Thursday, August 27, 2009

Should Windows Media Center Be Separated from the Windows OS?

Windows Media Center Logo

Charlie Owen, who works for Microsoft and used to work on the team Microsoft Windows Media Center team has been sharing his thoughts on Media Center over the past week or so and it’s definitely been interesting.  His latest post asks the following question:

“Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?

He makes some good points for sure.  The most compelling one is that a distribution model where Media Center is shipped with the Windows OS helps with the awareness “obstacle” that plagues HTPCs even still today.  I agree that the Windows MediaCenter distribution model being used does help with the awareness some – but not enough to matter in my opinion.  I remember discussing this in an interview with Rakesh Agrawal of Snapstream (maker of BeyondTV and Enerprise TV) and it had been his feeling that Microsoft packaging Media Center with Vista would “change and hopefully increase consumers awareness of PC/PVR’s” but he also stated “this did not work out the way he had expected.” 

Agrawal at the time went on to say “because of Microsoft's struggle with driver support and stability, the widespread adoption of Microsoft Vista has not happened they way he had anticipated.  He thought the publicity and push by Microsoft for the HTPC would push PC makers to bundle the video card more with their PC products and this didn't happen.  He also thought that publicity from Microsoft for the HTPC would be stronger than it was.  In the end, Vista has not thus far become a "game-changer" for the media center market.”

I agree with Agrawal.  It wasn’t really the fault of Microsoft, but the awareness argument really never came to pass in my opinion.

Charlie went on to make several other arguments, but I don’t really think any of them were convincing enough to say packaging the HTPC software into the OS worked out all that well.

In conclusion, Charlie asks this:

“Do you think it was the correct decision to keep Windows Media Center as a feature of Windows rather than a standalone application?”

Here’s my response as an outsider, but one who closely follows Home Theater PCs and the Home Media Gadget space very closely:

I would answer: Packaging MediaCenter with the Windows OS definitely was not the correct decision. I understand the reasons MS did it and I agree it might have helped a tiny bit in making some more aware of MediaCenter, but I believe locking in the development cycle of a true HTPC product cripples that software due to the extremely long, drawn out product update cycles. To stay relevant in the Media Home space you have to keep up with the frequent changes in the environment. And tying any updates to the OS makes MS fall behind other alternatives far too fast. If MS is happy keeping Media Center as a "add-on" to Windows like Windows Media Player, then fine. But I do not agree that it is in the products (MC - not the OS) best interest and I think it was done to the detriment of the larger group of Media Center users – who even after pushing MediaCenter into the OS for these several years, still are made up of enthusiasts – not the
“regular Joe's”

Read Charlie Owen’s entire post at his blog – by the way, I really appreciate Charlie’s recent posts on MediaCenter.  I think it is very helpful to the community as a whole to get a peek into the thoughts of someone who worked so closely with and who still enjoys MediaCenter in his home.


What’s your opinion – should Microsoft have separated Media Center from the OS?  Should they do it now?