Windows Media Player 7.1 lets you create a musical PDA

I admit it—I'm a gadget freak. I own an assortment of Windows CE—based Pocket PCs and handheld PCs (the larger models with keyboards). I've used them all for business purposes, but let's be honest: They're fun to play with.

I'm particularly fond of two features included with Pocket PCs: the Microsoft Reader eBook viewer and Windows Media Player (WMP). Used together, the two provide a great way to spend time. Last year, I read most of Michael Crichton's novel Timeline on a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Jornada 545 while traveling, and I listened to music at the same time because Windows CE is a multitasking OS. Start playing tracks with WMP, and you can switch to Reader (or any other application) without skipping a beat.

Early versions of WMP don't let you pull tracks off audio CDs and transfer the music to mobile devices. However, WMP 7.1 includes support for mobile devices (including Pocket PCs) and lets you grab tracks directly off any audio CD in your collection. Here's how to do it.

First, if your system doesn't have WMP 7.1, you can download the 10MB program from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/en/download/default.asp. The program runs on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, or Windows 98 (but not on Windows NT 4.0). After you install WMP 7.1 on your desktop, you can insert an audio CD in your CD-ROM drive (WMP 7.1 launches automatically when you insert an audio CD in the drive) and click WMP 7.1's CD Audio button to display the tracks on the CD.

The next step is probably the most time-consuming. Right-click each track, click Edit in the resulting context menu, and change the track name. (By default, every audio CD starts with "Track 1"; changing the track names to something more descriptive than numbers can help you easily identify tracks after you copy them.)

For example, I'm preparing to copy an Aaron Copland CD, so I've changed the track names from "Track 1" through "Track 23" to "Copland-1" through "Copland-23." To speed up the process, I copied the "Copland-" phrase from the first track and used the Ctrl+V keyboard shortcut to paste the phrase on all the tracks. Then, I inserted the numbers on each track. Of course, I'll need to get more creative with titles if I want to copy another Copland album, but this procedure will do for now.

After I change the track names, I select the check boxes next to the tracks I want to copy. Then, I click Copy Music to begin copying the tracks to my hard disk. When copying is complete, I click Portable Device on WMP 7.1. On the resulting two-pane display, which Figure 1 shows, music to copy appears on the left and music on the portable device appears on the right. The HP Jornada 545 I'm using has a CompactFlash (CF) card, which will let me store the entire album (1 hour of playback averages 64MB in the most popular MP3 audio format, whereas Microsoft's Windows Media Audio—WMA—format is about twice as efficient). I can select the CF card by picking Storage Card from the drop-down menu under the Music On Device tab.

To copy the music from my hard disk to the HP Jornada, I select my Copland tracks from the Music to Copy tab in the left pane, then click Copy Music. The copying process takes a bit longer than the CD—to—hard disk process (I used a serial cable to connect the HP Jornada, but using one of the newer Pocket PCs and a USB port would be faster). But in a few minutes, I'll have the album ready to take with me.

Pocket PCs aren't the only devices that you can use with WMP 7.1. To view a Web page that lists devices that work with WMP 7.1, select Tools, Options, then select the Portable Device tab and click Details. Supported devices include Compaq's iPAQ personal audio player (it costs $199, looks like a pager, and has 64MB of memory), Creative Technology's NOMAD II, and SONICblue's Rio 600/800; support for Frontier Labs' Nex II device is in the works.

On the HP Jornada, I can play music by using the Pocket PC version of WMP 7.1 (WMP 7.1 for Pocket PC is a free 1.8MB download available at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download/pocket.asp) or the newer WMP 8.0 on Pocket PC 2002 devices, which Figure 2 shows. Both WMP 8.0 and WMP 7.1 offer a cleaner UI than the original Pocket PC version of WMP, as well as a Playlist that automatically searches for compatible content.

To bring up the Playlist, tap Select; to select music to play, tap Add (the Add icon looks like a plus sign—+). This action displays a list of all compatible audio content on the device; from the list, you select the files you want and tap OK in the upper right corner of the Pocket PC display. After you've selected the tracks you want to hear, tap OK to exit the Playlist, and you're ready to play the tracks you've selected.