Plus Digital Media Edition (DME) does double duty. Like all Windows Plus packs, it delivers goods that Microsoft left out of Windows--from frothy bits of nonsense to bread-and-butter tools to a few gems that make you sit up and say "Gimme!" It's also an obvious attempt to turn Windows into a cool digital-entertainment platform--with mixed results. The $20 download includes eight modules, with three must-haves: a recorder for turning old vinyl and tape recordings into Windows Media (WMA) files, a media organizer called Sync & Go for Pocket PC users, and a video slide-show program called Photo Story. The rest of the collection is a mishmash of fluff and occasional gems, with a few gnarly bugs tossed in. Nevertheless, this Plus is worth adding. Each module of Microsoft Plus Digital Media Edition features a different look and its own level of usability. In general, however, all are fairly easy to use. For an example, take Plus Analog Recorder. This app makes digital audio out of analog tapes or vinyl and does so by automatically setting the optimal sound level, then splitting up the individual tracks after you finish a recording session. If it misses a song transition (for example, the nonexistent break between "Sgt. Pepper" and "A Little Help from My Friends"), you simply cue up a playback slider to the break and hit a button to split them up. Then you enter track names, album titles, and so forth, which Analog Recorder turns into WMA files and automatically registers in your Media Library.
Plus Digital Media Edition is something of a first for Microsoft, too, since the company is making it available only as a download for the first few months. (Eventually, it will make its way to CD-ROM distribution.) After download and installation, you're left with a group of application icons on your Start menu's Program's section and a sly update to Windows Movie Maker that adds some great transition effects, output options, and other features.
A lot of Plus Digital Media Edition is like froth on beer--it's nice to have, but it's not the reason you get the beer. You could take or leave Plus Dancer--an American Bandstand-style effect, in which very realistic-looking dancers gyrate, swing, or hip-hop over your spreadsheets. Party Mode is more useful; it uses Windows Media Player to play your music for your guests, but it doesn't let them fire up other software and break up the festivities. For anyone who hates logos, the layouts of Plus CD Label Maker will be unacceptable; there was a Microsoft Plus label on every page we printed out. Come on, Microsoft--this much branding falls in the realm of freeware, not commercial downloads.
When you turn on Plus Dancer, a slew of different dancers get down on it...on your Taskbar that is.
You'll get three bread-and-butter features with Plus DME: Audio Converter, Alarm Clock, and CD Label Maker. These aren't glamorous, but they're useful. CD Label Maker is much like competitive products found in Nero Burning ROM and Easy CD Creator Platinum. It's a databaselike tool for laying out CD labels and covers, which it does no better or worse than its competitors, other than its relentless branding. Alarm Clock rouses you from slumber by playing your favorite tracks in Media Player--much better than a nasty ringing noise, though not always easier to turn off. Audio Converter converts MP3 and WAV files into Windows Media files (and if you have a third-party MP3 plug-in, vice versa) in a range of compression rates.