November 23, 2006

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Zat zany Zune
Like an iPod! But brown!
By John ďjaQĒ Andrews† jandrews@hippopress.com

I wasnít going to dignify the Zune, Microsoftís new portable media player, with a column. I really wasnít. Itís basically another iPod wannabe, complete with its own music service. This has been done before, dozens of times. Nothing special.

Then I started reading reviews of the thing saying how awful it was. Now that, I says to myself, I can get behind.

To be fair, the Zune does have one unique feature: direct wireless sharing of music files with other Zunes in range. Okay, thatís kind of neat. Ultimately pointless, though, because canít you share music by lending your headphones to someone? I guess this feature is tailored to germophobes or emo kids who need a way to break the ice without actually risking human contact.

Even more obnoxiously, shared songs expire after three plays on the receiverís end, whether you listen all the way through or just listen to the first minute. See, record labels donít really want you sharing music, because then you might not buy it. With content protection on the Zune, those three listens will theoretically get you so hyped for a song that youíll rush to the Zune Marketplace to purchase the bandís entire catalog.

Assuming, of course, that you can figure out the Zune Marketplace. Itís Microsoftís answer to the iTunes Music Store, and as usual, the software giant went out of its way to make the simple process of buying and managing music as arcane and complex as possible. For one thing, you need the Zune software to load up your Zune, rather than using Windows Media Player, which can be used to manage other MP3 players and has survived multiple legal accusations of being unfairly bundled with Windows.

As far as actually buying music online goes, there are two options: the Zune Pass or Microsoft Points.

The Zune Pass is relatively straightforward. Pay $14.99 a month and download as many songs as you like, but donít even think about burning them to CD or anything like that. Once your Zune Pass subscription is up, your songs are gone. Draconian, perhaps, but not unprecedented. Napster and Rhapsody have similar subscription services.

Microsoft Points are the equivalent of paying per download for songs that you can keep forever. Itís not as simple as that, though. Rather than entering your credit card number and getting a song for 99 cents, you need to set up an account and purchase points. Itís these points that you then exchange for music. Each song costs 79 points, but since 400 points cost $5, the effective price of a song is the same. Problem is, after you buy five songs, you still have five points left in your account. All you can do is buy more points.

I have to give credit to www.applematters.com for doing this math: since you must buy points in increments of 400, or $5, but 400 does not divide neatly by 79, you have to buy 400 songs in order to use all your points and have none left over. Thatíll cost you $395.

Or you could just rationalize that Zune Marketplace songs cost exactly $1 rather than 99 cents, and for every 395 songs you buy, you get five free. Or rip your friendsí CD collections. Whatever.

Happy shopping. Spread the holiday cheer.


11/16/2006 Shop smart

11/9/2006 Your data's new home
11/2/2006 Hotkey heaven
10/26/2006 Computer to go
10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
09/14/2006 Laptops for less
09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006†Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
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