Monthly Archives: September 2006

WMP11 & Buy Now

One minor annoyance with Windows Media Player is that it assumes I don’t own any of my music. I usually use WinAmp but thought I’d see how well WMP11 Beta 2 was coming along and I noticed that in the List pane of Now Playing, when you hover your mouse over the blue arrow in the top-right it offers up a “Buy” button. You know, for when you want to rebuy the same song over and over and over and over.

I already own the song, I do not wish to see a stupid “Buy” button cluttering up the UI.

A Distiller Knock-Off

One of the software projects I work on involves printing color-coded, barcoded labels. Yes, exactly, the height of fun. Often I need to validate that a code change I just made hasn’t completely messed up the rendering engine. Because resolution is a huge issue in things like barcodes I need to actually print through a printer driver vs. just doing a screen preview. Being a good recycling citizen I hate wasting paper, hence where Adobe’s Acrobat Distiller and my cheap ass nature come into the picture. I like the concept of Distiller, I don’t like paying for it.

So, I took a bunch of freely available tools, namely GhostScript, RedMon, and a Xerox DocuColor40 printer driver and rolled them into a simple NSIS install to create a Distiller Knock-Off. I did have to write a small Win32 Delphi application to do a little file management between RedMon and GhostScript but all it really does is shuffle files between the temp folder. I picked a DocuColor40 simply because I wanted the option to print to a 11×17 sheet of paper and I needed a PostScript driver.

You can get it here: Distiller-KO

Adobe & Symantec Whine to EU’s Nellie Kroes

I’ve been watching the EU’s crusade against Microsoft over the last year and each new development makes me shake my head more. The news that Adobe and Symantec have officially whined to Nellie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, has propelled the whole issue into some kind of bizzaro fantasy land.

The issue already had one arm in the straight-jacket when Nellie Kroes accused Microsoft of engaging in a smear campaign to cast her in a negative light. She was already doing that by herself as she displayed her tenuous grasp on the software industry and the actual concept of a free market. At one time the EU Competition Commission had a few valid points but as time has gone on the entire issue has turned into a pissing match with the EU not wanting to lose any political face by backing down.

The news of Adobe and Symantic lodging official concerns to the EU takes the cake though. Their big concern is that their business will be negatively impacted by Microsoft bundling their products and at one time I would have bought into that argument. Now that Firefox has been on the scene though they’ve shown that you can still gain significant market share even if you’re not a bundled product as long as you have a superior product, which Firefox vs. IE6 definitely is.

It must be a scary position for a company like Symantic to know that a large part of their business has been based on the weakness of another. What’s interesting is that they are accusing Microsoft of giving themselves an unfair advantage yet the Microsoft products don’t have access to anything Symantic doesn’t. It’s also interesting how many people I talk to that dislike Symantic’s security products. On top of all of this the consumers have been asking, either directly or indirectly, for much better security built into the OS and now that Microsoft has taken that seriously

What’s so ironic about Adobe’s issue is that PDF files are the Microsoft of formats, meaning 90% of portable documents are PDF-based. Adobe is really saying they are concerned that Microsoft might topple their hold on the market and bring fixed file formats into a competitive phase.

The bottom line is that what the companies are really complaining about is that now they really have to start competing based on the merits of their products.

Uses for a Zune

Ways the Zune could rock:

- Small/indie bands can embed info into the metadata so once the song gets locked people can still see things like their URL, so people can buy the music directly from the band.

- Show up at location X and get some unreleased tracks from Band Y. Whether it’s at a local gig or a promotional event (Warp Tour, X06, X-Games, etc.)

- My mother-in-law plays in a Blues band and people are always asking for her CD’s at gigs and sometimes she runs out. Instead she could share the tracks and keep the music fresh in their mind. If they have the song still on their Zune, even if locked, it’s a reminder that “Oh, yeah, I liked that, I should go buy their music off their site.”

