Category Archives: Zune

Updated ZuneKeys

Awhile back I wrote a wee little Delphi application to mimic WinAmp’s Global Hotkeys in the Zune software, call ZuneKeys. With the new Zune software out I had to update ZuneKeys to work with it so if you’re one of the three people that actually like global hotkeys go ahead and grab the new version from the above links.

For nerds that care I had to change the window class I was searching for from “WMPlayerAppZune” to “UIX Render Window”. Long Zheng over on istartedsomething has some more interesting bits about this whole “UIX” business.

I Heart/Broken Heart Zune v2

Being both an early Zune adopter as well has having been critical of some of the v1 features it’s only fair I weight in on the v2 firmware and software and see how it compares.

Firmware / Device UI

The new interface on the device is clean, stylish and functional and after a little readjustment it’s definitely an improvement on what was already a great experience. The navigation sounds are a little different, the menu style has been brought in-line with the rest of the brand, podcasting has it’s own little home and there are little improvements to navigation and song management that make the entire device experience simple and fun to use.

The best new features are wireless sync, which can either be triggered manually or automatically if it’s docked, and the ability to resume songs which is important not only for long podcasts but audiobooks as well.

Being able to sync as soon as I come in the door means I’ll have the latest podcasts even if I’m just stopping by home quickly before heading out again. It also prevents me from getting sucked into my computer which happens all too often when I’m just going to “quickly” sync before taking a bike ride and before I know it I’ve wasted an hour fiddling on my computer and my bike ride gets pushed to the side.

I hadn’t even attempted to listen to an audiobook on my Zune for the last few months because of the v1′s spotty support of paused tracks. Nothing takes the joy out of an audiobook like having to spend 5 minutes hunting for where you last left off and thankfully the v2 firmware gives us the ability to resume tracks from where you left off.

So, adopting the new rating system I heart the new Zune firmware.


The new software takes a less is more approach, stripping away features in an effort to bring the library browsing and music playing experience into sharper focus and for the most part it has worked smashingly. In terms of style and experience the software blows away iTunes, Windows Media Player or really any other media application. Usually media applications look like nothing more than overblown database browsers and the “creative” is lost in the whole experience.

This has come at the cost of standard media library features though, such as auto playlists, the classic 5 star rating system, ID3 editing and customized views of your music. This will probably create the biggest schism amongst users as it can be jarring for the power user that uses all of these features but for the average consumer I doubt they’ll even notice the features are gone.

What’s been interesting about the loss of these features is an awareness of how I did or didn’t use them. For example, a song’s genre has been greatly de-emphasized, not even appearing in the main ‘browse’ view, and at first this seemed like a glaring lack but it was also a relief. I’ve agonized over how to classify certain bands, are they punk, swing, folk, rock, metal? Usually I’ll either dump them in a generic ‘rock’ category or change the genre three or four times over a month and still not be happy. I end up with either a few huge genres or a ton of small specialized ones thus defeating the genres use.

Another “less is more” example is the new rating system of Unrated/Heart/Broken Heart. With the old 5-star system I found I’d change my rating system over the years, at one time 2 stars meant “I had to be in the right mood” but then it became “this song sucks” at which point I had to ask myself why I was keeping the track. Same with five star songs; songs that were 5-stars one week turned into 4 or even 3 as I got to know the song or 3 star tracks turned into 4 or 5 as an album grew on me. Ironically with all this song rating I never actually used the ratings themselves, except they looked pretty in the software.

Visualizations are for the most part gone, though there is a very cool “wall of album art” mode as well as a very subtle “bleeding” effect on the bottom of the main playing area that is very cool. I’ve never been into visualizations so the loss of them doesn’t even show up on my radar but I’m sure some people will miss them.

This doesn’t mean “less is more” has worked for everything though. The loss of a solid mechanism to find missing album metadata or edit the ID3 tags is a big bummer and I discovered just how much I was using the auto playlist feature to manage my syncing. Compared to WinAmp, Windows Media Player or iTunes the v2 Zune software is going to feel downright naked in terms of ways to view your library and customization but what is there is done very well.

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the v2 features and feel like there is finally a solid base for the Zune team to build on now that they truly own the experience. I do miss some features and I really hope they add in new ones faster than just yearly or bi-yearly updates but for the most part I find it much improved over the old skinned WMP.

ZuneKeys: Global Hotkey Support for Zune

Before the Zune software I used Winamp and one of the things I really liked was it’s Global Hotkey support, the ability to control the player using just hotkeys.  Ever since using the Zune I’ve found myself hitting Ctrl + Alt + Home to pause the player about a 100 times so instead of whining about it in yet another blog post I thought I’d actually do something.  It was a slow afternoon at work on a Friday so I whipped up this, ZuneKeys, global hotkey support for the Zune software.


