG (which you can't with JPEG or GIF). On a whim I ran the PNG assets we ship with the SDK sampler through PNGOUT and found an average file size savings of just above 50%. This can be a pretty significant size savings for resources in assemblies but can be even more important / significant for web experiences due to bandwidth costs (both in terms of hosting / bandwidth dollars AND perceived responsiveness by the user.

I highly encourage you to click through (and subscribe) to Scotts blog, but if you want the quick tools here is what I used:

PNGOUT (Command Line) http://www.advsys.net/ken/utils.htm

PNGGauntlet (GUI) http://brh.numbera.com/software/pnggauntlet/

Categories: Media Center Markup Language | Tools | Windows Media Center | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Tuesday, January 6, 2009 8:13:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

The Media Center team periodically posts a hardware survey to Microsoft Connect in order to update their records of potential beta testers.

By completing the survey below, you will automatically been entered into a pool of potential testers we can select from. If you are chosen as a Media Center beta tester, we will follow-up with an email when a beta will be available.

Please take a moment to complete the following instructions to access this survey.

1.       Go to http://connect.microsoft.com.

2.       Please enter the following invitation code on the Connect main page, where it says “Were you invited to join Connect?”:


3.       Complete Survey. On the question where it asks for your greenbutton.com screen name please enter 'SANDBOX: ' plus your user name at discuss.mediacentersandbox.com.

You are only allowed to complete this survey once.

Please chose just one (1) dedicated PC for testing when responding to this survey.

If you experience any issues accessing this survey, please contact wmcbeta@microsoft.com.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 9:44:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

If you are attending the 2008 Professional Developers Conference you received a pre-beta Windows 7 build today (6801) which contains many features the Windows Media Center team has been developing over the past year. It’s my pleasure to take a few minutes to outline some of these new features for you. If you install this build do keep in mind it’s considered an ‘Alpha’ experience meaning some features may not be polished or work quite as well as they will in the final product AND things may change (mostly for the better we hope) between now and beta and RTM. So let's jump right in...

Start Menu

Start Menu

The Start Menu gets a subtle refresh both in text treatment and iconography size. You can now see more items at any given time without feeling cluttered, and the readability has really improved. The new Start Menu is also designed to always overlay the current playing experience so it stays in one place. Another thing you will notice is it now remembers your last location strip between sessions (prior versions always launched to the TV + Movies strip).

Now Playing

We got a lot of complaints about the postage stamp size of the video thumbnail for Now Playing in Windows Vista. You’ll be pleased to note it has returned to its larger size in Windows 7 -- no more squinting! Another thing you will notice in this screen capture is the tile title has been moved out of the focusable rectangle -- we can now do much longer names as a result (a great usability enhancement for international versions of Windows Media Center where the languages make for really long titles).


The user friendliness and design ethos really moves a notch up, especially for those with large libraries. [Note: Some of the user experience enhancements transcend any singular Windows Media Center area – I’ll introduce them throughout this post and try to note when the feature is shared.]

Music Library With Album Art Alternatives

Do you have obscure albums with no album art available? In prior versions all of these would have a blue background + white text. With Windows 7 we mix it up a bit with random colors for these which makes them ‘blend in’ with your other album art for the Music Library gallery.

Music Details

Details is another shared feature throughout the product. You can think of details as a slide deck which puts much used features closer to your fingertips compared to prior versions. You move left and right to switch between panes and up and down to select items on that pane. This really bubbles up features which have been less than discoverable in the past.

Music Now Playing Animation In

 Music Now Playing Interactive Mode

Music Now Playing received a large makeover and I think you are really going to like it. When you start playback of music you navigate to the Now Playing page as in prior versions. After a while we fade out the action items and animate your album art into a slowly scrolling wall of covers and occasionally switch the currently playing album cover and metadata. When you press a button on the remote or move the mouse we bring back the action items and keep the wall of covers up in the background.

Music Rating Shortcuts

Rating your content has never been easier in Windows Media Center. By enabling Rating Shortcuts you can press the 1 through 5 buttons on the remote or keyboard to rate the music (or picture as this is one of the shared features) in real time.

Music Turbo Scroll

Those folks with large music libraries will *really* like what we call ‘Turbo Scroll’ – another shared feature. When you hold down the left or right remote control buttons for a while we transition into an interface which presents the content in alphabetical chunks. Letting go of the button when you see the letter combination you want will immediately take you to that position in your library.

Music Shared Library

Shared Libraries are built on top of the Home Group features in Windows 7 and is a shared feature across Music, Pictures, Videos and Recorded TV. Folks who have been clamoring for ‘Softsled’ will very much enjoy this feature as it allows you to peruse and enjoy content from multiple computers on your home network. In this screen capture I’m demonstrating how I can select my local music library or that shared by another user on my network named ‘Ethel’ on a computer named ‘Laptop’. Once selected, I can browse Ethels content in Windows Media Center.


Photo enthusiasts have much to enjoy in Windows 7 in Windows Media Center – like music, the usability goes up a notch or two.

Ambient Slide Show Start

Ambient Slide Show Zoom

There is a new Ambient Slideshow which will launch as a screen saver as well as when you invoke the new Play Favorites on the Start Menu. This pulls from your pictures rated 3 stars or higher. This slideshow features some nice zoom out (first screenshot) and zoom in animations (second screenshot) as well as slideshows within slideshows (kind of hard to explain -- it makes sense once you watch this new feature in action). If you are a photography fan and want to enjoy your pictures in an unstructured way you are going to really like this feature.

Here is a view of the enhanced Picture Library. I'll draw your attention to the Ratings, Slide Shows and Shared pivots -- all new for Windows 7. Ratings allow you to sort by rating (0-5 stars) like you can with tags we added in Windows Vista. Shared inherits the Shared Library in common with Music, Videos and Recorded TV. On the Slide Shows pivot you can play back slideshows...

...created with the new Slideshow Creator -- one of my favorite features. You can choose pictures or music in the creator and save the results for later playback.

