Vista testers get unexpected holiday gift: No TV

A test version of Media Center stopped working on December 31 as a result of a licensing problem, Microsoft says.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Some people testing Microsoft's Windows Vista got an unexpected holiday surprise: their TVs stopped working.

Media Center, which is included in the Home Premium and Ultimate versions of the Vista operating system, allows remote-control access to a variety of entertainment options, including television, for machines that have a TV tuner.

However, for those running the "release candidate 1" version of the software--the most broadly distributed of the Vista test versions--the TV feature stopped working on December 31.

Microsoft blamed the issue on the fact that it has a paid license for the video decoder and Dolby sound technology, and it only licensed those through December 31. The overall RC1 software is not scheduled to expire until June.

"As of December 31, 2006, users running Windows Vista RC1 beta code will no longer have access to the Media Center functionality, due to the expiration of the MPEG 2 decoder and Dolby Digital components built into Windows Vista and used by the Media Center experience," Microsoft said in a statement in response to inquiries by CNET News.com. "Because these technologies are licensed and royalty bearing, they will expire within a certain time period, according to our license agreements."

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on whether the company could have extended its license, saying it doesn't comment on the terms of such licensing deals.

Windows wait
Some enthusiasts have installed their own third-party video decoders. But that won't solve the TV issue, as many have discovered.

"There is not a solution Microsoft can provide around this in RC1, as it is not within our rights to extend the trial period for these licensed technologies," the company said in its statement.

The representative noted that Microsoft did recommend that users not try Vista on their main machines. The software maker said that testers who are members of its MSDN developer network have access to the final version of Vista. That version, along with a revamped Office suite and new Exchange e-mail server, went on sale to business customers in November.

However, many consumers who installed RC1 won't have access to the final version of Vista until it is made broadly available. Microsoft has said that it will release Vista and Office 2007 to consumers worldwide on January 30.

The first release candidate version of Vista arrived in September, and it was eventually made available to more than 5 million people, including technical beta testers, developers, corporate customers and tech enthusiasts. A second release candidate was issued in October, but only about 100,000 consumers were able to upgrade to that version.

Microsoft has high hopes for Vista adoption in the coming months. CEO Steve Ballmer said this will be the most widely marketed launch of any set of products that the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker has ever done. It will spend "hundreds of millions of dollars, a very big number," on Vista and Office 2007 marketing, he said in November. "It's more than we spent of Windows 95 and Office 95."

Both Vista and Office had originally been slated to arrive on store shelves and new PCs in time for last year's holiday season. However, last March, Microsoft said it would delay the mainstream launch of the products and instead make the software available to businesses only in November 2006.