Yesterday Microsoft announced the release of a new edition of Windows Essentials 2012 (formerly Windows Live Essentials 2011) that suite of installable programs designed to supplement and enhance Windows 7 and Windows 8. Included in the package is a new version of Windows Movie Maker. The changes are hardly radical, but they do include a few features that users have been clamoring for since the previous version of WMM (version 6) was abandoned for the radically simplified (some say ‘dumbed down’) 2011 version.
A little history
Windows Movie Maker version 6, intended to run on Windows XP, was a timeline-based video editing program a la Adobe Premiere. It was not so sophisticated, but could be used to perform basic edits using the Premiere tracks style user interface. with the 2011 edition of Movie Maker, released with Windows Vista and revised with Windows 7, the timeline was abandoned in favor of a very simple—and bewildering, for veterans of the previous version—user interface intended primarily as a quick and easy way to dump in vacation photos and videos, auto-add visual effects, pan and zoom effects, transitions, background music, and titles, and then produce a WMV video for play on computers, emails, or as input to Microsoft DVD maker for trans-coding as a DVD that could be played on the family big screen.
This left veteran users of the program howling. Gone was all the find control on the timeline, and the ability to syn multiple sound tracks, narrations, etc.
On the whole, Movie Maker 2011 succeeded just where Microsoft meant it to succeed, with the average consumer, but they were apparently stung by the vociferous criticism of some of the “power users” who wanted more, because they have added a few of those elements back in with the new release.
The new release
The new release is still not timeline-based, it still has the ultra-simple Interface of the previous version, but Microsoft has added:
- the ability to add multiple independent narration tracks throughout a video;
- a separative narration tool tab, with the standard editing features;
- hooks to adding free or royalty free (expensive, but pay one time) background music tracks—one of the big problems with the previous version is that users added commercial music background tracks to their videos, and uploaded to YouTube which promptly stripped the tracks out as being copyright violations;
- separate waveforms for the audio contained within a video track, the background music track, and the narration track—yes, I said track; while there are no true, continu0us tracks in the user interface, there are separate track-like representations of audio;
- waveforms can be toggled on or off, but they are so useful that it is hard to see why they would ever be off;
- new tools to emphasize audio narration, video audio, music, or no emphasis on the Project tab;
- new text tools to add colored outlines around text and captions—before there was no way to set text off and it often became lost in the video background;
- a new publication option to Vimeo, along with a new publishing partnership with that service, and the ability to manage publication options through your Windows Live account;
- many new Save Movie presets, including presets for Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets, even an option to save for Blip.tv, and (Microsoft is always the last to know that no one cares) an option to save for the Zune;
- perhaps biggest of all, Microsoft joins the rest of the world in recognizing h.264 as the default video standard and mp4 as the default video file format.
- At long last Microsoft has also included image stabilization with Movie Maker, but it is only available on installs on Windows 8 (because it uses hardware acceleration only available in Windows 8), which, for the present, means Windows 8 consumer preview. When I tested it on my own shaky, wobbly video I could not see a difference between the three possible settings.
In all the additions to the now familiar Movie Maker interface are very welcome. I did have a few problems with splitting videos that contained a narration (the narration disappeared once in a while, especially on Windows 8), and I wish when recording a narration there would be some sort of indicator other than the play head moving through the video, but the addition of the narration tool in itself, and the addition of audio waveforms for clarity’s sake, makes Movie Maker a truly useful academic tool now, rather than a tool for grandma to put together the family slide show. It doesn’t take the place of a powerful video editor like Camtasia, never mind Premiere, but for the quick and easy video/audio edit its great.