Picture Library Turbo Scroll

Turbo Scroll also puts in an appearance for Pictures for a nice enhancement in large libraries – hold down the left or right buttons on the remote to transition into a user experience which allow you to fast forward through pictures – let go of the button to move to that point in the gallery. I’ll take a moment to note the static screen captures here don’t really do Turbo Scroll justice – the animations are quite nice!

Picture Details

Picture Details bubbles up many of the simple photo editing features in Windows Media Center as well as allows you to rate the picture.

Slideshow in Start Menu Now Playing

In prior versions the slideshow disappeared from view when you pressed the Green Button and the only way to return was to use the back button (if the slideshow was still on the backstack) or go back through the library to start fresh. Now the slideshow is persisted as an experience in Now Playing including picture transitions – you can select to easily return back to the full screen slideshow. [That’s me taking on Ruby Beach taking pictures – shameless self-promotion, sorry.]


I've elected to not take any screenshots for this section -- not much has changed visually for this feature, so I'll just enumerate what's new from a functionality perspective.

  • The Video Library, like Pictures, Music and Recorded TV gets the Shared Library feature so you can enjoy content from other computers on your network.
  • H.264 playback is now supported out of the box with Windows 7 -- including on Media Center Extenders – both standalone hardware implementations AND on the XBox 360 when in Extender mode. I know a few people on http://www.thegreenbutton.com who will rejoice. ;-)
  • Video Play All allows you to play all of the videos in a specific gallery in a continuous play list – you can now easily excite the neighbors with your vacation and home videos one after the other!
  • Videos now have parity with Recorded TV in the area of bookmarks – you can now resume previously played videos where you left off.


For starters, you get all of the enhancements made available with the TV Pack (including those for United States customers). For more information on the TV Pack check out this post at The Green Button: http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/thread/282555.aspx. If you recall, the TV Pack was designed to enable TV standards in Asia and Europe. There are some nice additions in this area for Windows 7...


When you move your mouse you will notice the seek bar looks a little different. It's now 'clickable' which will take you to that relative position in the content. Many folks use the mouse with Windows Media Center and this feature has been wanted by that group for a while. [Note: This also works for content in the Video Library.]

When Recorded TV (or video) is playing and you press the right or left arrow buttons you get the Now Playing experience which bubbles up features and functionality previously buried behind the More Information button (like Zoom) or Settings (Captions) as well as information and details (like related content) from the guide. (Those of you with access to Internet TV in the United States may find this familiar -- an earlier incarnation of this approach was used for that experience.)

Not much has changed in the Recorded TV gallery from a look and feel standpoint, but this screen capture does show the new 'All Content' view available with Shared Libraries. If you have multiple Windows Media Center enabled PCs in the house you can now enjoy that content across the network on those computers without going to great lengths to hack registries and apply folder sharing voodoo.

Selecting a Recorded TV show will bring up the new Details experience -- as with other experiences in this shared feature, go left and right to switch between panes.

Here is the guide in Turbo Scroll mode (hold down the left or right arrow button on your remote control or keyboard). Note the correct high definition channel mapping from the TV Pack as well as the [ HD ] logo embedded in the grid entries.

Selecting an item in the guide also brings up the new details. Note the new [ HD ] logo which helps you identify high definition content. The slide and pane metaphor really begins to shine with TV (and movies) because it does such a great job of putting resources once buried across many screens 'closer' to you.


You'll notice the Movies experience has now been given a strip of its own with a few enhancements.

The improved Movies Guide has an [ HD ] pivot which makes finding that visual fidelity much easier.

Movie Details again brings many layers of pages into a single location -- it's now much easier to jump around and find related content.


We've listened to our developers and I'm happy to announce a new feature called 'Extras' which will be replacing Online Media. I'll have a post out in the next couple of days with more information on this 'still in the planning phase' feature. As part of the rethinking of this area of the produce we've greatly simplified the gallery to make it much more user friendly. Gone are the myriad of [seemingly random] pivots (which were really filters). Now this gallery behaves much like the others in the product whereby the pivots are sorts and all of your applications are represented in each view.

I don’t really have a screen capture of this next one but it’s worth noting: Application developers (more for you folks in a separate post) will be happy to know we’ve increased the number of custom Start Menu strips to a maximum of 20 (up from only 2 in Windows Vista).

On Screen Keyboard

Any time you need to perform text entry we've got a new on screen keyboard for your enjoyment. This feature alone will bring much 'Spousal Acceptance Factor' to your Windows Media Center experience. [Bonus: This same exact on screen keyboard is available for developers to invoke from their applications.]


This is the gadget in its default configuration allow you to play your favorite music, slideshow (3 stars or better) or both. You can click the green button to launch Windows Media Center.

If you've configured TV and recorded shows they will appear in the order they are recorded. The gadget can also include content from the Internet TV feature.

Here are the gadget settings. Turning off Internet TV and New Recorded TV will return the gadget to it's default, out of box configuration.

Well, that's it for now -- there are other features in the build I've not covered here. If you discover one and want to know more let me know and I'll try to post additional information.

I hope you've enjoyed this walk through of Windows Media Center in the PDC Build of Windows 7. We've been busting at the seams to share what we've been working on these past months and are still hard at work making this the best version to date. We welcome any feedback you'd like to provide or questions you'd like to ask.

Categories: Windows 7 | Windows Media Center | Comments [82] | # | Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 4:00:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Note: I can't answer or comment on any of them until the official announcements happen at CEDIA. But I can think about the answers before then. :-) If you have specific questions about the Windows Media Center TV Pack leave them in the comments.

Update: Ben Reed answers some of your questions over at http://thegreenbutton.com/forums/thread/282555.aspx.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [64] | # | Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2008 6:45:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

You might have noticed I very rarely (if at all, come to think about it) post about applications written by others for Media Center here. This is mostly to keep a sense of impartiality -- I don't ever want to play favorites when it comes to folks who use the platform I help create. I'm just tickled pink anytime I discover a new experience -- they are all great as far as I am concerned!

I'm going to make an exception here and lift my self imposed ban to point you to HeatWave Weather. I installed it earlier today, ran it through its features and found it works well. There are a few small issues but nothing major -- I'm sure James would like to get some additional testers and feedback -- if being able to check the weather forecast is high on your list for things to do in Media Center this experience is highly satisfactory.

