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Recommended Configuration Options for Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player is so chock full of features, its name is a bit modest: It does much more that just play music and videos. But there a few default configurations that are security risks, alter your media files and/or benefit Microsoft at your expense.

This guide exposes these default settings and puts you back in control of your Windows media experience.

The Options dialog box can be accessed by selecting "Options..." from the "Tools" menu.


Windows Media Player Options dialog with Player tab showing
Windows Media Player Options Dialog Box. "Player" Tab Showing.

"Download codecs automatically" is a security hazard.


Download Codecs Automatically (Player Tab)

Microsoft is so eager to become the dominant player in the emerging digital media market, it has placed your security at risk. This feature attempts to make sure you are able to play everything you listen to and view on the Internet by downloading programs (codecs) from third parties. The problem: When you download that Britney Spears video from that third party site, there may be a virus or a trojan attached to it.

Obviously, there are legitimate reasons to download codecs. But Windows has hundreds built-in already. When the author of an audio or video file requires you to download a codec that you, as a Windows user, don't already have, it at least begs the question: Why?

If you leave this feature in the default setting, you never get the chance to ask that question.


Retrieve Additional Information from the Internet (Library Tab)

This feature represents a a major no-no for software makers: modifying your user's data without permission. In the default setting, every time you play an MP3 or other file, Windows Media Player adds information to the file. In particular, it guesses what song or video you are playing and modifies your file to include its guess, right or wrong.

This can be a useful feature for people whose files are disorganized and inconsistent. But for those of us who spend countless hours organizing their media file collection, this feature can unravel all of our hard work.

Uncheck this box if you prefer Windows Media Player leave your files alone.


Rip Settings Format (Rip Music Tab)

By default, when you ask Windows Media Player to convert your audio CDs to computer files, the format is Windows Media Audio (WMA). Almost everyone (except Microsoft) is better served by converting their CDs to the universal MP3 format. MP3 files are much more widely understood by other computers and devices than WMA files.

In reality, Microsoft is enlisting you in a beta vs. VHS-like format war between itself, Apple and Sony, which all have competing audio formats. Microsoft goes as far as issuing a "warning" if you try to encode to MP3.

From a practical standpoint, differences in sound quality and features between WMA and MP3 are negligible. Encoding to WMA does save you a sliver of disk space over MP3, for example.

MP3 is the most compatible audio file format known to man. Computers of all varieties, portable music players (often called MP3 players), cell phones, CD and DVD players- if you can load it with audio files, it is almost guaranteed to play MP3s. Unless you have a good reason to encode your music as WMA files, MP3 is a better default choice.


Originally Published:  Monday, October 10, 2005, 5:00 PM PT

Last Updated:  Monday, June 27, 2011, 6:15 PM PT

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