Windows Media Player
XP comes with the new version 8 of Windows Media Player.
Similar to version 7.1 its features include a Radio Tuner and the ability to rip music from an audio CD. For audio the default decoding is in Windows Media Audio (WMA), which improves upon MP3 by delivering CD-quality music at half the size of MP3. Windows Media Player can of course play MP3 files, but you need to install the upcoming MP3 Creation Pack to rip songs from CDs in MP3 format. You can install support for other encoding technologies, and the Options panel then let you choose the quality (up to 192 kbps for WMA) and which codex to use.
In this panel there is also links to sites with comparison information about different encoding technologies. Sadly Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is not mentioned here at all, which is one of today's most efficient technologies for digital audio compression. This seems like a swipe at MPEG by Microsoft because, Microsoft's format is competing directly with open MPEG solutions.
When you rip CDs Windows Media Player automatically organizes the WMA files in artist/album folders. The picture that identifies the Artist folder in Thumbnails view consists of small images of the album covers for the four first albums you ripped by that artist.
When you open an artist folder there is one subfolder for each album, which are imprinted with the album cover.
For Windows Media Player being able to fetch the album information and images, you of course have to be connected to the Internet.
Windows Media Player 8 supports copy protection of music ripped from CDs. This involves that music that has been ripped on one computer cannot be played on anther computer. You are actually able to turn off this feature so the question is how valuable it is for the artists after all.
Windows Media Player is also capable of playing DVD movies, but this still requires a software or hardware decoder from a third-party.