Monthly Archives: December 2006

Paul Thurrott Rethinks Zune

I just read this re-review of the Zune from Paul Thurrott. I have mixed feelings about Paul, a long time ago I followed his coverage of Microsoft products religiously but like all people that get educated my religious fervor wore off.

He says a few things that out-right surprise me for someone that is supposedly familiar with Microsoft, here are the choice bits:

Many-myself included-have criticized or even decried Microsoft’s entry into this market, the underwhelming marketing of the device, and the lack of certain features.

Eh? Unless someone has swallowed the blue pill they should have been wondering why Microsoft didn’t jump into this market sooner as it’s really a perfect fit. They’ve obviously wanted a piece of the music market for a long time with all their scattered attempts: MSN Music, PlaysForSure, Windows Media Player, URGE, etc. but those efforts have always required others to step up to the plate to make the magic happen. With the in-house success of the XBox and the XBox Live Marketplace they had all the proof and tools they needed to really make a Microsoft music experience happen.

I think the “underwhelming marketing” actually works in their favor because they know they can’t dominate out the gate and so it’s better to get a smaller, more passionate following at first that can really be their “street team” so to speak while buying Microsoft time to polish their hardware and software. Remember, the iPod is at it’s 5th generation while iTunes is at it’s 7th and just the 1st generation Zune already gives the iModel a run for it’s money.

Historically, Microsoft hasn’t performed very well in markets in which a single strong competitor controls a dominant position.

This comment had me wondering if Paul wrote his article drunk or perhaps hopped up on goofballs. He seems to have forgotten Microsoft history completely. Remember when Netscape was *the* browser and IE was just some little toy? Granted Microsoft fell asleep on the job once they hit the top but they did end up with a market saturation so large everyone else was left with single digits.

How about current events, let’s talk the XBox and XBox 360. In a mere five years it went from laughing stock to the #2 console on the market with a rich feature set that the other players are scrambling to compete against. For every failure Microsoft has a huge success story.

The Zune still has a ways to go but they are already looking pretty good and I only expect it to get better.

Horrible Zune Article

I just read a ridiculous article about the Zune on MSNBC via The Financial Times. Seriously, who writes these things? Has fact checking just gone completely out the window? My favorite quote:

The launch has also been beset by problems with the machines – from limitations on sharing music with other Zune owners wirelessly, to the incompatibility with other online music systems.

First, there are no “problems with the machine”, both items are by design. While some people may dislike the 3-day/play sharing limitation it is a feature that doesn’t even exist on the iPod plus if anyone actually thought it through they would realize that getting a green light for even a limit of 3 was probably a huge deal with the record companies.

Second, the “incompatibility with other online music systems” is the exact same model that Apple uses. You know, it’s called iTunes. The Zune is just as “compatible” with other online music systems as the iPod.

It’s a very tricky article because it’s written as if the author, Richard Waters, has some official word or comment from Microsoft, which he doesn’t. Everything is “according to analysts”, which from what I’ve seen is usually as accurate as asking a fortune teller to predict mortgage rates. The whole article has a blind leading the blind feeling to me.

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Zune Software Bugs: What’s In A Name?

The Zune has a great feature where you can sync music from a PC to your Zune and then copy that music from the Zune to a different PC. Some people seem to think you can’t copy music off the Zune to a different machine, which is wrong.

Of course with the good comes the bad. When you copy a song off the Zune it uses the Rip Music settings to create the folder and filename. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so broken. Here are some bugs related to this particular feature.

1. You can’t specify the folder structure. I hope you like ArtistAlbumTrack Title because that’s all you’ll get.

2. Limited (worthless) separators. The default is 01 Sample Song Name.MP3. That’s not bad looking but the other 17,482 songs in my library all look like 01 - Sample Song Name.MP3 instead. Luckily there’s a dash separator option but guess what that gives you?

01-Sample Song Name.MP3

Notice the fancy way it doesn’t insert spaces?! I’ve been dealing with mp3 files since the beginning of time (seriously, when Winamp, Freeamp and Sonique were the only players in the desktop arena) and of the thousands of songs I’ve seen others tag I’ve maybe seen the “dash with no spaces” separator style about 2% of the time. 90% of the time it’s “dash with spaces”.

3. Microsoft has a long history of using the Album Artist tag to organize the library instead of the more standard “Artist” field. Many a person has been burned/annoyed/angered by this, personally I’m just dead inside from having to deal with it.

A common issue is only seeing part of an album in WMP because half the songs have an “Album Artist” of “Paul Oakenfold” while the other half have “Oakenfold”, yet they all have “Paul Oakenfold” as the Artist. Annoying, yah? The usual way around this is to just blank out the “Album Artist” field and WMP/Zune will instead use the Artist field like everyone else.

All is fine using this work-around UNTIL you copy music without an “Album Artist” field. Instead of using the Artist field if the Album Artist field doesn’t exist it decides to create a folder called “Unknown Artist”. Well, isn’t that useful? So while the Zune software correctly shows “Tenacious D” as the artist it copies it to my work computer underneath “Unknown Artist” because of the missing Album Artist.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone on the Zune software team actually listened to MP3s before the iPod? Do any of them remember burning CD after CD late into the night and carefully naming/tagging everything? Has anyone there actually used anything *besides* WMP to play/manage their music? Does anyone remember the time there weren’t any online music stores and ALL music was either a) ripped straight from CD or b) pirated via the “real” Napster?

If anyone did remember they’d know that the filename format is sacred, you just don’t mess with a person’s personal filename format.