Zat zany Zune
Like an iPod! But brown!
By John ďjaQĒ Andrews† firstname.lastname@example.org
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.