One of the new features announced at the recent Windows 7 Reviewer’s Workshop in LA is that Windows 7 will natively support a number of popular media formats so that users don’t have to worry about finding installing and downloading third-party codecs.
This is an evolution in media support which is similar to the inclusion of native MPEG-2 playback in Windows Vista providing the DVD playback functionality which was missing in Windows XP.
It’s an interesting change by Microsoft which in the past has doggedly clung to the hope that Windows Media Video will end up as the prevailing video format for the internet. It appears to have finally conceded that the vast majority of people are watching downloaded stuff in DivX or Xvid — possibly a realisation driven by the enormous amount of telemetry data it has collected from users of Vista that it never had access to through XP. It has stopped short of bundling Adobe Flash support into Windows though as it develops its own Silverlight technology.
Windows 7 will also support H.264 video and AAC audio. The support for AAC will be welcome news for people with music and video that has been encoded in Apple iTunes as Windows 7 will be able to play all iTunes media through Windows Media Player.Unfortunately this won’t apply to media that has been purchased from Apple’s iTunes store because Windows 7 can’t decode the Apple FairPlay DRM which Apple refuses to license to anyone else.
The ability to play back these additional formats has implications for new Windows 7 services like libraries and networked media player support as Windows 7 users can index and search across their iTunes media without needing to use iTunes as the default player and can send a wider variety of media content to a centralized location.
A more subtle user benefit is that by not having to download third-party codec bundles (which is convenient in itself) users can minimise the inevitable build-up of unverified software running on their systems. Most major codecs are freely available but you often need to install multiple disparate packages to get the widest possible support for digital media — or run an ‘all in one’ CODEC installer which may also come bundled with hidden malware inside. Additionally these CODEC packages can interfere with other and the codecs are not necessarily optimised to run efficiently.
By bundling a wide variety of media formats into Windows 7 Microsoft has created an operating environment which negates the need for third-party codecs and should therefore run more stably and reliably. It also brings blanket support for the most popular online media formats providing an environment in which users can start playing their favourite content immediately.