For all the complaining about Windows 8's lack of a Start button (much of it coming from me), the tech media has largely ignored an even bigger feature Microsoft unceremoniously pulled from the OS.
And not only pulled, but also slapped with a price tag.
I'm talking about Windows Media Center, the thoroughly awesome software that makes a Windows PC a great companion for TV -- or just a great TV, depending on how you use it.
Windows Media Center (hereafter WMC) made its debut as a specialized version of Windows XP, but was later incorporated into most versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. Offering a gorgeous 10-foot (i.e., TV-friendly) interface for your music, photos, videos, and, with the addition of a tuner, TV shows, WMC quickly amassed a small but rabid following.
About that TV part. Early on, you could connect one or more TV tuners to your PC to create a full-blown DVR, one that blew TiVo out of the water (and, some would argue, still does). Things got messy after the switch from analog to all-digital broadcasts, but a handful of products arrived on the scene to add CableCard compatibility -- thus allowing a properly equipped PC to record up to four digital channels at once. (The latest, Ceton's InfiniTV 6, gives you six tuners.)
I've been a very satisfied WMC user for years, even while joining my fellow "Green Button" fans in dismay over Microsoft's handling of the product. What should have been a crown jewel in the company's marketing efforts was always treated like the red-headed stepchild: ignored, mistreated, and effectively abandoned.
Indeed, WMC changed little between Vista and 7, and Windows 8 brought virtually no updates at all. Well, except for one: Microsoft unbundled it from the OS, meaning anyone who wants it now has to pay for it.
For example, my new Ultrabook came with Windows 8. To get WMC, I have to buy the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which costs $99.99. Well, guess what: I want WMC, but it'll be a cold day in hell before I spend an extra $100 to get it.
If you have Windows 8 Pro (which, make no mistake, was designed for business users -- exactly the folks who have little to no interest in WMC), you can buy the software for $9.99.
This is, for all intents and purposes, the final nail in WMC's coffin. I don't understand Microsoft's thinking. Almost no one knows WMC exists or how best to use it because Microsoft doesn't advertise it. And those who love it just aren't going to pay $100 -- not when it used to be free. Why didn't they just discontinue it altogether?
So with Windows 8.1, Microsoft has the chance to make this right. Either put WMC back into the OS, or make it $9.99 for all Windows 8 users, not just those who have a work machine running Pro. I like it well enough that I'd pay $10 for it. But charging $100 is idiotic and a slap in the face to users who have enjoyed -- and championed -- this product for a long, long time.
Your move, Microsoft.