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

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)   
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