Here's why I'm lifting the ban...

As far as I know James was the very first developer outside of Microsoft and the Media Center team to dig in and learn about what was to become known as Media Center Markup Language. Here's the kicker: He did so using the internal interfaces present in Windows XP Media Center Edition back in early 2005. I was amazed this guy was able to figure it all out without any documentation, samples or tools. The learning curve is pretty steep on MCML even with all of the resources we give you in the SDK, so what James was able to accomplish at the time was pretty amazing. He was a little ahead of the curve -- we were just a few months away from making the MCML + managed code platform available in the Windows Vista beta where we could officially support the development paradigms he discovered. James graciously agreed to pull that incarnation of HeatWave (then called 'My Weather') and the developer documentation he created telling others how to do the same. At the time I think this was somewhat disconcerting for James -- he gained a lot of positive attention by peeling back the curtain to reveal the inner workings. Since that time I've made it a point to watch his user name at http://www.thegreenbutton.com/ (MCExtended) for any signs he would return to the what we now know as Media Center Markup Language.

Congratulations, James -- and welcome back. :-)

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:14:37 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I'll admit it somewhat irks me we shipped games inside of the Program Library which shell out to their own executables and don't run at all on Media Center Extenders (luckily they don't show up on those devices taunting the user with hollow promises). I reinstall multiple times per week on multiple machines and finally got tired of them so took a moment to 'solve' the problem. If you'd like to get rid of them yourself follow these simple directions...

1) Launch Notepad.

2) Copy + Paste the following:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{3C1BB651-D564-46a7-99BA-8D40BCB6FA7D}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{48095937-BA42-4bb6-9869-EBAC2229D3AF}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{4F5AC696-6D21-4dac-BC8B-8287245B2A13}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{866BD81A-F32D-4b44-830A-F5C37585CB9D}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{A897807C-6278-46bc-B973-9DD1DE8551DF}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{B4C403DA-6240-4070-80F1-1B1689FF301F}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Applications\{F755EA7F-777E-498f-831D-E3F3F6FDA018}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{115EADF1-41C4-471b-8FE5-7A52B91BFE75}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{13FCBFA9-499D-417c-95BB-71DF7980BEB5}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{1F3BD1B5-7323-4ec0-A518-47FF6B1DDC46}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{6B51FBA8-28D5-45d4-BEE8-A9715F724D39}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{76CA43A7-7878-4c7b-BC8B-BE0CAB71ACE8}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{C99561F0-BEC8-4af4-9926-40BB79D34B07}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Categories\Services\Games\{DD4B1666-AA76-4979-9130-EC9D6F8FE52E}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{115EADF1-41C4-471b-8FE5-7A52B91BFE75}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{13FCBFA9-499D-417c-95BB-71DF7980BEB5}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{1F3BD1B5-7323-4ec0-A518-47FF6B1DDC46}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{6B51FBA8-28D5-45d4-BEE8-A9715F724D39}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{76CA43A7-7878-4c7b-BC8B-BE0CAB71ACE8}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{C99561F0-BEC8-4af4-9926-40BB79D34B07}]
[-HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Extensibility\Entry Points\{DD4B1666-AA76-4979-9130-EC9D6F8FE52E}]

3) Save as 'RemoveGamesFromMediaCenterLibrary.reg'. (Make sure you have a .reg extension, otherwise it's a plain text file).

4) Double-click the newly created reg file.

5) Click the Yes button in the Registry Editor warning dialog box.

6) Click the OK button in the Registry Editor success dialog.

As is the norm, I make no guarantees -- editing the registry can be dangerous business.

If you have an opinion one way or another about these games (Love / Hate) leave a comment -- we are listening. :-)

Categories: Registry | Windows Media Center | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2008 2:29:05 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I guess you could say 'I'm back' with this post. Of course, I've probably chosen one of the most polarizing and passionate issues I've every seen in the community. Hopefully this helps put some context around the various discussions and helps you see we take great care to deliver the right features at the right time. Some caveats are in order to set your expectations accordingly...

  • I set out to independently look at this feature from a historical perspective only.
  • I did not consider personal content and focused solely on commercial content. I recognize the desire to account for personal content -- but also see numerous solutions to get that content into a form which can be consumed by our feature for personal content (the Video Library). Largely, I think personal content is worthy of a separate discussion.
  • I do not work on any of the following features: DVD playback, Movies Library, Media Center Extender. Nor am I involved with television / movie partnerships directly. As owner of platform for Windows Media Center I interact with just about every consumer and partner of the Media Center team in some form or fashion -- suffice it to say I don't drive any specific partnerships directly.
  • I can certainly advocate a particular direction on behalf of the community but have zero ownership of any areas which can actually cause this feature to be implemented. As always, I make it a point to direct feature owners to the community for feedback -- so be sure to leave a comment here or at thegreenbutton.com.
  • I made a conscious effort to NOT consult with the aforementioned teams while looking into the issues surrounding this feature request. I set out on this endeavour for a fresh, independent view and analysis of the issues to either (a) advocate strongly on behalf of the community we should implement this feature at some point and / or (b) give the community some deeper understanding of why we haven't.

This post should NOT be interpreted in any way, shape or form as insight or guidance on future features in Windows Media Center.

So, here is my take on a DVD streaming feature in no particular order...

1) The usage models for television and movie content is very different from music.

We are talking about 1+ hour audio and video content vs. 3 minutes aural only. It's common for end users to multitask with music but not with television or movies. For television and movies the end user is a captive audience. It's a stretch to say consumers are really clamoring for this capability since in reality they don't switch out discs often enough or consume nearly as much television / movie content in one stretch.

2) Sneakernet is good enough.

From a whole home audio / visual perspective it's a great feature to consider when bringing every scrap of content I have into a single user interface. The reality is we probably aren't solving even a small problem for the broad consumer market -- sneakernet is still awfully convenient for this class of content. There might be a tipping point for this content (as there was for ripped CDs) from the perspective of storage space + tools but I don't think it's happened yet (and you could argue it might not happen).

3) It's pretty rare we choose to build new features for a shrinking market.