- Transfer XBox 360 music, videos and downloaded media content to the Zune. I’d honestly never watch a movie on a 3″ screen but I wouldn’t mind showing off the “Gears of War” or “Mass Effect” trailer to my friends.

- Enable profile and game content transfers onto the Zune from the XBox 360. I often go to a friend’s house and want to play the latest demo of some game but some of these demo’s weigh in at 500MB, meaning I don’t want to wait for him to download it and it didn’t fit on my small memory card. I hate lugging my 360′s HD around but if I could dump a game demo onto my Zune and play off of it instead that would rock.

- Wireless kiosk to get new XBox 360 exclusive content. Really fold it into the Live ecosystem.

- Wireless connection in your car. Forget the FM transmitter and its loss of quality or the special cup-holder dock or the dangling cable. Just get in, rock out.

- Wireless streaming party mode. Don’t get it? Imagine being at a party where *everyone’s* Zune was being used in the party mix. One wireless laptop in the corner pulling the music and randomly selecting songs off of anyone’s Zune, or just those tracks that have been tagged with “party”. Imagine the cry’s of “that song was HOT! who was that?” or of course “Seriously? That song? Seriously?”

- 3rd Party Integration. Imagine SlimPlayer, Sonos, anyone that already uses wireless putting out a firmware update that allows that system to pull directly from your Zune.

There are a ton more but I see too many people comparing the Zune to an iPod on little things like hard drive size, colors, lack of a scroll wheel, etc. There is a *huge* amount of things that just the WiFi aspect could bring when wielded by Microsoft. A lot of the suggestions I made can easily work with a cable but sometimes just that extra bit of effort to dock/cable your player is enough to make sure it never gets off the ground. If you can walk into a room and things just *work* you have a winner.

Zune and DRM, 3 days later

I hate DRM. It’s one of the reasons I hate the whole iTunes + iPod + FairPlay trinity, that any music you purchase from iTunes can only be legally played back on an iPod. Yes, you can burn that music to disc and then rip it back but at the loss of some quality, time and materials.

As much as I hate DRM I’ve been kicking around this whole concept that any music you share between Zunes will be limited to 3 days or 3 playbacks, which ever comes first, and I have to admit that it makes sense. Here’s my reasoning:

- The ability to share music over WiFi is hot and while it would just be a gimmick in a smaller company’s player Microsoft has deep enough pockets and the long tail endurance to make this a reality (the reality being getting enough units sold that you may actually bump into someone else with a Zune). They want this feature to work, they want people to love it like it’s the new digital crack and so if they have limited it to 3 days/plays they probably have a very good reason.

- Microsoft has realized that against all odds people actually are willing to lock their souls into a software/hardware pairing, a la iPod/iTunes. Willing? Nah, people flock to it, love it, hoist it high on their shoulders and parade it around with the banner of “Easy of Use” flapping in the wind.

- In an attempt to create an iTunesesque creature they need content and since that content will be locked to the Zune their partners must be assured that any content they provide via Zune Marketplace is secure, which means the ability to willy-nilly share music unrestricted will block any type of major labels from sharing their catalog.

- This means that while Microsoft desperately wants to pimp their WiFi sharing concept they have to sooth their music partners, you know, with something like a 3 day, 3 listen lock-down. No exceptions allowed because whatever flag you’d need to flip to tell a song that it can play beyond that limit would be discovered and exploited within 48 hours (and that’s if the hackers were drunk).

- I’d say that 95%, maybe even higher, of the music that people will want to share is commercial music, meaning if you’re listening to it you should have purchased it. In that case while DRM is annoying it’s serving it’s purpose.

All of that being said Zune’s 3 day DRM works. There are of course edge cases, like when you’re a band and you want everyone to have a copy of your latest track distributed via a Creative Common’s license. In that case I still believe you’re better off than if you just had an iPod, without any sharing at all. Some indie-inked-hottie share a copy of her art noise band’s latest “song”? You love it and you zipped through your 3 listens in 20 minutes and really want to hear it again but you can barely remember what website she said you could download it from. Ahh, look, the site’s URL is right there in the metadata for the song so you can zip over there and post your undying love for her as you download each track.

