Microsoft released Windows Media Player 7 today, which includes technology that lets media companies time-limit downloaded music.
But the software giant faces stiff competition from RealNetworks, which yesterday released figures that suggest its web media player, RealPlayer, was used by 25.3 million US users last month. This represents two and a half times more users than any other media format.
The data, from researcher Nielsen/NetRatings, also found that the number of consumers accessing RealPlayer content increased by more than 700,000 active users between May and June, but use of Windows Media content declined by more than 160,000 users in the same period.
Windows Media Player 7 features several new additions including a jukebox that plays music downloaded from the internet and also allows users to copy tracks from CDs to computers and vice versa. Microsoft will also release new versions of software for encoding and distributing media files.
The software giant has also integrated audio CD-creating technology from Adaptec as well as creating a digital DJ facility that automates and customises playback of digital audio and video based on user preferences.
Analysts said the product is not ground-breaking but it will help Microsoft establish a foothold in the highly competitive and fast-growing digital audio client market.
Eric Scheirer, media and entertainment analyst at Forrester Research, said: "[In the long term] we are going to see the marketplace settle around one or two primary media players rather than having the kind of muddle we have now. Microsoft will remain among them."
Windows Media Player 7 runs only on Windows 98 and Windows 2000. It is available to download free of charge at http://www.windowsmedia.com/download/
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