As expected, Microsoft officially rolled out a test version of Windows Media Player 11 for XP on Wednesday, two days after the free software could be and elsewhere on the Net.
WMP 11 is the latest of Microsoft's jukebox players. Built into the beta version of WMP 11 is Urge, the subscription digital music store also launched on Wednesday by MTV Networks. On Monday, iRiver released Clix, the company's latest digital music player and the first device to feature WMP 11. This is all part of a larger plan by Microsoft to challenge Apple Computer's iTunes music store and iPod digital music player.
While techies were busy offering Microsoft kudos for improving the WMP's interface, business analysts were counting all the ways Microsoft could benefit from MTV's marketing prowess.
"MTV has the kind of marketing muscle needed to compete with Apple," said Nitin Gupta, an analyst with The Yankee Group. "They have all their media properties, from TV to Internet. And they know how to sell music and music-related services."
Cutting into Apple's immense lead in the digital music business demands that Microsoft offer consumers more than just superior design and technology, say industry experts. Apple has illustrated an understanding of what kind of devices and services music fans want and how to attach social status to those devices. In other words, the company knows how to market to music fans.
An Apple representative declined to comment for this story.
Microsoft needed an injection of credibility with music fans. For a long time, some have depicted Microsoft as stodgier and more button down than Apple, its chief rival in the music sector. MTV and Microsoftlast January, and insiders said then that MTV could help bridge any generation gap that exists between the software company and music buyers.
MTV's music service, along with Microsoft's software and WMP 11-enabled devices could be promoted to teenagers and young people on MTV shows such as "Spring Break 2006," "Date My Mom" or "Pimp My Ride," analysts said.
MTV's music expertise will also be a selling point as the network can help guide fans to top new performers. Urge offers a service that lets fans of a group such as U2 automatically receive updates on the band's most recent music as well as news about groups that produce similar work. Urge users can elect to receive Informer music blogs, written by experts in different genres. Each blog will come with a playlist so readers can simultaneously listen to or download the music they're reading about, MTV said in a statement.
"Urge distinguishes itself through handcrafted programming, innovative music discovery features and unique integration with Windows Media Player," said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music.
Meanwhile, to use the beta version of Windows Media Player, Microsoft said, one must have Windows XP service pack 2 installed. Only a 233MHz processor and 64MB of memory are required, though a 1.5GHz machine with 512MB of memory is recommended. Microsoft's Vista operating system, due to be released next year, will come , the company has said.
The relationship between Microsoft and MTV is not exclusive. Other music services, such as Napster and RealNetworks' Rhapsody.com, are able to plug in to WMP 11. MTV could also choose to take on additional technology partners.