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Media Center nicely blends data sources to create album list

Microsoft Windows Media Center Edition contains a UI nugget worth a close look: the My Music area’s list of albums includes any CD that happens to be in the drive:


This sort of thing looks obvious after the fact, but consider the fact that the list is blending data from two completely different sources: 1) Media Player’s local music database, and 2) whatever CD happens to be inserted in the drive. All actions in the UI work essentially the same regardless of what kind of item is selected (with the difference that a CD can be ripped).

Faced with this design problem, most teams would have created a UI that directly reflected the underlying data model. This would force the user to deal with two distinct UI elements: one area for the the albums already in the database, and a separate area for the local CD drives. (This is, in fact, what Windows Media Player does.)

The Media Center team did a bunch of work to let the user work at the right level of abstraction: everything in the list is an album, regardless of whether it’s ripped yet or not. This sort of thing doesn’t come up every day, but it’s worth thinking about whether your own application could benefit by adopting this nice trick.