  1. Download ZuneKeys
  2. Unzip and copy somewhere, personally I use c:program fileszunekeys
  3. Run ZuneKeys.exe…
  4. …and Bob’s yer uncle!  Now you have global hotkey support for your Zune software.

I’d suggest adding ZuneKeys to your startup menu so it’s always available.

The Keys

Play Ctrl + Alt + Insert
Pause Ctrl + Alt + Home
Stop Ctrl + Alt + End
Previous Track Ctrl + Alt + Page Up
Next Track Ctrl + Alt + Page Down
Volume Up Ctrl + Alt + Up
Volume Down Ctrl + Alt + Down
Fast Forward Ctrl + Alt + Right
Rewind Ctrl + Alt + Left


How it Works

I’m basically sending the same commands that your fancy media keyboards send, except I don’t use media keyboards as they take up entirely too much space on my already cramped desk.  Nothing too magically here.  I’m pretty sure the Winamp one actually sends Winamp messages that it knows how to respond to but since the Zune software doesn’t *have* anything like that I’m sorta faking it.

There is no customization of hotkeys and it could probably do a lot more but I wanted to keep it as tiny as possible since I already seem to have a 100 other things running in the background trying to compete for my system’s resources.  If someone besides me actually uses this puppy I’m sure I could accommodate customized keys or other small enhancements.

This works with the Zune right now because that’s where I needed it but it could easily be adapted to work for Windows Media Player, iTunes, Winamp, etc.

Oh, it seems to work just fine under Vista and XP.

The (Open) Source

It’s written in Delphi as a standard Win32 application.  Since it’s Delphi that means the only thing you need is the EXE, no .NET or Java Virtual Machine needed here.  Since I avoided using the VCL and went old-school Windows app it’s only 30.5kb instead of the more usual 300kb Delphi app.  If you’d like the source just ask, I’ll put it some place public or give you access to my subversion repository.  A special thanks to IconBuffet as the icon I’m using is from one of their "Free Delivery" icon sets, Dresden Symphony.

ZuneKeys Source

UPDATED: Some people noticed that the source zip was missing  Sorry for not having it there the first time.  I’ve updated the download with all the files I have in my source folder.  I’ll probably be moving this to Github or CodePlex so it’s more formally hosted and people can share their work.

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.

Old Zune, New Zune

So, after being unable to get my pre-loaded content back I did what tech support would never suggest… I returned it. I said goodbye black Zune, thanks for playing, I don’t need your inflexibility. Of course what will replace my old black Zune? How about… a new black Zune!

That’s right, I went to Target that same night and found they were running a promotion where you receive a $25 gift card when you buy a Zune AND sales tax in Louisville is much less than in Broomfield so in the end I got it for almost $30 cheaper.

After all my complaining why did I buy it again when I was free from it’s clutches? Here are a few reasons:

1. The hardware is rock solid. Just from a hardware side of things it really is a pretty unit. I love the rat rod feel of it, the large screen, how my fingers don’t gum up the finish, the sound quality and screen animations.

2. Software is software. 9/10 of my complaints are about the software and I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing some major updates to it before Christmas comes around. They’ll work through a lot of issues to make sure Christmas morning all the little Zunesters are rocking out instead of pulling their hair out.

3. Credible Bug Reports. If I don’t actually own a Zune how can I make suggestions for improvements or file bug reports? Unless I actually own one and am invested in it’s success it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be as passionate about helping improving it.

4. Microsoft. As a company they really want the Zune to succeed and you can tell they are fully committed to this product. After watching the 360 grow up into a desirable consumer product I have hopes that while Microsoft may make mistakes they are smart enough to do course corrections.

5. Software is easier to update. At the end of the day Microsoft is still a software company. I hope this means we’ll see more improvements via software and firmware than via next generation hardware units, a la Apple.

So, all in all I am pleased with my Zune. When I point out issues it’s always with the intention of trying to help a product be better than to trash it.

Zune Software Preloaded with Issues

See how I played on the fact that it comes with “preloaded content” but instead I’m sarcastically saying “preloaded issues”. Yeah, I know, powerful stuff (see, even more sarcasm).

You could probably also call these “bugs”, maybe “poor planning” or if you don’t really care then you may downgrade them to “annoyances”.

Preloaded Content

#1 - Preloaded music doesn’t show album art in software.

This software is supposed to be my one home for all music needs and yet it can’t show me the album art of it’s own preloaded music? That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

#2 - Preloaded playlist doesn’t show up under “playlists” in software.