"The home video market peaked in 2004 and has declined every year since." See http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/homeentertainment/la-fi-dvd16-2008jun16,0,1267133.story for more information. Note: There is probably an uptick in this market due to BluRay releases -- how much of an upswing is still to be determined. Think about this: The DVD format was released in March 1997 -- if we had wanted to hit the market BEFORE its apex with this feature it would have had to be in the very first version (2002) and certainly no later than the second version (2003).

4) It's a niche market.

It's interesting to note none of the big players (HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba) offer any sort of DVD library software built for Media Center today (they have in the past) while the smaller OEMs (like Niveus) have done so -- this suggests the market for this feature is indeed niche. You can certainly argue the big guys are completely clueless. I'd reply it's hard to be a market leader and be completely clueless.

5) There are more important destinations on the roadmap.

There are more features than just television and movie playback. The idea of DVD streaming has been on the list of potential features for a very long time -- and the collective wisdom of the entire team has always prioritized it lower than any feature you currently see in the product. It's not as though we've completely ignored the feature or don't get the value proposition. Rather, we've collectively seen more value in other features.

6) Standard definition DVD is not the last removable media format for television / movie content.

HD-Audio and SACD crashed and burned fairly quickly because audio CDs were viewed as good enough for the regular consumer -- as was their lower fidelity MP3 cousins (and hence the rise of Napster, iTunes and others). BluRay could be the final removable media for television shows and movies -- only time will tell. The success of CD ripping and putting together a library of tracks was in part due to the fact there wasn't a significantly better product on the horizon. The market conditions do not yet exist for television and movie shiny discs -- most people can clearly see a benefit between SD and HD video content. Finally, the tipping point of storage + tools for BluRay is farther away than standard definition DVDs.

7) There are differences of opinion on what constitutes DVD streaming.

Is it the entire DVD (including interactivity) or just the long form show or movie? What about the short form content (Making Of)...? Interactive features can prove troublesome to implement in the 'streaming DVD' concept for standard definition DVDs -- and even more so for BluRay discs. There hasn't yet been a clear winner for this definition.

8) There are (significant) legal issues to overcome.

These have been discussed ad nauseum -- MPAA, DMCA, Copyright, Fair Use, etc. Suffice it to say this part of the problem is very complex and costly to resolve -- and an intertwining of stakeholders few consumers grasp.

9) There are (significant) business model issues to resolve.

In a nutshell, we must attempt to please both the content owners and the content consumers. Content owners don't want to give up their current business model until a better one is firmly established. Note the content owners specifically do NOT want a replacement business model, and would rather it be in addition to the current business model. Content consumers could care less about the content owners business model because the overwhelming majority do not realize any direct financial gain from that business model. Rock | Microsoft | Hard Place.

10) In time this is almost surely going to become a moot point.

The online subscription and purchase models (examples: Netflix, Zune Pass, iTunes) will continue to get richer over time -- note the Netflix via XBox Live announcement a few days ago as further proof. If the goal is to have access to every movie or television show made imagine if you will a time when you can pay $X per month with unlimited access to the content. Your guess is as good as mine when this will happen -- I'd say somewhere under 20 years -- and probably sooner, if the music space is any indication of how quickly the playing field can change.

11) The previous incarnation of a DVD library didn't sell.

I'm speaking of the DVD changer -- there were a precious few early adopters who gobbled these up but the reality is it hasn't been overly successful. The cause for DVD streaming could have been helped had there been overwhelming demand for these devices. I'll concede this was not what the community wanted which is why it didn't sell.

12) There is no pre-existing infrastructure on which to build.

The reality is there are many Media Center features built on top of work done by other teams here at Microsoft. For example: the music features leverage a ton of infrastructure built by the Windows Media Player team. It's much easier to deliver features when a good chunk of the work is already done before you start your investments.

13) This is an area where the OEMs can elect to differentiate.

I'm not sure anyone can prove a ripped DVD library is anywhere close to mainstream. (And yes, you can point out someone said the same thing about the whole iTunes + iPod model). Typically, Microsoft does not invest in a feature until it becomes mainstream. (Yes, there are pros and cons, and a few exceptions -- note I'm not making a value judgement on the wisdom of this approach here.) This is definitely an area where OEMs (both big and small) can provide differentiation between each other given the niche market. Generally speaking, it's a healthy thing to allow OEMs to innovate.

In summary... well, that's really up to you. I've tried mostly to present facts and want to leave the conclusion up to you. I do have some questions which might stimulate your thinking in this area:

• What do you think is the largest factor? What about the smallest factor?
• What reasons would you give in support of a DVD streaming feature?
• What do you think about the lack of technical hurdles?
• Is there anything you think I've missed as a blocker?

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [25] | # | Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 11:57:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

One of my favorite bloggers, Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame has just posted Building Your Own Home Theater PC. Adding to his numbers, if you add a SilverStone case ($100), Seagate 500GB SATA drive ($110) (both from http://www.newegg.com as are Jeff's components) and you've got yourself a pretty nice HTPC for around $460 sans the operating system and tuner card(s) of your choice. Anybody remember the days when a single tuner Windows Media Center box first came out for $2,500 and was OEM only?

My, how times have changed. :-)

Categories: Windows Media Center | Home Theater | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2008 2:22:03 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I thought this was pretty cool...

If you are in the USA launch Windows Media Center > TV + Movies > Internet TV > Top Picks > Super Bowl Ads.

I thought the Bridgestone ad with Alice Cooper and Richard Simmons cameos was pretty funny.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Internet TV | Comments [6] | # | Posted on Monday, February 4, 2008 11:12:56 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

A blogging friend stopped by my office this morning and one of the first questions was: Where have you been with your blogging as of late?

He is about the 6th person to ask -- so, it's probably about time to give you some explanation.

