Coming Zune

If you haven’t heard by now, Microsoft is getting into the portable, digital media player (DMP) business in a big way with its combination hardware, software and services offering under the name Zune.

Microsoft Zune LogoMany people who have followed the DMP phenomenon since 1998 when the first portable MP3 players hit the market probably know Microsoft has been merely a role-player over the years with its Windows Media codecs, Windows Media Player, and “PlaysForSure” program.  One thing Microsoft has not done, until now, is attempt to unify the entire user experience as Apple has done with its iPods (hardware) and iTunes Music Store (software & services).

 Kudos to Microsoft for being dissatisfied watching from the sidelines as Apple runs away with the market after myriad failed attempts at competing with the iPod juggernaut by several noteworthy hardware, software and services companies.  Those also-ran offerings came from prominent consumer electronics and software brands including Creative, iRiver, Sony, Philips, Dell, Toshiba, Sandisk, Napster, Real/Rhapsody, Rio/DNNA, etc., etc., etc.  Note, for the record, Apple’s iPods were not the first MP3 players of any type.

My iPod ownership has been well-documented, but my 3rd-generation device has been a pain in the arse for several months now due to a battery that simply won’t hold a charge and frequent lock-ups.  During my recent trip around Oceania the device would only play about 15 minutes before shutting off.  I probably could address most my woes by having the battery replaced, but I’m tired of continuing to pour money into a device that has proved it is not as robust as I expected considering how much it cost.

I am now a staunch Zune advocate and supporter despite having never owned or seen a device.  Considering my Microsoft Zune Player in Blackemployer, one may be tempted to dismiss this baseless loyalty as economic self-preservation.  But, remember, I have owned an iPod since they first debuted and have recommended them to several family members over the years.  So, why, after all this time, am I pro-Zune?

Actually, I consider myself more anti-iPod and have come close to pulling the trigger on a Toshiba Gigabeat several times this year.  Once I learned of Zune, my Gigabeat plans were put on hold.  When I learned the first Zune device would be manufactured by Toshiba and have the soul of the Gigabeat I figured it would be worth the wait.  My anti-iPod trappings stem from direct, first-hand experience with several models over several years.  The iPods were all good enough and worked OK but I have always wanted more.

You see, I purchased one of the original hard-disk based MP3 players (Hango/Compaq PJB-100) back in 2000.  It still works fine today (with its original batteries) even after I personally upgraded it from its original 6GB capacity to its current 30GB using an off-the-shelf 2.5″ notebook hard-disk.  Additionally, the PJB-100 plays games (has since Day 1) and includes a software development kit for building custom applications (which I did and distributed to the PJB-100 community).  I could upgrade it to 60GB today if I really wanted which is indicative of just how robust and user- upgradeable the device is compared to even the newest iPods.  The PJB-100 is bulky and made of cheap plastic but it still gets the job done even after all this time which is more than I can say for my iPod.

Microsoft Zune SoftwareMy support of Zune, then, is three-fold:  1) It is not an iPod, 2) I like its ambitions, 3) It looks cool.  Sure, I may rarely (if ever) use its wireless capabilities and I prefer buying entire albums second-hand than paying a buck per tune but the fact that the Zune creators and strategists have grandiose plans beyond anything I have heard or seen come out of Cupertino all these years makes the gamble worthwhile to me.

As long as its battery life is 10+ hours (when playing music), it’s easy to put songs onto the device and the user interface is slick I will be happy.  If the first Zune players also support DivX-encoded movies I will be ecstatic.

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