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How PC volume controls should work

The volume control system on Windows XP is somewhat broken.  The main volume control is pretty easily accessible — you can adjust it with a single click on the volume icon in the tasbar icon tray.   This master volume adjusts everything going out to the speakers (or headphones or line-out or whatever).  But model for adjusting the relative levels of different sound sources is awkward and not well implemented. 

Feeding into the main volume is the "mixer."  You can get to it by double-clicking the main volume control.  It lets you adjust the relative volume of various sound sources like CD audio and wave input and midi that were all very relevant in 1997.  Therein lies the problem.  The audio sources that people care about setting the relative volumes today all fall under one channel in the mixer: "Wave" — they’re different applications like WinAmp and WMP and Real Player and Rhapsody and various web pages.  But in today’s windows applications, every one of these applications has to implement its own proprietary volume control.  Having painfully built a bunch of volume controls out of javascript and .gif’s, I can say it would be much nicer if the OS managed this instead.

A modern volume control mixer widget should have sliders for all running applications that are outputting sound.  Ideally adjusting them in the mixer would synchronize with their positions within the application.  This is a bit harder since it requires defining an API would allow applications to sync the display of their volume control to changes made in the system mixer.  Without this synchronization, this system could be retrofitted onto existing applications simply by hooking in at, say the DirectSound level in Windows.

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