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What Windows 7 Needs To Succeed

Microsoft is getting early kudos for the Windows 7 beta, but our reviewer has identified some tools and accessories which improve the out-of-the box experience for monitoring system health, backing up data, playing media files, and more.
Windows Media Player

If you weren't a fan of Windows Media Player before, the new iteration of Windows Media Player that comes with Win7 probably isn't going to win you over. It's much the same, barring some minor streamlining here and there, so if you were unthrilled with it to begin with, you'll want to hunt for a replacement.




A view of Windows 7's Vista-like music library.
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)

Fortunately, this category is almost bottomless: there are more media player apps for Windows than almost any other kind of program. A few rise to the top as being most worth the effort, though: Winamp, probably the single most widely used third-party media player app since the rise of the .MP3 format, is one of the most foolproof places to start. It still wins great kudos for being small and light, has a staggering number of third-party skins and plugins available for it, and it's grown with both the times and the average size of a person's music library.

Newer to the party but well worth watching is Songbird, built using some of the same core components as Firefox and designed to make it easy to discover music through a variety of social networks and download sites. For video playback as well as audio, VLC handles almost every format known to mankind, from H.264 to QuickTime to you-name-it.

What You Don't Need

With all that I've talked about here, I should also mention things you won't need out of the box, since they're included with Windows 7 by default.

One of the first -- and most useful, if you use your PC as a media hub -- is DVD playback support. On all the machines where I tested the Windows 7 beta, DVD playback was included out of the box in Windows Media Player. Not everyone's fond of the WMP interface, but you can elect to use Windows Media Center instead and get the same results.

Another thing that will not need to be added after the fact is Apple's QuickTime, if all you use it for is playing .MOV files captured from digital video cameras and the like. As of the current release candidate, WMP natively supports .MOV playback -- something that bugged a lot of Windows Vista users (me included!). Note that if you use QuickTime for playing back movies from the Web where the QuickTime plugin is needed, you'll still need to install QuickTime, of course.

In Summary

Windows 7 is still a work in progress and will continue to be even after its release, so there may be further changes that impact what's left in or taken out. But 7's taken enough of a shape at this point to give people a good idea of what they need to add or augment on their own.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Windows 7.