Windows Me too

There's more to music in Windows Me than that synthesised Brian Eno-esque concoction that plays when you first run Windows. But if you look below the surface, you'll see that the new operating system can't take all the credit for its "new" features, many of which are available separately.

Playing with audio

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Microsoft has finally turned Windows Media Player into a program that can play MP3, WMA, and .wav files, as well as CDs and a whole lot of other audio. Media Player 7 also added play lists, and the ability to download CD tracks from the Internet and look up fun sites about your favourite bands while you listen to their tunes. If you get tired of the look, it also comes with different "skins", plug-in interfaces that you can change at will.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: Surprise! It's Media Player 7, freely available for download by Windows 98 users. (Sorry, Windows 95 fans: Microsoft isn't supporting Media Player 7 on older versions of Windows.) An alternative is the venerable Winamp. Winamp's tiny interface and playlist capabilities are at least equal to Media Player's, it offers a lot more user-built skins, and it plays nicely with Windows 95.

A ripping good CD recorder

THE WINDOWS ME WAY: Want to record some tracks off a CD onto your laptop, so you can leave the bulky CD-ROM drive at home? Windows Media Player 7 can handle this task, too. It saves files in the ultra-compact WMA format that scrunches 4-minute CD tracks down to less than a megabyte. The ripping-encoding process works fine, but we've found that the encoding tends to change the mix a little.

THE WINDOWS ME TOO WAY: You can, of course, also use Media Player 7 to record those ultra-compressed WMA files under Windows 98. But here's an alternative program that remains a little more faithful to the sound of the original track: MusicMatch Jukebox is a free jukebox and ripper/encoder that produces high-quality MP3 files. It also searches the Web for new music and provides great playlist and other organisational tools.

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