Monthly Archives: May 2008

ZuneKeys Updated for Zune 2.5

Another new Zune client update, another ZuneKeys. For those that don’t know ZuneKeys gives you a few hotkeys to control playing and pausing the Zune software from any application (hence why they’re called global hotkeys). I stole the idea from WinAmp because I’m always needing to pause or skip tracks and it’s much easier to do it with a quick Ctrl + Alt + Home rather than opening up the software and finding the pause button.

It’s a super-tiny 31k app. Just unzip and run and it sits in your tray listening for a hotkey. Uou can play, pause, stop, skip tracks or adjust the volume. If anyone on the Zune team reads this I’d love to know if there are any official messages I can send to the application for control because right now I’m faking it by sending the same messages those fancy (and bulky) multimedia keyboards send.

Download ZuneKeys

Hello Zune, We Meet Again

So “Meet Again” is a bit of a misnomer since I use my Zune everyday but each time an update comes out it always feels like I’m relearning the Zune all over again. This time it’s the Zune 2.5 Spring 2008 Update and like every previous update I have a love/hate relationship with it.

The Love

This is an interesting update because they’ve actually added a ton of new features but they’re not all immediately obvious. The feature that jumps out the most is the new video section in the marketplace which currently has TV episode purchases but I’m assuming will eventually expand to include movie rentals and purchases. This helps bring the Zune in line with iTunes and the XBox’s version of the Marketplace and really helps round out the media experience.

They’ve listened to the community because some of the most demanded features are there, namely auto-playlists, gapless playback and browsing by genre. They’ve also really started taking the whole “Social” more seriously since you can finally view ZuneCards inside the software and get directly to your friend’s (and their friends) play list. I’d love to see these ideas explored even more, perhaps creating an API that allows you to import your play information from other players and the ability to create custom playlists that can be featured on your ZuneCard.

Another big area that has been improved that’s not immediately obvious is metadata editing. The amount of editing allowed before was so limited as to not exist whereas now they have a solid story in place that allows full editing as well as album info lookup with 800×800 album art. Metadata is near and dear to me so I’ve used almost everything out there to edit with and I’d say the user experience is up there in the Top 5.

Of course there are still a few issues with it, for example I have Fischerspooner’s ‘Danse En France‘ maxi-single and while I can easily find it in the Marketplace the ‘Find album info’ command comes back with everything else but the right album and that happens more often then I’d like. Also it’s easy to get a 100+ result set back and there aren’t any good tools to narrowing that down.

There are quite a few little UI adjustments as well; different font sizes, album art is now displayed next to progress bar, the ‘Now playing’ allows you to always hide the track listing, there is a nice “Save as playlist” option when viewing your now playing queue, and a ton of other great little additions.

The Hate

Perhaps ‘Hate’ is too strong a word but there are still some quirky things about the Zune that frustrate me. My biggest one is that you can’t use the device when it’s connected to your computer. There is a whole laundry list of frustrations on that front:

  • You can’t play music directly off your Zune, you have to copy it off first.
  • You can’t copy a playlist off the Zune.
  • You can’t copy a podcast off the Zune.

What’s ironic is that if the reason you can’t play directly from the device is because of DRM concerns then having to copy it off before playing it only encourages piracy.

With 2.5 they’ve nicely reduced some of the UI element’s font sizes yet they’ve made others HUGE, such as the track number. The track number has all the visual focus while the more important information, the track title, is dwarfed and forgotten in the shadow of THE HUGE NUMBER. People don’t care about track numbers nearly as much these days yet somehow that gets all the focus? I’m completely baffled. Check it out:


Besides your eyes being assaulted by the huge numbers did you notice the bonus UI bug? That’s right, it says “11 songs by album”. Umm, no, sorry, this is actually being sorted by track number.

Besides the track number travesty they seem to have really cranked up the bold knob, everything is now very important. If you look at the properties tab for a song it’s like you just walked into a political debate, everything is really important and demands your attention, right now. It about sets my brain on fire. Also, it’s very curious that you can’t get to the metadata editing screen from the properties dialog. It seems someone with very bad eyesight that hasn’t been to the opthamologist in about a decade got put in charge of the UI team.

