While Mac users would prefer that all streaming content on the Web was encoded in a QuickTime format, the reality is that Windows Media streams aren’t going to go anywhere. What has gone somewhere—if you consider “oblivion” a destination—is Microsoft’s Windows Media Player for Mac.
Microsoft never put much time and engineering into the Mac product—or kept it on a par with the Windows version, for that matter. Still, it was our link to a vast amount of content out there that wasn’t available in QuickTime. (Some people have had luck with the VLC media player but it doesn’t work all the time.)
Even worse than a neglected product is a discontinued one, and that’s what happened to the Mac version of Windows Media Player. But fortunately, Microsoft waited until Flip4Mac entered into a “when they stand up, we’ll stand down” quid pro quo agreement, dropping the price of their plugins from $10 to free to allow QuickTime to play back streaming and local Windows Media content. (Microsoft even hosted the downloads.) The one missing piece was that Flip4Mac’s Windows Media Components ran only on PowerPC-based Macs—the plugins refused to even install on an Intel Mac—and since Microsoft never created a Universal Binary version of WMP (and now never will), users of the newest Macs have been left in the cold.
This problem was of particular interest to my colleague Christopher Breen when he wrote about using the Mac mini as a multimedia center, which became a feature article in our September 2006 issue. Without a native plugin, Mac users wanting to make a Mac mini the brains of their entertainment centers were out of luck when it came to playing Windows Media-encoded Internet radio streams, video streams, or local movies.
As can often happen in the magazine publishing business, right after our issue hit the streets, a solution appeared. The newly released Flip4Mac 2.1 adds native support for Intel-based Macs (as well as other improvements), meaning that one barrier to plopping a mini next to your TV is gone.
As editors, we’re somewhat chagrined when new information comes along after we’ve published something. But as Mac users, we’re happy that Flip4Mac made that portion of the article out-of-date.