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Extreme Media Player Makeover: OS Update Edition

Over the next two months, both Apple and Microsoft will release significant updates to their core operating systems. In doing so, both companies are focusing on making media playback on the desktop look and feel like play back on portable devices.

Snow Leopard
Apple, which is releasing OS X version 10.6, or Snow Leopard, in September, has pitched its operating system update as an optimization and re-writing of core applications from its OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system, which was introduced more than two years ago. As such, the price point for upgrading from Leopard to Snow Leopard is only $29 USD.

One application to receive a complete overhaul, though, is the QuickTime player, which is being renamed QuickTime X, in keeping with the "ten" theme of Apple's Unix operating system.

The new application takes its cue from the popular iPhone and iPod Touch, which abandoned the original QuickTime architecture in favor of an architecture that allowed HTTP streaming. As mentioned in an article back in June, the new QuickTime X on Snow Leopard will support adaptive bitrate, or dynamic, streaming as well through its simultaneous release of the Snow Leopard Server operating system, which comes in an unlimited-client version at $499.

The interface of QuickTime X's desktop player does away with any borders or windows around the actual content, with even the controls disappearing shortly after playback begins, so that the content appears to be floating above the desktop. A single keystroke allows content playback, which defaults to playing in the center of the screen, to fill the entire screen for a less-distracting playback of quality content.

In some ways, QuickTime X's desktop player is similar to the approach Apple also takes with its Front Row application, which allows remote control access to music, movies, and other content stored on the local or locally-networked machines and also to select content accessible through Apple's quicktime.com website.

For other media content, including music, Apple will continue to use the iTunes application, which integrates tightly with the iPhone, iPod, and Apple TV media appliance. Since iTunes uses the same QuickTime architecture, any improvements in QuickTime X will also be reflected in iTunes, perhaps enhancing the user experience on both the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes.

Front Row and the Apple TV appliance were Apple's answer to Windows Media Center, a version of the Windows operating system that was geared toward integration with home theaters and media centers, but both Front Row and Apple TV appear to have lagged in their capabilities and recent updates have slowed to a trickle.

Windows 7
By contrast, the new operating system from Microsoft, Windows 7, which is set to be released in late October, is increasingly integrating local desktop and online content. To better understand the Windows 7 options, which include up to 7 variations—from a basic version to a premium version to a media center version—we'll split the media discussion in to two topics: Windows Media Player 12 and Windows Media Center.

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