Windows Media Player and iTunes are duking it out with incompatible DRM, trying to leverage their respective dominance in operating systems and media devices. Like Sauron, Gates and Jobs are trying to forge the one media player to rule them all. In the meantime, could a third party sneak in and steal the ring? That’s the promise of software like the latest release of SimpleCenter.
And based on features, it beats both iTunes and WMP hands-down.
The free version of the player will display and playback all your standard formats of photos, audio and video. After installing, it found almost all of the media tucked away on my hard drive, including the libraries maintained by my installations of iTunes, Democracy Player and my Azureus download directory. The application interface made it easy to search and find content, and the playback experience for both audio and video was smooth and trouble free.
One feature that jumped out at me was the ability to manage media on multiple devices. For instance, what if I have both and iPod and an Xbox 360? One only works with iTunes, the other with Media Player and Media Center. SimpleCenter promises to handle tasks related to both. While the source code is not publicly available, it’s planned to be released in July, and they’re specifically looking for help extending the client to Linux and Macintosh OS platforms.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really test iPod support since the Shuffle isn’t one of the supported models (even though it’s prominently displayed on their developer page). But a Sanyo flash-based MP3 audio player and recorder that I had some trouble finding drivers for was detected instantly, and made available for transferring audio and other data. Of course, it can’t access the iTunes store or, presumably, FairPlay DRM and licenses, but it does work with Microsoft’s PlaysForSure.
But it’s one of the premium features that really sets SimpleCenter apart. Unlike iTunes, which won’t even let you re-download tracks you’ve purchased earlier from the store, mySimpleCenter will let you maintain a central repository of media on their servers for remote access from any system. For instance, an interview I recorded on a device and uploaded to SimpleCenter’s servers could be access from a friend’s machine in a pinch. You can even share media, such as home movies, with other SimpleCenter users.
I’m not saying that SimpleCenter is the Frodo Baggins of media players, ready to free hobbled devices from the chains that keep them from being interoperable. But it does show that when they’re not pawns in a proxy battle between dark lords with dreams of monopoly, developers can create the kind of feature-rich, open applications that you’d actually choose to use.