First, nearly the entire month of October 2007 was devoted to weighing an opportunity I had to join another fantastically great team here at Microsoft. Imagine being given the choice of two huge lollipops both of which are your favorite flavors -- the proverbial kid in a candy store analogy. One of the choices is the team which produces Windows Media Center (I'm a big fan). The other was a team and a hiring manager for whom I have a large amount of respect. In the end, I chose to stay here on the Windows Media Center team -- I didn't feel as though I was quite done with this product and the things I personally want it to do for customers. The move to the other team would have also created a new period of professional relationship building -- I felt I had put my family through that enough with our move to the Pacific Northwest back in mid-2004 (more about that later). It was an *incredible* experience and I'm very glad I took the time to explore a change in career direction. I am very grateful for the advice offered from close friends both internal and external to Microsoft (you know who you are). The only downside is it left me quite a bit frazzled from a career standpoint -- I simply didn't have the energy to post here on the blog during October or the month that followed.

Second, I basically took the month of December 2007 as vacation. I mean a real (almost) complete disconnect from work related things -- this is rare -- just ask my co-workers who find me replying to emails while on vacation. Postings by me on places like http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com even dropped off quite sharply. Our family traveled back to the East coast to see family and friends and I made a concerted effort to stay offline. When we returned I picked up some sort of flu bug which had me out of work for a complete week, with another two weeks of recovery time during which I didn't have a whole lot of energy. I haven't been that sick in probably 15 years. So, that explains December 2007 and most of January 2008.

Third, it was an incredibly busy time during all of these months (October 2007 - December 2008) from a day job perspective (most blogging is done on nights / weekends). Yes, we are working on the next version of Windows -- no surprise there. The ebb and flow of program management happened to be really flowing instead of ebbing during this time (not that there is much of an ebb anytime here at Microsoft, but there times when it is less busy than normal). I'd like to think I did a pretty good job of managing things, especially given the career churn in October outlined above. But several things had to 'give way' -- and blogging was one of them. And... I can't just blog about what happens in the day job -- no matter how much Mary Jo really wishes I would.

Fourth, I really took a good, hard look during October - December to think about my community involvement, including posting here. There are so many good and great things about blogging -- but one of the few drawbacks is it's really a scattershot method of communication, and the conversations it fosters can amplify the noise. What starts off in one distinct direction can be randomized into multiple other directions far removed from the original. These conversations demonstrate this to be wholly true. I literally worked through each and every comment on those two posts and created a list of feature requests. The list was *incredibly* long and I came to the realization there was absolutely no way I could personally make all of those things happen -- I found this to be incredibly frustrating because I really do like to take action on your feedback. As a result, I decided the posts weren't that incredibly helpful or useful except to allow the community to vent their frustrations. They were way too broad to start, and only got broader as the conversation continued.

Add to that much of the posting here is done on my personal time and took away from family activities. Family is everything. (Some of you are probably thinking: 'Well, DUH! It's amazing how easy it is to lose sight of the obvious.). The sacrifice they made to allow me to take my 'dream job' in 2004 was incredible. My wife and daughters deserve for me to be home physically AND mentally. I've reached a point where a lot of the heavy lifting of establishing myself on a new team is done in many respects -- I can now restore work-life balance to, well, balance. I've made a commitment to them to really be home when I'm home, and I'm beginning to see those dividends return to me in lots of ways. As a result posting here, a majority of which took place when I was at home, will naturally be lessened. Case in point, I'm writing this while at work today instead of tonight at home as was the usual. :-) That feels *really* good from a father and husband perspective.

So, where does that leave us...?

I've decided there will be less broad communication here on the blog and more engagement with individuals in the community on a personal level this year. I'm going to invest my time with a deliberate and constrained group of people, mostly around how our product can be better for all. Some of those direct one:one projects are already underway and you should see the reports on some of them out here in the blogosphere at some point. I'll link to those as folks decide to chat about them publicly, and that's where the majority of my postings for this year will originate. I'll also be making it a point to spend more time with our Community Dev Experts over on http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com. Finally, any extra brain cycles I have outside of working hours will be spent making in-depth resources available for Windows Media Center customers for the next version.

In a nutshell: I'm hoping less here becomes more in a real, tangible sense for Windows Media Center customers.

Categories: Be Smart | Blog | Career | Windows Media Center | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 9:39:56 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

If you read my blog and are a Media Center enthusiast you've no doubt read the comments attached to And It Has Media Center Extender Built In. I'm going to head up an effort here at Microsoft between the Media Center, XBox and Zune teams to give you a set of resources which help you put our products together and begin to realize the 'Connected Home' dream. It will probably start out as a whitepaper -- it *might* include things like scripts or tools -- but don't hold me to the latter. Along the way I'm almost sure we will find areas of improvement, and you have my word we will file bugs or feature requests to consider what we can do in future versions to make life better.

But first, I need your help to make sure we cover the scenarios. Here is what we have so far -- would you add any others...?

1) Standalone Windows Media Center machine.
2) Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Experiences.
3) Windows Media Center + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
4) Windows Media Center + Windows Home Server + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
5) Multiple Windows Media Center machines + Windows Home Server + XBox 360 Media Center Extender(s).
6) Zune added to any of the above.

Categories: Media Center Extender | Windows Home Server | Windows Media Center | XBox 360 | Zune | Connected Home | Comments [50] | # | Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2007 6:08:43 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I can't believe Chris posted the press release but didn't go nuts around the fact the new XBox 360 Arcade has the same great Media Center Extender built in as all of its predecessors. I was happily surprised to note these have HDMI on board -- there is a LOT of bang for buck this Christmas in this new arcade SKU for consumers. Kudos to the XBox team for making it happen!

Categories: Media Center Extender | Windows Media Center | XBox 360 | Comments [65] | # | Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 9:28:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

The day after the geek dinner Scott Hanselman and I sat down to chat about developing for Windows Media Center for Hanselminutes 82. The result is a pretty nice introduction to what you need for development, the tools included in the SDK, some of the samples which are included in the SDK and some basic beginner concepts. I posted is a detailed list of links which corresponds to the various topics we covered during the podcast over on Sandbox at http://blog.mediacentersandbox.com/Hanselminutes82DevelopmentForMediaCenter.aspx.

Categories: Podcast | Software Development Kit | Windows Media Center | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Saturday, September 22, 2007 4:28:19 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

At the geek dinner the other night and in a subsequent conversation with Scott Hanselman it was noted that many people probably have Windows Media Center but don't realize they do. If you have Windows Home Premium or Windows Ultimate then Windows Media Center is ready and waiting for you to give it a try. If you didn't get a tuner with yours, Adam Pash has a post over on LifeHacker titled Turn Your Windows PC into a Media Center Powerhouse On the Cheap which has some details on how to remedy -- and the comments are filled with good information as well.

