I feel good. I waited a long time before I blogged about this. Usually I don't have that kind of restraint. Anyway, it's time to talk about the Zune. The Microsoft Zune. Microsoft's attempt to be cool. The music player equivalent of doing the Carlton Dance. This is gonna be a long one, so settle in. I've got a lot to say.

The market will have two big players for a long time, us and Apple. Obviously we’re the David in this one. Apple’s the Goliath.
— Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, Nov. 14, 2006

Great. So far, Zune has all but completely failed to meet Micrsoft's projections, but that's ok. I'm not here to discuss that it happened, only why it happened. It seems to me that the reasons are obvious, but for those of you who hate Apple and iPod and feel the need to lash out and buy a Zune, stop. Buy a Creative Zen or a Samsung or something else. Something that actually works.

Here's the thing folks: The iPod is nothing big. I'm not a huge fan of it myself. I own one and I'm happy with it, but it's nothing special. It may have a revolutionary interface, but I could learn to use any interface with proficiency in time. It may have style, sure, but I'm not big on style. Frankly, I don't know why I have one. The iPod isn't the point though, the Zune is. Don't buy it to spite Apple. The victory will be bittersweet and you'll be disappointed.

The articles have been flying throughout the Internet since before Zune was released. The Zune isn't compatible with Vista yet. The Zune doesn't have a large hard drive and they don't plan on increasing the size. It does not offer support for audio books or podcasts. The navigation wheel is actually a directional pad in disguise. The wonderfully customizable large screen only serves to drain the battery faster. It's larger and heavier than an iPod. It has significant problems while installing software. The new DRM is incompatible with their other DRM, PlaysForSure (Irony!) and Zune Marketplace music doesn't work with Windows Media Player. That's the rundown of undesirable features I don't want to talk about. Now for the things I do want to talk about.

When Project Argo was first reported on, Microsoft stated that the Zune would be "a shade of white" (whatever that means), and that it would also be available in an array of complementary colors. In the end, it was released in what can only technically be described as colors, white, brown, and black. If you took an iPod and smeared poop all over it, it would look like a brown Zune. The colors are not complimentary, they are insulting. Original isn't always better.

As I mentioned, the Zune is supposed to be cool. It has to be to compete with iPod, as iPod's cool feature is it's largest selling point. The Zune is not cool for many reasons. First, Microsoft makes it, and that means it's not cool. Have you ever heard anyone say "Microsoft Xbox"? Nope. That would make the Xbox seem uncool. Microsoft is the company you patronize because you don't have a choice. No one gets excited about new versions of Windows. If you do, kill yourself.

Second, the Zune has a larger screen. This seems to be a good feature, but it's not. Here's the thing that almost all other reviews seem to have missed: The resolution is the same as the iPod's screen, which means the pixels are bigger, and it looks blockier, like when you zoom in on a picture. You're not really gaining much. On top of that, there is no legal way to get good video on your Zune. I'll emphasize legal. Zune Marketplace does not offer any sort of video download, so anything worth watching would have to be acquired from an illegal source, such as from a file sharing site, or somehow stripping the DRM off an iTunes file (iTunes music and video is not compatible with the Zune, so switchers will need to buy iTunes Music Store purchases again from Zune Marketplace).

Zune's most promising feature is the ability to share music wirelessly. It sucks because any music you share is automatically wrapped in a DRM that destroys the file after three plays or three days. Even music you made that you want to share will be destroyed after three days. Regardless of how fair this may or may not be, the process of sharing is officially called "squirting," which immediately makes me not want to use it. I mean, come on! They took a process that is easily understood by the technical terms (wireless sharing) and they created what can best be described as a sexual innuendo to further confuse shoppers. It doesn't matter though, because if you buy a Zune, you'll be lucky to find someone else to squirt with.

Third, the motto is "Welcome to the Social." Microsoft likes this slogan so much that it's written on the side of the Zune packaging in a font so large that it literally looks like this:

Wel- come to the social

I would have chosen a font size to let me fit the words without breaking them up, but that's just me. Speaking of me, I walked into a Wal-Mart the other day and saw a huge sign with the motto and a picture of an ugly woman with crooked teeth smiling, except she's so close to the lens that you can't see if there's a Zune anywhere around. Apparently this is Microsoft's view of it's customers. The slogan and logo, which kinda resembles a Z but really looks like a bad game of pickup sticks, are both on the sign. The only TV commercial I can remember seeing about the Zune is one wherein a dog is scratching its ear while a man is pretending to be a human beatbox. At the end, some pretentious sounding prick says "Brought to you by Zune. Welcome to the Social." If the social consists of pretentious sounding pricks, easily amused idiots, and ugly women all squirting and playing pickup sticks with each other, I do not want to be at this social.

Steve Ballmer says he's going to add video squirting (cringe) to the Zune. That's great. Now you can squirt people with all that video you're not getting cause Zune isn't compatible with anything.

This biggest deal for me is that Microsoft has not done a thing with the Zune to cater to the consumers. They immediately acquiesced to Big Music demands by sending Universal Music Group money for every Zune sold. Doug Morris, CEO of UMG, explained the reasoning:

These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it, so it's time to get paid for it.

Fantastic. That's why the DRM screws you over. Microsoft thinks that if they have Big Music backing them, they can't lose. Who cares what people want? That's why Zune Marketplace sells music on points instead of with money. That way they can charge more for popular songs and you don't realize it. Also, they make you buy points in five dollar increments.

I searched Facebook for Zune groups, and found about an equal number of Zune hating and Zune loving groups. The Zune hating groups had near 70-100 people each, while the Zune loving groups average about 15 people. For those of you who love the Zune, remember that Microsoft didn't do this for you, and they aren't listening to what you want. Even if you ignore how much effort Apple has put into leveraging your needs and wants with Big Music's demands (which has really pissed them off), you could at least buy an MP3 player that works from someone other than Microsoft and Apple.

Comment