Microsoft Corp. released a test version of its latest Windows Media Player last week, introducing some new features designed to integrate the program more tightly with portable devices and online music services.
Windows XP users can download a preview release of Windows Media Player 10 free at the company's site (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/). This "technical beta" leaves out many capabilities planned for the final release, due before the end of this year.
Its most visible change for now may be what Microsoft calls its "Digital Media Mall," amounting to little more than a bunch of links to Web services that sell music, such as Napster and MusicNow.
But deeper technical changes are in the works for Media Player 10, some of which can be seen in the test version. For example, the finished release is supposed to enable users to automatically synchronize or transfer media files between computers and portable music and video players. The beta version, however, permits automatic file transfers to only a few devices, mostly external hard drives.
Microsoft is hoping this easy-transfer feature will help sell a new line of video and music players that device makers are creating based on Microsoft's Windows Media Center software.
Also embedded in Media Player 10 is much of the code for Microsoft's latest copy-protection system, which will give media companies greater control over how often tracks of music can be copied and transferred to other devices. That will include tracks rented from subscription-based services, which currently can be played back only on Windows computers.
There isn't much you can't buy on Amazon.com these days. The Seattle Web retailer rolled out a new area of its site last week devoted to photographic prints, offering more than 25,000 images from the libraries of stock photography supplier Getty Images and the National Geographic Society (neither of which sells prints from its archives to consumers at its own site).
Buyers can order prints on demand in three sizes, up to 24 by 30 inches, at prices from $15 to $60. This photography site debuts less than two months after Amazon introduced a jewelry department with more than 75,000 items.
Surfin' Slurpee Safari
If everybody has the same idea, can they all be right? Consider the Slurpee.com site 7-Eleven Inc. launched last week, which over the next two months will offer shoppers the chance to compete for freebies by entering codes from specially marked Slurpee cups purchased at 7-Eleven stores. Prizes include song downloads from the Musicmatch online store, ring tones for cell phones, concert tickets and MP3 players.
It's not too different from what's afoot in Papa John's pizza empire; that chain announced last week it, too, will offer free digital downloads from Musicmatch to folks who buy certain meals. Finally, McDonald's said that, starting next week, it will offer a free download from the Sony Connect music store with every Big Mac Extra Value meal.
All these companies are playing catch-up with Pepsi, which offered free downloads from Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store earlier this year.
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