I saved the best for last… while I applaud the new metadata editing features there is a huge glaring problem with it, it doesn’t actually edit the real metadata. It may look lovely in your Zune but all your other applications, such as Winamp, Sonos, your mobile phone, iTunes, etc. will still see the same old busted metadata. Instead of correctly updating the underlying ID3 information it just makes some tweaks to the Zune database. Imagine when you get a new PC and you reinstall the Zune software, happily re-importing all your tracks only to discover all that painstaking metadata updating you did is gone. Or you want to show off all the album art you’ve added to all your tracks on your Sonos or Roku Soundbridge, only to see empty little lonely squares.

For this reason alone I’d suggest that you don’t use the Zune 2.5 metadata editing features. Don’t touch it, don’t look at it, don’t pass go. Don’t even think about it. If you want your metadata to really be updated then follow my suggestions here.

UPDATE: I was corrected on this issue by Zach Johnson, the Zune Client Development Lead. Seems the client uses a background thread to handle the actual writing of the ID3 tags. Of course this isn’t the most helpful if you want your changes to take place instantly but it’s better than I had thought. Also, while the ID3 data does eventually get updated the embedded album art doesn’t, which poses an issue for all your non-Zune applications.

The Rest

This is by and large a great update, bringing a lot of new features, fixing some old bugs and really polishing up the experience yet it seems for every bug or feature they fixed they managed to really bungle up some other ones. Metadata editing is very pretty and has a nice user experience, it’s just worthless. The UI has been polished, except for the spots where they just punted. Closer, you’re getting closer Zune team.

Internet Pet Peeves

Usually I post my pet peeves and various net grumblings to Twitter but I’ve encountered too many in the last few days to fit inside a 140 character limit. Also I think if you’re going to complain about something you should also provide a solution so it doesn’t seem like you’re just a bitter, crazy, no-pants wearing old man that lives to kill the dreams of others.

Company Blogs That Go Dark

A few times a week I encounter some company blog that hasn’t been updated in more than six months, thus leaving a very bad impression about exactly what the blog is for in the first place. What’s ironic is that I see this most often with self-styled Web 2.0 companies that start with a flurry of almost daily blog posts then suddenly it’s as if the reality of running a company hits and the blog goes silent.

While a silent personal blog is no big deal a company blog is meant to give users a warm fuzzy that things are still moving right along and that their investment, whether it be with their time, data or attention, is still safe. Given the frenetic pace of the Internet and how fast things change even going a month without a post can make users start to wonder if the chef is still in the kitchen. The posts don’t even have to be earth shattering, they can simply be, “Yes, we’re still here and still working on things” or “We made these very minor changes recently that you probably don’t care about but show we do care.”

Year Old “New Features”

This is really an extension of the above. While some may not care how often a company blog is updated (crazy people for sure) it’s really annoying to go to a site day after day and see the same “Just Added!” call-out on a feature that’s almost two years old. Blinksale I’m looking at you with your “Just Added!” Basecamp integration. It’s now May 2008 and that just added feature came out in November of 2006.

I completely understand getting busy and not updating a site due to time constraints but why not future-proof yourself and instead of always doing “Just Added” start with “Newest Feature!” instead, which is a timeless statement.

Cramped Lists

Aren’t bulleted lists supposed to make reading easier? Then why is it so many blog templates completely ignore the styling of ordered/unordered lists and instead create this clumped indented mass of text? In fact poorly styled bulleted lists is one reason I migrated away from templates in the first place. If you’re creating a blog or site template please include well spaced li elements in your CSS.


For anyone on my gmail contact list I sincerely apologize by any spam you received from I was fooled into thinking they had the same feature that Facebook does, point Reunion at your address book and it’ll automatically link you with any of your friends that are also on Instead it uses some slippery wording and a link from Facebook to mass spam everyone on your contact list. I can’t think of a single person that actually wants their entire contact list mailed carte blache so this lands squarely on the Spam Site list.

And Bob’s Yer Uncle.