Microsoft released the final version of Windows Media Player 11, a free download for Windows XP. It features deep integration with the URGE online music store (similar to iTunes integration with Apple’s online store), and a very attractive interface.

I don’t plan to go near it. I don’t like it one little bit.

WMP11 features far more draconian DRM restrictions on music purchased from the online store than any other program or service to date. If the wrong checkbox is checked, then even CDs ripped from your personal collection will be infected with DRM restrictions and you may be unable to play those ripped files on a different computer. Recorded TV shows may disappear in three days, whether that’s what you intended or not. You may not back up your licenses and move them to a different computer – the license agreement states plainly that you just can’t. Here’s a summary of some of the new DRM restrictions in this release.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice summary of what DRM means to consumers. Using iTunes and WMP is dangerous to your pocketbook and your blood pressure. I have nothing to offer people who discover that they have lost their investment in music purchased online when their hard drive crashes, or who find they are lost in technical mumbo-jumbo about moving licenses when they buy a new computer and want to listen to their tunes.

As for Windows Media Player, Microsoft has released this new version exactly two weeks before the introduction of its new music player, Zune. Since Zune will only work with its own proprietary software and online music store, no one knows what the future holds for Windows Media Player. Microsoft is shafting the partners who bought into WMP and “Plays For Sure” technology and has been tight-lipped on how it plans to support two incompatible DRM-laden media programs.

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