Back in the dim and distant past, one of the first things I used the family Commodore 64 for was creating a database cataloguing all my music -- that and playing Horace Goes Skiing, of course. It wasn't just vinyl singles, LPs and CDs, either. Having patiently recorded the Top 40 chart every Sunday to my Binatone cassette recorder, I'd card index the order in which each song appeared, its running time and exactly where on the tape it started, labelling each cassette alphanumerically.
Our C64 let me harness all this information into a central database, although the interface was highly unimaginative and mimicked the card index it replaced. Such time-wasting joys as MySpace, instant messenger or YouTube could have made my pre-teen years much more interesting.
These days, there's no need for any of this nonsense: CDs and MP3 files have information about the artist, track, album and more embedded in them. Insert a CD to be ripped to your PC's hard drive and, as if by magic, a full track listing and other details appear in your music player. If not, a one-click request retrieves this information from an online repository, grabbing a copy of the album cover while it's at it.
Windows Media Player doesn't just read these details -- it groups music by type, considers your feedback about particular tracks and decides how often to serve them up. There are even online sites that help you discover artists based on what you enjoy. With greater integration between PC-based music players, online music stores and internet radios, plus the success of businesses that profit from multiple micro followings for authors and bands, this will be our pattern of consumption from now on.
Little surprise, then, that WMP 11.0 will combine tightly integrated photo, music and video libraries with seamless access to online stores.
'Data' is merely a series of digits, but when your ratings and the way you use files add context, this becomes 'information'. And information is what the intelligent search and cataloguing behind modern-day apps harness. This is the information age.
Get the most out of Windows Media Player 11.0
1. Download WMP 11.0 from www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/player/11/default.aspx. It's a chunky bit of code, so set the download to commence when you're not about to use your PC for anything processor-intensive. On dialup, it could take two hours; on our T1 line, it took 40 minutes.
2. Locate the zip file on your desktop and double-click it to extract the files and invoke the installer. Read through the copyright warnings, then accept them. You'll be prompted to close any open applications. Windows then sets a Restore Point and asks whether you want an Express or Custom installation.
3. When you hit Finish to complete and exit the wizard, your all-new black-liveried Windows Media Player pops up. It will import any songs, video clips and images stored on your PC into the library from My Music and elsewhere. And it will add to the library any music you play back in WMP 11.0 that is stored elsewhere.
4. To get it to augment the watch folders, right-click on Windows Media Player at the top left and choose Tools, Options. Hit the Library tab, Monitor Folders and select 'My folders and those of others that I can access'. Click on Advanced Options for more control over how music and video files are added to your library.
5. Since it's typically used as a music player, WMP 11.0 displays this library by default. In previous versions you had to scroll down lists to the get to the artist or album you wanted. Version 11.0 shows items in the main pane as large album cover thumbnails, listed alphabetically. Click on an album to see its tracklist.
6. When you first start using version 11.0, everything will appear under the Recently Added tab. This option becomes more useful over time as it saves you searching through your catalogue and can be viewed in different ways. Click the icon immediately below the Back button to switch between media types.
Tips & tricks
iPod shuffle fix
If your iPod shuffle keeps going awry, alternately flashing green and orange lights, go to docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=300701 for Apple's official fix. If this brings no joy, but iTunes or the iPod Updater recognize your shuffle, plug it into your USB port and ignore the pop-up that appears. In iTunes, click Edit, Preferences, iPod and tick Enable disk use. Set the slider to More data (maximum) and 0 songs, then click ok.
Now head to My Computer and locate the shuffle drive, right-click and select Format. Don't alter any settings; simply click Start. Once formatted, hit Eject in iTunes, remove and reinsert your shuffle.
ROCK GOD ALERT Head to Soundspectrum.com for a copy of G-Force ($US20), a plug-in that stomps all over the visualisations built into Windows Media Player. According to the software maker's site, several rock bands have used G-Force's trippy visuals as backdrops for their onstage antics. www.soundspectrum.com
SPIN ON THIS diMaker 1.2 beta is one of Microsoft's official downloads. This plug-in enables you to experiment with different musical instruments and sound effects from within Windows Media Player 9.0 or later. It will work with all versions of Windows from 98 onwards. www.yourspins.com/downloads
LEGIT DOWNLOADS Are you fed up with paying for digital music downloads and bored of your existing CD collection? Rather than nicking your mate's latest tunes, head to eMusic.com and bag yourself 25 free songs as a thank you for trying out this new DRM (digital rights management)-free service. www.emusic.com