There is a “Zune Gems” playlist that comes preloaded on the Zune but you’d never know it just by looking at the software. Open your Zune software, click on “playlists” and it’ll only show you the ones you’ve imported. What? Where is my Zune Gems list?

#3 - You can’t copy the preloaded content off of the Zune.

Like some of the preloaded videos or music but don’t want to delete them forever? Too bad, either you leave them on the Zune or you delete them, no chance of getting them back. You can copy the pictures and few are pretty cool but most people will want those tracks and videos.

Finding Album Info

#4 - The “Find album information” dialog has this lovely bit of wonderfully worded text:

“Is This Your CD Tracks?”

I can’t even think of a good accent where that sounds like proper English. New York? Southern? Indian? How about we change that to: “Are these your CD tracks” instead of just adding an “S” to the end of “Is This Your CD Track”.

#5 - “Find album information” dialog can’t make up it’s mind

I have only tracks 2, 6, 7 and 13 off of Lady Sovereign’s “Public Warning” CD because I have almost all the other tracks from her previous albums because I was listening to her months ago, way before The Express started using her songs in their stores (whew, my indie cred has been defended). What I don’t have is the album art so I hit “Find Album Info” and it finds it but decides that it’s going to change the track numbers to 1, 2, 3, 4. Why? I just told it that it found the right album so shouldn’t it look at the album’s track numbers and use those instead?

#6 - “Find album information” is all or nothing

This is a continuation of #5. When it shows you the new track names/numbers you should be able to edit the new information. Maybe you liked how you named your tracks and you just wanted album art? Maybe you don’t like how the track uses brackets instead of parenthesis to wrap the “XXX Remix”. It either does everything or nothing.

#7 - Limited Ripped File Name Formats

How do you rip your files? My current format is:

ArtistAlbum1 - Track.mp3

Yet forget about getting that format in the Zune Software. Want to use a dash as your separator? Sure you can change it but then you *only* get a dash so its “01-Track”. What to change the folder structure it creates? Too bad. I think they decided that no one would actually use the Zune software to rip music so they invested almost no time into it.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more as time goes on…

Zune Annoyances

I just bought a Zune. Most everything that the reviews have mentioned is true: quick, sexy UI, nice tactile feel to the case, screen is crisp, software is easy to setup, music sounds good. Of course like all the good there is the bad and here are a few things that have raised my temperature by a few degrees:

#1 - Can’t Play Music Directly from the Zune

Perhaps I’m missing something and I’m happy to be proven wrong but you can’t seem to play music directly off the Zune. I fully expected to be able to browse my Zune, select a track and hit the big, lovely Play button. Nope. Nada. This inability to play music directly from my Zune is such an annoyance I may actually take the thing back.

#2 - Sync Destroys Preloaded Content

I was so excited to buy a Zune I bought one during lunch and plugged it in directly at work to charge it and since I have a small music collection at work and it happily sync’d. Next I come home and it tells me that I can either make my home computer a “Guest” or I can make it my new main sync PC. Obviously my home computer should be the main computer so I picked that option and then watched as it formatted the Zune and sync’d it, thereby destroying all the preloaded content.

I actually liked the preloaded content and because my only options were to either connect as a Guest or format I had no way to preserve select items. Again, if there isn’t a good way to get the content back I’m returning it.

#3 - Sync Assumes You’re Stupid

I have over 90GB of ripped music, the Zune holds 30GB, yet upon first install it happily indexes all my music and says it’s “Synchronizing”. Well Gee, ain’t that special, what do you think it’s synching? Do I get to pick? Do I get to tell it that I really don’t need all those old hip hop albums from the 80′s? Maybe I don’t really want every trance album I’ve ever owned on the thing? Nope, it just seems to chug away without asking for any of your feedback.

You can delete the unwanted items from your Zune and then next time it sync’s it won’t grab those items but what a wasteful, tedious process.

Is The Love Gone?

Even with these issues I like the Zune: it’s hardware, software and the idea. I like the concept of it integrating with the 360 ecosystem, I like the possibilities it holds. Of course I’ll never buy a single track from the Marketplace because I also own a Sonos music system and I don’t buy music that I can’t play on the equipment I own but I understand the evil of having an iTunes/Zune Marketplace concept. I’ll continue to support and even the Russians to get my music without DRM.

What I don’t like is that they seem to have forgotten about the initial, out-of-box experience. They’ve forgotten about the many users that swap between their personal laptop, their home computer and their work computer. They’ve tried to make a simple solution but in the process have assumed a simple user.

I can only hope a patch/update fixes these issues. If tech support can’t help me I’m going to return mine and wait for these issues to be fixed.

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.