Some people seem to be thinking of the Zune sharing concept as an isolated form of communication yet it’s really another layer to a bigger conversation. Sure, it might be a little annoying that the “free” song is now locked but if you really liked it that much you’ll be wanting to hit up the artist’s webpage anyway to check out show dates, other tracks, media content, t-shirts, stickers, etc.

I’m not saying I love it, just that as far as striking a balance I’m actually pretty impressed and I hope it catches on, especially in the indie music scene.

Zune Gets Personal

Media is a very personal, ego-driven, expressive part of people’s lives and so it stands to reason a media-player is going to arouse just as many emotions. Couple that with most geek’s natural over-emotional, sensitive nature and you are in for a very passionate fight.



There are so many wireless uses for the Zune that I don’t think people have really “got it” yet. Get past the geek ideas of wanting to wirelessly download or wirelessly connect to every device you own and you have some awesome uses:

- Go to a music store and get a music sampler beamed to your Zune. Yeah, you could just download that stuff but going to a music store still has an indie-vibe to it. It’s still where you find hipsters and those uber-indie bands.

- Hit up a concert or a promo area and get exclusive tracks on your Zune. A remix no-one has heard yet or concert/album art not available on the CD.

- A promoter hits up the local hipster bar and offers to beam you some new tracks from the band he’s pimping.

Given time I think all of this would be easily do-able from just a basic cheapy laptop. Load up the Zune Beam software or whatever and you have become a new distribution source.


Chris Pirillo doesn’t think there is an ecosystem for the Zune but he must not have a 360. The XBox Live Marketplace, if linked with Zune, will be awesome. Download trailers, music videos, game trailers, etc. all using a point system that is familiar and established. Buying things from the Marketplace is so easy it’s almost like crack.

Go a step further and allow the Zune to also be used like a memory card and you are rocking. I bought a 360 memory card just so I could drag my profile around to my friend’s house but I’d ditch it in a second if I could do the same to a Zune instead.

Plus, if I could transfer downloaded games to my Zune I can grab that 1GB “Lost Planet” demo and take it to a friends and play instead of waiting while he downloads it just to show it to him.


A lot of people’s Zune Downsides don’t apply to me. A few that I’ve heard mentioned that just don’t fall in my “care zone”.

- No support for FLAC/Ogg/My Codec. Everything I own is in LAME encoded MP3. Yeah, yeah, those other formats are “better” but I don’t care, everyone plays MP3 and that’s what I’m sticking with.

- No support for video codec blah. See #1.

- Can’t play DRM’d music from source X. Umm, why are you buying DRM’d anything? Either buy the CD and rip it yourself or visit one of the Russian sites to get non-DRM’d music.

- No podcast management in the software. Non-issue for me since I don’t get podcasts. I love to listen to my music and read my news. I absorb information about 10x better by reading than I do by listening, plus I can read *much* faster than anyone can speak.

- Accessories are lacking. Phht, again, non-issue for me. If it comes with headphones I’m set. Then again I have a Sonos music system for home so I don’t need a fancy DMP speaker dock. Plus, there are enough generic, works with everyone accessories out there that I’m not really lacking.

- I use Windows so cross-platform doesn’t turn my head, plus remember how cross-platform iPod was at first? For the youngsters that would be “not at all”. In 6 to 12 months from launch I’ll lay a case of beer that you’ll have Mac/Linux tools to work with the Zune.

- Needs wireless downloading on-demand. Hmm, maybe in “the future” where you can actually get a wireless signal outside your home. Where do these people live that actually can get a high-speed wireless signal in enough places to make wireless download on-demand even feasible?

Love it or hate it, the Zune has at least done something a lot of other iPod-challengers haven’t, that is getting people discussing it. While version 1.0 of the Zune may not seem like much, I’m banking that Zune 2.0 or 3.0 will rock your world.