Musicians, consumer-electronics and broadcast companies, and other media-content providers are embracing Microsoft's budding Windows Media 9 Series technologies, now in beta, at an unprecedented rate. This week, singer Peter Gabriel released his most recent album--"Up"--as a traditional in-store CD release and as a digital download available only in Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 format. And because of advances available only in the new WMA 9 format, you can get Gabriel's downloadable digital album in both stereo and 5.1 channel surround-sound versions.

Described as a "groundbreaking" event, the album release is a major coup for Microsoft, which often takes a backseat in the cool department to Apple Computer, whose products are popular with artists, musicians, and other creative people. In Microsoft's favor, however, is the superiority of its new audio and video formats (which are at least two generations beyond the Advanced Audio Coding--AAC--and MPEG-4 formats that Apple uses) and its Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology (which content creators can use to prevent piracy). Microsoft's close relationships with more than 60 consumer-electronics companies, which are now building digital-media products and services based on the Windows Media 9 Series platform, are also a plus for the company.

"The fundamental value of a software platform is truly defined by the breadth and depth of companies that choose to build upon it," said Will Poole, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Digital Media Division. "We designed Windows Media 9 Series to be the most comprehensive digital media platform available, enabling a host of companies to deliver great products and services for their customers."

Among the products we'll see this holiday season and in early 2003 are DVD players with hardware-based support for Windows Media Video (WMV) 9-encoded digital movies on recordable DVDs, streaming and downloadable music from various online music services, a new generation of portable digital-audio devices, and local movie houses that will project digital movies in WMV 9 format. Software companies such as Adobe, Autodesk, Roxio, SnapStream Media, and Sonic Foundry are also building support for Windows Media 9 Series technologies into their products.