Microsoft on Monday updated its plans for entering the portable media market, giving the software formerly known as Media2Go the official name of Windows Mobile software for Portable Media Centers and pushing back the time frame for when the devices using the software will become available to the middle of 2004.
The devices, using Windows CE 4.2-based software, will be able to play audio and video files and display still images that users download from PCs running Windows XP, the Redmond, Washington, software company said in a statement. The devices will support both MP3 and the company's Windows Media 9 Series standard format.
Microsoft's portable media center announcement came on the same day that Dell released details about its Dell Digital Jukebox music player and its new download service, both of which will be available Tuesday.
The devices from both companies will be competing with Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod digital music player.
Microsoft first announced its software for portable media players in January, when it said it was working with Intel Corp. on a reference design for the devices that would include Intel's XScale processor. At that time, the company also said that the first devices would be available in the U.S. by the end of the year with a price tag starting at US$350.
Manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Sanyo Corp., ViewSonic Corp. and iRiver Inc. have said they will build devices to run on the Microsoft software.
On Monday, Microsoft said it was partnering with Tatung Co. and AboCom Systems Inc. to develop designs for the portable media players but did not give suggested prices for the upcoming devices.
According to Dell's Web site, the Dell DJ music player, which comes with either a 15G-byte hard drive or a 20G-byte hard drive, is priced at $249 or $329 respectively.
Apple's iPod music player -- the first handheld music player with a hard drive to become widely popular -- starts at $299 for the 10G-byte version. The iPod is compatible with both Macintosh and Windows-based computers. Earlier this month, Apple launched a version of its iTunes Music Store service for Windows users, but users can download songs only in the M4P format, also known as AAC (advanced audio coding).
A London-based iPod and Windows XP user who asked not to be named said that because the Microsoft media device would be able to play digital videos, television shows, home movies and digital photos as well as music, he would consider switching to such a device.
"If it was really stylish like the iPod, simple to use and not too expensive, I might be interested," he said. "The video and still image capability does sound impressive but it might be a bit piddly to watch a movie on, so it would depend on how big it was. Then again, if it's too big, it might not be convenient to carry around like the iPod is."
Though overall the iPod has been very easy to use, the user said he has experienced some problems downloading music files from his PC on to his iPod.
"You can't download Windows Media Audio files into the iPod which is a small problem as the WMA files can't be converted into something that is usable," he said. "There does seem to be a few gremlins and files don't seem to transfer to the iPod perfectly. But it's nothing that can't be ironed out, especially with the online help room, and once the iPod gets going, it works brilliantly. So the Microsoft device would have to be something pretty special to get me to switch."