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Windows Media Player 11: iTunes killer at last?

Microsoft didn't make many big announcements at CES, and Windows Vista looks like a collection of 'previously seen' ideas, but Media Player 11 was fun -- it's shaping up to be a viable alternative to iTunes

Crave couldn't help but feel a little disappointed by the Windows Vista preview at CES. As the demonstrator eagerly showed off Vista's new tabbed browsing and the Information toolbar, it was painful to hear other journalists, clearly fans of the Apple Mac OS, sarcastically shouting, 'Revolutionary!' as each feature, blatantly stolen from Firefox and Mac OS X, was announced.

One thing that did get us excited about was the new Windows Media Player 11, which incorporates a number of nifty new features. First, instead of a long list of track titles that can become unmanageable if you have a large library, Media Player now organises your albums by artist, with a thumbnail letting you see how much you like the artist in question based on the number of albums you own. In fact, the whole interface has been given a visual overhaul. If you plug in a 'PlaysForSure' device, a little logo will come up on-screen. You can also search instantaneously through your music archive, even if you have 10,000 tracks.

But the big news for Media Player 11 is its integration with Urge, an iTunes-esque service from MTV. The service will offer some 2 million music downloads, as well as MTV content and exclusive partnerships. The service will also offer recommendations based on your user ratings and genre preferences, creating a random playlist for you at any given time. One partnership will be with Justin Timberlake, who was wheeled out to do the usual 30-second celebrity endorsement on stage.

Hopefully we'll see the new Media Player before Windows Vista launches, but as Urge isn't set for release until later in the year, we may not see it until then. iPod owners will probably stick with what they know, but anyone else might find Media Player 11 to be a reasonable alternative.

Visit our CES Special Report for more coverage, including video from the Vista section of the Microsoft keynote. -GC