Categories: TV | Windows Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2007 4:00:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Wow. Has it been this long? I guess it has. Anyway, Mack has a great writeup on the history of Windows Media Center which is worth reading.

"On September 3rd, Microsoft will celebrate the five year anniversary of Windows Media Center, arguably one of the company’s more successful products. Windows XP Media Center Edition was released to manufacturers in the United States and Canada in 2002, and Microsoft has followed up with a number of releases since then, most recently as part of Windows Vista. The software is at the core of Microsoft’s digital media strategy and looks to have a bright future ahead. In this post we’ll take a look at what Windows Media Center is, the levels of success it has achieved thus far, and finally we’ll touch on where Microsoft might take the product in the next few years."

Get the full story over at http://www.last100.com/2007/08/23/windows-media-center-a-microsoft-success-story/.

Thanks, Mack...!

Categories: Windows Media Center | Birthday | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2007 9:51:04 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Update: I just read this post in my news aggregator and some of the formatting didn't make the translation. For best evaluation you should probably look at this post in your web browser at http://blog.retrosight.com/DocumentationWhichDoYouLikeBetter.aspx.

I'm willing to bet Jeff Atwood has an opinion about this given his recent post Escaping From Gilligan's Island. We've been having an internal debate on how to best document steps to create applications -- mostly so folks find it easy to get it right the first time (hence the hat tip to Jeff's post).

I'd like to get your opinion on which of the following set of steps you find easier to follow (A or B) -- these steps are based on the Visual C# 2005 Express Edition Integrated Design Environment if you would like to try them out for real.

A - Create a strong name key file and add to the project assembly

1.       In the Solution Explorer pane, right-click the project and click Properties.

2.       Click the Signing tab, select the Sign the assembly check box.

3.       In the Choose a strong name key file list, click New.

4.       In the Key file name box, type a name.

5.       Optionally, select the Protect my key file with a password check box and enter a password for the key file.

6.       Click OK.

7.       On the File menu, click Save All.

8.       On the Build menu, click Build Solution to build the project assembly with the strong name key file.

B - Create a strong name key file and add to the project assembly

1.       Select the project in the Solution Explorer pane.

2.       Select View > Property Pages from the menu.

3.       In the Properties window:

a.       Select the Signing tab.

b.      Check the box labeled Sign the assembly.

c.       Click on the Choose a strong name key file drop-down list and select <New...>.

d.      In the Create Strong Name Key dialog:

                                                               i.      Enter a key file name

                                                             ii.      Optionally provide a password for the key file.

                                                            iii.      Click OK.

4.       Select File > Save All from the menu.

5.       Select Build > Build Solution from the menu to build the project assembly with the strong name key file.

Categories: Media Center SDK Code Sample | Software Development Kit | Windows Media Center | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Friday, June 22, 2007 5:53:03 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I was wondering if there are any computer user groups in North Carolina who would like to sit down and chat about Windows Media Center...? If there are and you'd like to get together, drop me an email at charlieo@microsoft.com and let's chat. I'll be in the Raleigh area as well at some point so could do a chat there as well.

[Update: Corrected email address. Dang it.]

Categories: Community | Windows Media Center | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Saturday, June 16, 2007 5:41:53 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Apple is a huge competitor in the space Windows Media Center seeks to inhabit. Evidence?

Front Row and Windows Media Center

Apple TV and Media Center Extender

But even though I want to compare and contrast these products I find myself always holding back.


Because of the signal to noise ratio. On the somewhat rare instance I do post something related to Apple it almost never fails that folks show up bringing nothing to the conversation of value. Case in point, go read the two comments on Thoughts on iPod Amnesty Bin. After reading those I again had to ask myself 'why bother'.

Mary Jo and Long are beginning to understand the pitfalls of writing anything other than high praises of Apple.

So, I ask myself would it be worth the time and effort to give my perspective of MacOS, iPod and AppleTV or will I be labeled as just another Apple hater who works for Microsoft. Can I count on the community (both PC and Mac) to engage in the conversation?

Categories: Apple | AppleTV | Media Center Extender | Microsoft | Windows Media Center | Comments [8] | # | Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2007 7:10:42 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   
In DVR Feature I'm Waiting For Michael Gartenberg is floating the following concept...
"What I want is to be able to start recording a series and tell the DVR to record every episode of a given season and then to sort them, not on the day they were recorded on the DVR but rather, on the day they were broadcast. The guide would be smart enough to fill in episodes as they are shown, no matter when they are shown. All this info is readily available (I can even see in most DVR guides the original broadcast date but can't sort on it.)"
My wife is a Law & Order fanatic (all flavors, SVU, CI, etc.) and she has wanted this *and* the ability to only record episodes she has not seen in the past.

I'm pretty sure both of these would be doable with our platform -- I'll have to look into this further. Maybe one of the community devs over at http://discuss.mediacentersandbox.com/forums would like to take on this project and make Michael's dreams come true.

Categories: DVR | Windows Media Center | Software Development Kit | Comments [3] | # | Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 6:39:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I second this emotion: Microsoft Finally Gets Zune Marketing Right. I bought a Zune this past Friday because of that commercial and am looking forward to comparing it with my iPod 5G. 'Nuff said.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Zune | Marketing | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Monday, May 14, 2007 12:20:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

If you happen to be at Mix and want to chat about Windows Media Center head over to the Sandbox area and ask for Eric Voetberg, Jason Suess or Andrew Adamyk. While there you can pick up a DVD chock full of resources for those wanting to learn more about developing for Windows Media Center in managed code and / or Media Center Markup Language. It includes the latest rev of the SDK (it's already posted to MSDN online and will be going up to the download center in the next day or two) as well as some fairly extensive training materials.

