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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 14:27 GMT
Pretenders for Microsoft's media crown
As part of its sanctions against Microsoft, Brussels wants to give the US titan's rivals a shot at chipping away its dominance of the lucrative multimedia player market.

There are dozens of competing systems, but just how do they stack up? BBC News Online provides a handy guide to some of the leading programs jostling for position.

MEDIA PLAYER

Media Player

Microsoft's media player provides audio and video over the internet. It's free and offers high quality playback, video programming, ability to create a playlist of favourite videos. Windows Media Player 9 Series enables management of music and video, and creating CDs with the all-in-one Smart Jukebox, which allows music playback.

REALPLAYER

RealPlayer

RealNetworks's RealPlayer is one of the oldest on the market. A basic version of its player can be downloaded for free, and the firm also sells premium version with extra features, and monthly subscriptions to dedicated content. RealPlayer streaming software allows the delivery of video and audio in real time over the internet. Real says the program plays all major media formats including Quicktime, MPEG-4, Windows Media, DVDs and more.

WINAMP

Winamp

Winamp by Nullsoft is a free music play and video program. It has a media library, integrated radio and TV. It charges $14.95 to encode music to MP3 and burn CDs. When all your songs are encoded in MP3, it provides you the freedom to play them in all MP3 capable hardware and software media players.

QUICKTIME

Quicktime

Quicktime by Apple is compatible with both Macintosh or Windows-based computers. QuickTime Pro offers media authoring and playback of high-quality audio and video. It plays movies in full screen, saves movies from the web and offers do-it-yourself editing. It can create MPEG-4 content, 3GPP & 3GPP2 content and import/export media and prepares movies for streaming. It costs $29.99 - although the basic Quicktime player itself is free.

MUSICMATCH

Musicmatch

Musicmatch's "Jukebox" provides personalised recommendations based on the music you listen to and the songs enjoyed by other Musicmatch users with similar tastes. Tied in with the jukebox is an online music shop that sells tracks for 99 cents each and $9.99 for most albums. It offers more than 500,000 songs by thousands of artists, with more added every day. You can buy entire albums or purchase just a few select tracks. The Jukebox software itself is free and is a digital music player, CD burner, music organiser and playlist creator.

Music players for non-Windows operating systems such as Linux and Apple's OSX are not listed here as the EU ruling applies only to Windows applications.


Your comments:

We asked our readers which media players they like best

I thing a number of posters are missing the point. We simply don't know what alternatives there would have been if the market were open to proper competition. Windows Media Player is free because it is bundled with Windows (which isn't free). Competition laws are primarily there to open up or keep markets open for innovation. Microsoft abuses its market position with the result that in many domains choice of software is severely restricted. The bloated software, lack of compatibility between versions and marketing hype lead to frequent, unnecessary and resource draining hardware upgrades. The poor security is partly to blame for constant email/virus attacks.
Thom, Loughborough, UK

I have tried all of the media players listed with the exception of Musicmatch, and in my opinion M$ Media Player is the best one. Now, I don't like having to use Windows, and have recently converted my work PC to SuSE Linux, but M$'s player to me was one of the highlights of Windows (not too difficult you may say :-)
Jim, London, England

In my mind Windows Media Player is the best player on the Internet. Functionality, ease of use and looks. Keep up the good work Microsoft...
Marcus Mimms, Bristol, UK

The VLC media player, which is open source freeware, runs on Windows and offers a range of features not found in other (proprietary) software.
Adrian, Rotterdam

I like Winamp because of its versatility. Realplayer doesn't play as smoothly or with the quality that you get with Windows media player. Quicktime is good and gives quality playback. I have them all installed so that I am not restricted in what I watch from the net.
Malcolm Charlaw, Durham, UK

I think the EU should fine RealNetworks for writing evil software. Only Winamp can claim to be a decent piece of software for the job. All the others offer varying degrees of code bloat and virus-like system invasion. At least Media Player's OS integration does offer some genuinely useful features I suppose...
Chris Preston, Newcastle, UK

Realplayer is bloated and full of spyware, and that applies to Quicktime too. If they want to complain about Microsoft I suggest they make their software worthwhile and have advantages over the Microsoft solution. Winamp and Musicmatch are useable, but Musicmatch's user interface is horrible. Overall Windows Media Player is a great piece of software and I think the creators of spyware-ridden alternatives will see people still don't use their software regardless.
Rob Harwood, Stockton, UK

Windows Media Player is adequate as an audio player but excellent as a video player. It's interface is a little clumsy but it's the only video player that will play virtually every format. Sadly the future looks bleak for Windows Media Player as Microsoft increasingly makes its hard to play anything other that digital rights management audio and video on its systems. Boo!
Dan, London

Why should Microsoft be punished for being so successful? I bought my PC for the ease of having all the packages on it installed, included media player. I don't want to be bothered with seeing who offers the best deal & then having to manually install.
Daniel Lane, London, England

Speaking as a professional multimedia creator I have to say the various formats have advantages and disadvantages, with each taking it in turn to lead the pack as new versions come out. On balance though I'd say Quicktime is the strongest contender for quality and ease of use. With Apple's experience in hi-end film/media creation from Hollywood down to Aunty Mary's home movies on i-movie they seem to have the edge on everyone else. It's only Microsoft's massive dominance and restrictive practices that leads most of the public to think that media player is the only way.
Nik Heap, Exeter, UK

I use mplayer and it rocks! It's mainly aimed at Linux and Unix type operating systems but there's a version for windows too. It's free in monetary terms and in licensing terms but best of all it plays just about anything including 'broken' files that Windows Media Player and the like can't or won't. It also has great subtitle support, and can even be used to encode files to different formats. It truly is the Swiss army knife of media players!
John Watts, Southend, UK

I have bought all the major music and video players and Media Player is still the one I use most. Video for Windows has been pre-installed with Windows for nearly a decade, so why the fuss now... unless of course it's simply an easy way of pocketing a "fine" from a company with enough money to pay it!
Warren, Reading, UK

My favourite player is iTunes, it has a great feature set including the ability to encode MP3s and write Audio CDs. The easy to use and good looking interface make it a winner in my eyes.
Lewis Simper, Bucks

My favourite is the Windows Media Player, why? It is free, you can hold masses of music and real time video on it. I don't see what all the fuss is about with the EU sanctioning Microsoft to alter their ways, it's not them, it's the consumers that make the choice on what software they use, Microsoft are hardly forcing it upon us are they? Why would I want to pay 9.99 a month for another audio visual companion when I can have it for free and I think that other music lovers would agree with me on that one.
Nicola Horner, London, UK

I have Real Player, Quicktime Player and Media Player on my PC - the first two because I must have them to do my job and the last one because I actually prefer it. If Real Player didn't insist on trampling over users' settings and popping up other windows and programs that are not wanted or needed than perhaps they would gain a bigger market share.
Gary, Hoddesdon UK




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