Nov 12th 2006


Microsoft Zune

What is it with Microsoft and their “we want a bit of that” attitude, rather than focusing on making their own products they stare with green eyes at Apple's market share of the online music business and the success of the iPod.

Well here is the news this isn't a product war, it's a format war. All thanks to our friend DRM. Whoever owns the online music business owns the DRM Format which by law cannot be reverse engineered in many countries. Therefore if you take a reasonable slice of the market at the beginning you can lock new purchases to your platform and essentially end up with a monopoly.

However there are several issues with Microsoft's first attempt at entry into this market. You essentially need two things to compete with Apple.

A well designed “iPod killer” and a online music store it integrates with.

You also need a “killer” feature that the iPod doesn't have, because without that everybody will just buy the iPod.

I thought MS might have this with the Zune, the wireless music sharing sounded like a “killer” idea that may spur social networking for upcoming bands in the same way that Myspace and Youtube did. But unfortunately DRM rears it's ugly head and spoils the party.

Even if you create your own track, put it on your Zune and manage to track down another Zune user within 10 meters and they have their wireless turned on and actually accept your track. Even if after listening to it and thinking that your band is really good. They cannot then forward that track to any of their friends and after 3 days it will vanish, leaving a small tag to download it from the music store (where it wont be found because you are an upcoming indie band)

I can understand why such restrictions may need to be placed on files purchased from Microsoft's store or other already DRM protected files. But why they chose to place the restriction on all music I am not sure. In my view this “feature” makes the Wireless pretty much useless to the point that everybody will save battery life and turn it off.

This just goes to demonstrate why Microsoft can't be cool like Apple. No matter how hard they try, they just don't seem to get it.

There are other problems with the Zune. Take away the mostly useless Wireless facility and it is just another almost as good as iPod device.

What looks like a scrollwheel is simply a round puck over 4 directional buttons. It can't use the Wifi to purchase tracks from the store or to sync with your PC. It requires another not quite media player app to work with your PC (yes PC only). But for me the biggest one, it doesn't work as a general purpose mass storage device. This last bit is madness, so I can carry around a nice large hard drive in my pocket that cannot be used to store anything other than Music and Photos.

Perhaps they will get it right with version 2, or follow the MS trend and wait until version 3. But for now the Zune offers nothing of value over buying an iPod and actually misses out on some important features. Ah but wait Zune is version 2, version 1 being the ill fated PlaysForSure fiasco (any PlaysForSure music you purchased is useless on this player)

Who's to say that version 3 won't have you buy all your music again ? Who's to say that there will even be a version 3 ?

 Update to this article Here


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