Categories: Mix | Windows Media Center | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Monday, April 30, 2007 5:38:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I absolutely LOVE IT when my peers get involved in community efforts. I was floored the other day when I learned Jessica Zahn (Program Manager on the Windows Media Center TV team) has her own forum over on thegreenbutton.com called Ask Jessica and it has over 200 posts, all of which she has read and a majority of which she has replied to directly. Makes my Mailbag feature here on the blog seem like the American Idol tryouts...the epitome of amateur!

She is also getting other Windows Media Center team members involved, like Noah.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Community | Comments [2] | # | Posted on Friday, April 6, 2007 6:59:12 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

Accessibility is pretty important to us, and we want to make Windows Media Center easy to use for visually impaired folks. The default experience in Windows Media Center makes your digital media much more accessible to start with compared to Windows Media Player, iTunes or Zune -- because everything is bigger (your album art, the text, selectable items, etc.). There are some high contrast accessibility features you can turn on which make it even easier to read and navigate Windows Media Center if you are vision impaired. Get to them via Tasks > Settings > General > Visual and Sound Effects > Color Scheme. Here is what they look like.

High Contrast - White

High Contrast Black

Categories: Mailbag | Windows Media Center | Accessibility | Comments [1] | # | Posted on Friday, April 6, 2007 5:40:50 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)   

I'll confess I didn't know much about European TV standards until I listened to Ian Dixon interview Rathe Hollingum from our Ireland developer team. According to that show, there are no DVB-S or DVB-S2 tuner cards which record directly from those sources available today. What you *can* do today (which Rathe points out) is to use a DVB-S(2) set top box and infrared control cable. For more information check out http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/mediacenter/tvandmovies.mspx and http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/mediacenter/using/setup/settop.mspx. There is a lot of good information in the podcast above about support of European TV standards -- give a listen if you are interested in this space.

P.S. Congrats to Ian on 100 shows -- you ROCK!!!

Categories: TV | Windows Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [12] | # | Posted on Friday, March 23, 2007 5:41:46 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

After reading about his poor experience working with the release candidate of Windows Vista at the last WinHEC I contacted Brier and offered to provide a Windows Media Center PC to take for a spin. Using computers prepped for events like WinHEC are always a dicey proposition -- most of the time they are multi-purpose and have therefore been touched by multiple folks with differing goals (which might not be compatible) before reaching the show floor. Throw in a beta OS and -- well -- you can almost guarantee the outcome isn't going to be very positive. Brier politely declined to take me up on the offer at that time. (Never was sure why, but my best guess was obviated with his article today.)

Brier contacted me last week via email with a note invoking that prior conversation and noting he 'ended up borrowing a TouchSmart from HP and swapped it for my living room TV for a few months' and was preparing an article on his experiences which he published today. I'll admit I literally chuckled out loud when I read his email -- the TouchSmart computer was designed for the kitchen, not the living room, so my initial reaction was 'no good can come from this'. What's a good analogy here...? Perhaps buying some great teak outdoor patio furniture and putting it in your family room is a good one. Needless to say I was interested in hearing about his experiences for better or worse so I responded and we had a great conversation.

Some thoughts after reading his article...

1) It sure would be nice if a journalist would review a Windows Media Center system as our team envisions. Let us hear about your environment, and then help you select a combination of hardware which addresses your needs and wishes. Some might say this would affect the integrity of the writer. I don't think so -- as long as the writer is up front about the assistance he got from Microsoft.

2) It would be great if the major OEMs were more selective of 'value add' software they choose to place on the machine (see Briers follow up posted this afternoon). Unfortunately Briers experience with preinstalled stuff is the norm -- sadly. But for a very few exceptions, whenever I help family and friends purchase a new computer I have it delivered to my house first where I perform a clean install of the operating system to avoid this stuff. Some folks, particularly on our OEM team, might go nuts when they read this, since OEMs are our bread and butter. Wake up -- this stuff degrades the user experience far too much. I know, sounds strange coming from a platform guy -- but this stuff *has* to get better folks -- plain and simple. Build GREAT software on the platform -- or choose NOT to ship the software.

3) My comment to Brier "I would really like for somebody to do a follow-up or a couple of follow-ups — they seem to put these great things out there, but there's not a version 2 or a version 3" was in the context of driving the costs down on great form factors for the living room. We've already got some great boxes designed as dedicated machines for your stereo stack -- but unfortunately the price points remain fairly high on them. It is interesting to note that for $400 less than the cost of the TouchSmart you can have an HP m7790e for the home office with almost exactly the same specs for the internals (processor, memory, etc.) plus an XBox 360 (with built in Media Center Extender) and a brand new high quality wired + wireless router (total for all of that is $1,400 as priced tonight, compared to $1,800 for the TouchSmart). More bang. Less buck.

Oh, and the offer still stands, Brier -- aren't you curious to see how well this stuff works as originally designed? :-)

Categories: Windows Media Center | Windows Vista | Comments [7] | # | Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 6:24:30 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

Reading this question last night compelled me to make a meeting today where our Windows Media Center MVPs learned more about Windows Home Server from Charlie Kindel and another gentleman from the team (I had to cut out and go to a feature team meeting before I could get his name -- but I'll circle back). I expect those MVPs will be able to give you additional thoughts, but here is a start.

In a nutshell...

Windows Home Server: Helping families with multiple PCs connect their digital experiences, providing a familiar and reliable way to store, access, share and automatically protect what is most important. *

Windows Media Center: Helping families enjoy the digital experiences stored on the PC from the comfort of their couch or in other rooms of the house with an intuitive and easy to use interface. **

In other words, two separate products with goals that are highly complementary to each other. Based on what little I saw today they will each benefit *immediately* once Windows Home Server ships. Longer term, I believe we will see the two product teams collaborating more -- perhaps even creating features unique to the intersection of Windows Media Center + Windows Home Server. After the presentation today I'm definitely going to replace my Windows Server 2003 box here at home with a Windows Home Server and start playing around to find the synergies and goodness.

* This came from an excellent post by Charlie: Why Doesn't Windows Home Server do foo? Go there to learn more about their vision and goals -- it's also a good post on feature development work in general.

** I made this up to kinda, sorta match up with the Windows Home Server mission statement for contrast. It's not 'official' marketing blurb -- but is a pretty good description of the Windows Media Center goal.

