Microsoft kills off portable media center OS

Oh Creative: your fat form factor felt so great stretching my jeans pocket … or not.

It’s not often that Microsoft consigns an OS to the recycle bin but it was revealed this week that the software colossus has deep-sixed the Portable Media Centre.

Introduced in early 2004 the PMC was intended to combat the seemingly unstoppable iPod by combining Microsoft’s strengths in OS development and PC penetration and its relationships with the heavy hitters of the hardware world.

The Portable Media Centre OS was written using the same Windows CE framework as Windows Mobile but with an interface modelled on that of the Windows XP Media Centre. The first PMC players were introduced by launch partners Creative and Samsung with Toshiba later joining their ranks and were intended as go-anywhere companion to your multimedia-packed XP computer.

The players went beyond the mandatory syncing with Windows Media Player to load tunes and photos — they could also download and replay video content recorded on your Media Centre system. However with so few people running a true media centre PC in the first place most buyers found the PMCs to be over-engineered (and over-priced) for more modest mainstream needs.

Microsoft updated the PMC to a slicker version 2.0 in early 2006 to “enable partners to build smaller less expensive and more competitive devices” according to Microsoft employee David Bono who confirmed the PMC’s death notice in the a newsgroup posting (on center.portable) this week.

Toshiba Gigabeat: not exactly an iPod killer

However when Microsoft moved onto Phase 2 of their iPod-smashing campaign with the development of the Zune (built by PMC partner Toshiba) it chose to bypass the PMC in favour of writing a new OS — albeit one based on the same CE foundation as the PMC and its PDA and smartphone sibling Windows Mobile.

Asked about the implications for their existing PMC-based Gigabeat range a Toshiba spokesperson told that “Toshiba will continue to support the PMC operating system through our Gigabeat range” with Microsoft continuing to work with Toshiba as they’re classified as an ‘existing partner’.

But Microsoft clearly considers PMC to be yesterday’s platform. Bono (the Microsoft staffer not the rock star) says that from now on Microsoft will focus its “product and marketing resources on building media experiences on connected Windows Mobile powered devices”.

As any user of Windows Mobile can attest the platform’s Pocket Media Player remains one of its most lack-lustre components. Video synchronisation is limited to an eclectic mix of formats which must meet arcane encoding specs and there’s no ability to whip up even a simple MP3 playlist on the fly.

The timetable could be right for a significant PMC-inspired overhaul of the player in the forthcoming Windows Mobile 7 OS codenamed ‘Photon’.

The XP look in your pocket: at least Portable Media Centre didn’t blue-screen

Being built on the new Windows CE 6 framework Photon is rumoured to be the release which will unify the Windows Mobile platform as a single OS rather than the current offering of three versions for three different types of products — PDAs PDA-phone combo devices and smartphones (devices without a PDA touchscreen).

PutWindows Mobile 6 has already taken a step away from being device-specific by branding the different flavours of the OS as Classic Standard and Professional.

An all-new Windows Mobile OS would likely combine the technology subsets of those devices along with enhanced multimedia capabilities in the same way that Windows Vista integrated XP’s bolt-on Tablet and Media Centre editions into the core operating system.

Then again considering Vista’s laggard performance and substantially increased hardware hit we wonder if an uber-OS for mobile devices would be a good thing..?