Despite the fact that the release of Windows 7 is still a year away, many users can’t wait to have a sneak preview of the new and long awaited replacement for Windows Vista. A quick glance at the pre-beta version released in the 2008 Professional Developers Conference shows that Microsoft has tackled the problems which arose in Vista, such as software and hardware compatibility, system stability, etc. In addition, Windows 7 has added some rich features to Windows 7 to make it easier to control and manage. Another interesting point about Windows 7 is the changes and improvements in its digital audio system.

In the pre-beta version (64-bit ISO), users may notice that the once neglected Media Player in the Vista version has made a comeback. Microsoft seems to have learn a lesson that it is too difficult and ridiculous to get users to download a separate application. Users mostly still prefer a powerful and user-friendly built-in digital media player rather than spending time to download a separate tool. Microsoft has promised a brand new version of Windows Media Player 12 that will come along with Windows 7. The new Media Player has had a lot of surprising new features and refinements to its current version. The most obvious change to Windows Media Player 12 is the splitting of the library management from what is currently playing into two different modes, “Now Playing” mode and “Library” mode. When you enter “Library” mode, you can see all the library manipulation features; “Now Playing” mode will show you the current playlist, visualizations and videos.

According to Microsoft, hardly any users enable the taskbar control of the Windows Media Player. Hence, Microsoft has focused on improving and developing this area, especially the controlling system. The new Windows Media Player has added a new taskbar miniviewer that works with the new Windows 7 taskbar. Some buttons and toolbar items in the new Windows Media Player have also been repositioned. A major change is the removal of the Now Playing button, which in earlier version switches to a view showing the current playlist.

The new Windows Media Player has shown a brighter and lighter user interface. In this latest version Microsoft has also offered a wider range of video format support. Conventionally, Windows Media Player tended to promote its Windows Media format and ignored other non-Microsoft formats. This new version has added support for various new formats such as H.264 video, AAC audio, and both Xvid and DivX video. With this new support feature, users generally can use Windows Media Player to run most videos from the Internet. For instance, users can enjoy selections from iTunes Libraries and play iTunes media now.

Windows 7 has shown a major ease-of-use improvement in the networked music. Via Windows Media Player 12, users now can easily stream media from any Windows 7 PC to any network-connected devices such as Sonos box that supports version 1.5 of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standard, and vice-versa. If a device can’t handle the format being streamed, Windows Media Player will be smart enough to transcode your media on the fly to the appropriate format for each device on your network. Sounds great?

Besides significant changes to Windows Media Player, Windows 7 also improved its digital audio system in other angles. Windows 7 now has added a Bluetooth audio driver which can technically support Bluetooth enabled devices such as Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth headphones. Microsoft has also promised a more intelligent audio routing to the proper devices. For instance, a song will naturally play over your speakers, while a Voice-over-IP call will flow to your headphones. Microsoft has also added a more efficient libraries management system to manage and organize music files. This new feature will detect and arrange similar types of files across your PC and other PCs in your network into a single virtual folder. In case you forget to put your music files in your MyMusic folder, somehow you can still relocate it in this virtual Music Library folder. Windows 7 also improved its music wall feature. While listening to an album in Media Center, the background will gradually scroll through images from all the album art in your collection. It allows users to enjoy music and images concurrently.

It can be seen that there are many exciting improvements and changes promised by Microsoft in Windows 7. Of course, it is still very preliminary and many more changes can be done along the way. Stability and compatibility are still key issues that Microsoft need to look into besides the functionality.

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