Categories: Windows Home Server | Windows Media Center | Comments [4] | # | Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 4:54:39 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

I've been meaning to do a 'brain dump' of why we don't make the Windows Media Center look and feel available to third party developers. Here goes...

Application Compatability Risk
We know exactly who uses our buttons, galleries, templates, etc. -- us. If we change these we break exactly one application -- Windows Media Center. Making them available to third parties imparts a certain amount of risk in that we can break applications without knowing we have done so. For example, we have tweaked media galleries in every version of Windows Media Center to date. Compare the music gallery in Emerald to the one in Diamond, for example of one of the more dramatic changes. What happens if your app is based on our gallery because it assumes certain things about that gallery which are incompatible with our new gallery. Trouble for us -- and you.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life
It would be a very boring world if every application looked like Windows Media Center. We do not have the market cornered in great experiences designed for use with remote control. Now that we have a platform (Windows Media Center Presentation Layer) which allows you to do the same class of animations (including full fidelity remoting to XBox 360 Media Center Extender) as Windows Media Center itself we no longer have this 'thunking down' into a low fidelity HTML experience. I'm excited to see what folks are able to do with this power at their fingertips, and certainly expect developer enthusiasts to start shipping features which surpass our own (have you seen this http://mobilewares.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!78533A1A2E078194!177.entry -- my wife was asking how she could keep track of Law & Order episodes the other night, and this app holds the promise of just that feature --pretty darn cool).

Public vs. Private Platform
Because we are both a product and a platform we only have so much time to create the public platform, and the public platform will always be a subset of the private platform (stuff we use to create our product) due to this time constraint. The Windows Media Center user experience relies in some cases on private platform features not present in the public platform. Let me give you an example: The lens effect seen on the Windows Media Center Start Menu when you navigate items in the horizontal strips. Our design team wanted a very specific (and quite subtle) look and feel in this lens effect which could not be created to their satisfaction without a *huge* investment in MCML authoring (and even then, we still really couldn't give them exactly what they desired). So we wrote new rendering code (which is in itself non-trivial) to accomplish the effect -- but it came in too late to be considered part of what we could expose publicly. At some point in any software you have to make a decision about what you will vs. won't ship (even if you use an Agile method or 'ship daily' as can be done with web apps). All of that to say this: It's not possible to give you the controls unless they can be accomplished with the public platform. Classic chicken or egg first problem.

Focus On The Fundamentals
We are still focused on making sure the platform fundamentals are in place -- for example, expanding on what you can do with web application approach (see http://blog.mediacentersandbox.com/PermaLink,guid,cb622812-d80f-45d2-82d6-a54099e62e21.aspx). For example, you can't use session cookies in web apps today -- it's way more important to get this in than trying to recreate Windows Media Center look and feel for the public platform (see previous point).

Maintaining Brands
I'm sure some folks will zero in on this particular point and say 'I knew it -- it's all about the money!' So, up front I'll admit this could also be titled 'who pays our bills' -- which is why I put it at the bottom of this list -- so you would read the prior items first and hopefully see it's a wholistic decision process. We are, after all, out to make a profit for ourselves and shareholders. With but a few exceptions, everyone who has a day job does it to make a living. This puts food on our table and a roof over our heads. But I digress... We make the platform for multiple audiences -- big, brand name partners and individual developer enthusiasts, and many, many medium and small entities in between (think in terms of Large, Medium, Small and Individual audiences). Unfortunately, the needs of these groups will inevitably conflict in some ways -- and this is one of those areas. The big companies who have well established brands will never use a Microsoft brand for their experiences -- it diminishes their brand if they do (and they spend GOBS of money and resources into maintaining their brand -- sometimes too much, and at the expense of great experiences, but that's a topic for another day). We could do a bunch of work to expose our look and feel, but the large and medium shops will never use them. Never. And increasingly, neither do the small shops. Honestly, it's never come up in the list of feature requests from large or medium shops and only very rarely from the small shops. That means we can realize a zero return on investment in this area in terms of dollars. At the end of the day, those partners are what makes or breaks our platform from a 'budget' perspective. It would be great if we could make a platform solely for the individual (aka developer enthusiast) audience, but at this point in the Windows Media Center platform life we can't build a business on this alone. As we grow, and developer enthusiasts grow, we hope to do more things specifically for this audience. The Z sample application is a great example of where I specifically added 'features' to our SDK which would target and assist the individual developer enthusiast -- and hopefully it's a great start.

Maximum Flexibility
Our platform provides for maximum design flexibility at the cost of reuse. We propose 'one size fits all' is not a true statement -- therefore the platform is one which can be tailored at the extreme for any purpose. We understand this precludes many development folks who are used to other types of platforms which provide controls. We've been pretty honest and straightforward the platform may be difficult to grasp for the mass market developer or weekend coder.

Resource Constraints
As with any software product or platform there is a finite amount of resources to put into the project. We've evaluated the idea of including the Windows Media Center controls in our platform resources with each release. And with each release it's been deemed as less valuable than improving the features of the existing platform of visual primitives. Of course, we are still very early in the lifetime of this platform -- at the time of this writing, just over a year since it's been commercially available to consumers. Stick with the platform for 10-15 more years and let's see what happens to this request over time.

[3/26/2008 Edited To Add the Maximum Flexibility and Resource Constraints sections.]

Categories: Media Center Application Design | Windows Media Center | Comments [11] | # | Posted on Thursday, December 7, 2006 7:32:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   

With Windows Vista barely one week past RTM the Windows Media Center team started our first milestone for the next version this week. One of the guiding principles we will use to determine features for vNext is identifying and removing roadblocks which keep people from using Windows Media Center.

One example of this is the new Express Setup you find in 'Diamond'. 'Emerald' and previous versions (version history and codenames) forced the user into a rather lengthy first run setup wizard about 10-14 pages at minimum for most users. By contrast, the new Express Setup in 'Diamond' requires but a single action the first time you launch Windows Media Center before you are instantly able to start using the features.

We would love to hear your thoughts about blocking issues which keep you from fully enjoying Windows Media Center more. Leave comments for the team to read.

Categories: Windows Media Center | Comments [114] | # | Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2006 3:54:35 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)   
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