Technology. Dissected, discredited.

WMV - the little format killed by neglect.

, posted: 23-Sep-2008 10:37

Over the last 2 or so years I have witnessed the slow demise of yet another format that saw Microsoft no doubt spend millions on developing. Windows Media Video (WMV) has been a relatively safe format to deliver video content to users as it offered good compression along with pretty much guaranteed compatibilty. Doing post production myself I often have to email a quick proof and would generally use WMV. It worked. It Played - as long as the person recieving it had a PC.
Yet Redmond, with it's infinite wisdom, decided to kill Mac support in early 2006 and then leave it to a 3rd party to continue offering playback support, via Flip4Mac. No DRM support but 99% of WMV content plays. It does the job. Of course the irony is it now plays in Quicktime, and not the ugly Windows Media Player for Mac.

Here's a post from a zdnet blog post on the discontiunueing of WMPlayer for OS-X:

....the decision to halt work on Windows Media Player for the Mac was a matter of prioritizing for Microsoft's Windows Media unit.

"It's basically a business decision for Microsoft," Anderson said. "Like any other company, we have business priorities. Our focus really is in delivering the best experience to Windows customers."

Sure. You want to keep it real. Microsoft has an operating system and want it to be a feature to support playback of your awesome video format. Everyone else can go screw themselves.

But seriously, do they really think a format they hope would displace the original AVI container format (and possibly Quicktime), can really win if it doesn't work everywhere. I'd argue making sure it's as ubiquitous as it can be is one of the main selling points. That means it must be platform agnostic. It's worked for PDF, MP3 - it could have worked for WMV.


Windows Media Page @ Microsoft - Circa 2002
A clipping of Microsofts Windows Media page in 2002


Via iTunes on Windows, Apple has managed to slip Quicktime on nearly every windows computer - and via that promoted (for better or for worse) it's other Windows applicaitions. Microsoft could have had this same 'in' on Mac's and Linux machines but for sake of "delivering the best experience for Windows Customers" it doesn't.

Of course hindsight is a great thing, and even in 2006 I don't think we could gaurantee that DiVX/XViD/MPEG4 would become the default format of video distribution on the internet and the widespread adoption of Bittorent for media sharing. Heck - we could be downloading files with the RV/RMVB extension now instead - or even *gasp* WMV - but we don't - it's all AVI. Fine AVI a orginally a Microsoft format but I don't think you could say its in anyway controlled or even promoted by Redmond.

But this isn't the only format that Microsoft is killing by it's pigheadedness - lets not forget MODI - Microsoft Office Document Imaging - MODI was introduced and installed by default in Office 2003 but was dropped by Office 2007 - it was a format that could have competed with the functionality of PDF but because Microsoft kept the format proprietry and only offered supported for it within that install it never went anywhere. The legacy of MODI is still around - anyone upgrading to 2007 or still just using Office 2003 will find an extra printer installed - a printer they neither really chose to install, explained to what it did and I gaurantee will ever use. The technology did eventually end up becaming part of Metro and then finally XPS, which on top of being a file distribution format is the foundation of Vista's printing subsystem.

This is of course a direct copy of OS-X's Postscript based printing subsystem - which is also the basis of PDF. Postscript & PDF are the industry standard for printing - on all platforms. Because of this ubiqutousness, one things for sure - XPS will never truely offset PDFs domince. Everyone can open files in the PDF format. The same can't be said for XPS - as of writing, and 2 years since it's launch, I could only spot 1 application that lets you view/edit XPS on a Mac and is a bargin at $US99 (not) and no support at all for Linux. Not a good way to get people onboard you're awesome new format MS.

Microsoft is the king of failed formats.


P.S. One last bitch -
Of course with the eventual failure of MODI/XPS, it would be good to see implementing system wide PDF support in Vista. I doubt that will ever happen though. Instead every man and his dog will continue to have to go off to and download Acrobat reader - giving another company an 'in' to the Microsoft system. I'm not condoning anti competitive behaviour, more that if Microsoft had much interest in improving the end user experience and if everyone has to install PDF support - then shouldn't it be on the list of needed features in Windows 7?

Other related posts:
Vodamoan - new connection pains
Fine Tuning Mac Mini, Logitech Harmony, Plex Nine & EyeTV
Using a MacMini with a Logitech Harmony remote control

Comment by James Sleeman, on 23-Sep-2008 14:20

Ick, don't use Acrobat Reader. On windows, get Foxit, all the utility of reader, without any of the bloated buggy slow crapness.

Comment by grigori, on 5-Nov-2008 15:52

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lotech's profile

New Zealand

I run a post production company specialising mainly in TV & Commercials. I also do graphic and motion design when it's there to be done. I've used Windows my whole life, but am now run Macs exclusively in our office and at home. Few issues. It just works.

My current setup is a Early 2008 17" Macbook Pro (C2D 2.5Ghz, 4gb, 320Gb, UWXGA Screen).