Windows Media Player Plug-in for Firefox Now a Reality

If it seems cooler to you today in places where it's normally fairly warm, or even burning hot, there may be deeper forces at work than mere global warming changes in the atmosphere. The department of Microsoft's development team delegated to interoperability and open standards have released what might have seemed the least likely product ever to emerge from Redmond: an officially sanctioned Windows Media Player plug-in for Mozilla Firefox.

"When the [Open Source Software Lab] was created at Microsoft people thought it to be another Microsoft marketing ploy," writes OSSL developer Hank Janssen on his team's blog today, in a post entitled, "We're Writing Firefox Plug-ins?." "Well I can tell you that that is certainly not the case here at OSSL."

While Firefox users have generally been able to play MP3 audio files, and MPEG2 and MPEG4 videos, using Apple's QuickTime player plug-in, streaming of some Microsoft-specific formats such as WMV has sometimes been elusive. Depending on your setup, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And Web sites that depend on access to the WMP console - including, admittedly, Microsoft co-owned and operated sites such as MSNBC.com - have sometimes responded with cryptic messages saying videos are unavailable. Up to now, MSNBC.com told viewers using Firefox they couldn't see videos from the site...with a video showing an MSNBC anchor delivering the apology directly.

But with the plug-in installed, that's changed; and now, Windows XP SP2 and Vista users who have Windows Media Player 11 can now be assured they can see videos from Microsoft's and other's sites whose video display abilities relies on their accessibility to Microsoft's rights management on the client side. Sites that didn't have this problem in Firefox - such as CBSNews.com - continue to work well.

CORRECTION - As one of our readers, PC_Tool, correctly pointed out, Firefox plug-ins and Firefox extensions are somewhat different. Those expecting the WMP 11 plug-in to behave like an extension might be surprised. Rather than download an .XPI file and have it show up in the Extensions list, where it would advise the user to stop and restart Firefox to activate, Microsoft's WMP 11 plug-in advises users to download an .EXE file, then quit Firefox altogether, run the installer, then restart the browser. (You'd think a long-time Firefox user would be able to keep the difference straight in his head. Consider myself thoroughly bonked on the head.)

To uninstall this plug-in, the user must select "Add or Remove Programs" from the Windows Control Panel, under "Windows Media Player Firefox Plugin." We noted that the plug-in didn't disturb any of the existing content handler settings. For instance, on our test system, MP4 files which were set to play with QuickTime were left as-is, while settings for Windows Media formats such as .WM, .WMA, .WAX, and .WMV were added.

What the installation instructions do not say (and they should) is that version 11 is required, and that WMP 10 will not work with this plug-in. We found this out the hard way. If you only have WMP 10 installed, accessing a video from a site will lead to a blank screen. No video plays, but to its credit, the plug-in doesn't crash the browser or the system. Instead, Firefox' status bar reads "Done," as if it's finished trying to make things work when they clearly can't.


An MSNBC.com video playing perfectly well inside the WMP 11 Plug-in for Firefox. A video from MSNBC.com playing perfectly well inside the WMP 11 Plug-in for Firefox. Users of Firefox have often had trouble using sites that stream in Windows-based formats, or that try to make contact with WMP features on the client.

Upgrading to WMP 11 solved this problem immediately, although some users have advised against such an upgrade on account of the addition of extra rights management measures, such as recognition of broadcast flags embedded in captured video streams.

"Is Microsoft competing with Linux and OSS" Janssen writes. "You bet they are. Just like every other company is competing against other companies/people/products that create similar products. Is Microsoft working to better interface with some of the Linux and OSS products? You bet they are too! We are frequently working on those things as well."

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