Media Center, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Microsoft initially added the Media Center feature to Windows XP. It let you watch broadcast television on your computer, as well as play DVDs, your digitized music collection, and a lot more. It was there in versions of Windows Vista and 7, but according to news reports, it will be MIA in Windows 8. Apparently, you’ll be able to get it as an extra-cost option for some versions of the new operating system.

Microsoft explained the decision by saying that only about 6% of Windows 7 users ever launched the feature. Given the wide usage of Windows in business settings, I guess that makes sense. Microsoft says that it wants to avoid paying royalties for a feature that users don’t appear to want or need. Some people are upset about this decision.

Frankly, I’m glad to see Media Center put out to pasture. I tried it on Vista when I first started using a computer in the living room. After the digital broadcast transition, my hard-disk DVR no longer worked because it only had analog tuners. I dropped a tuner card in a PC and connected it to my big screen, and gave up on Media Center after a couple of days. The interface was a pain to use, the DVR features were limited, and it couldn’t even find the sub-channels in the digital broadcasts.

The fact that Microsoft has done little to improve on that experience is one of the reasons that I believe that Microsoft’s heart really isn’t in delivering television. It’s happy that so many people are using the Xbox to connect their TVs to the Internet, but I don’t see any evidence that they want to get into the business of helping people find the content to watch using that connection. And as a result, I expect Microsoft to get left behind as the home entertainment environment continues to evolve. It’s possible that Kinect may find a niche as a gesture control device for this new world of television, but I think that broad gestures to control a TV across the room is not going to be a popular solution (nor will a speech-recognition device, either).

So don’t count me among those mourning the departure of Media Center from Windows. It was behind the curve when it arrived, and it has not kept up. We’ll likely have to look elsewhere for help in navigation our new media choices.