Moon the Zune?
November 20, 2006
by William P. Meyers

Most reviewers heaped scorn on the Microsoft Zune portable "music player," but they did so for the wrong reasons. They said it was not enough like an iPod. But the problem is Zune is way too much like iPod and the traditional Apple consumer strategy.

The Zune is not exactly flying off the shelves. It has been labeled uncool by those who think they are cool because they have Apple-branded neural systems.

Before ripping into both Zune and iPod, let me say what I think the Zune is about. It is way bigger than an iPod. There are two reasons for that. It's got a screen twice a big as an iPod's. That means grand dad can show off pictures with it and admirers will actually be able to see them. The other is that it is (intended, anyway) to be far more durable than an iPod. The typical life expectancy of an iPod is less than 2 years. Lots of people I know have started breaking them on purpose and sending them back for trade-ins just before the warranty period expires. Which is only fair.

The real problem with Zune is its propriety digital rights format. Just as songs bought from iTunes can only play on an iPod, and the iPod can only play iTunes (not songs purchased from Walmart or downloaded from rental services like Napster). Zune won't play your Walmart or Napster songs either, just songs from the Zune Marketplace. Even though Walmart and Napster songs are in the prior Microsoft format, Plays-(NOT!)-For-Sure.

Music lovers were screwed when they bought into the iPod hysteria. Steve Jobs made a deal with the corporate executives to resurrect their dying industry by placing music in a proprietary format. The inventors of MP3 players (that's the original music format) were screwed by Jobs and the music execs. Apple had an exclusive contract. That is why iPods became the market leader, crushing early innovators like Creative Zen.

Zune won't play your old music files, not even the ones you purchased from MSN. Maybe that is the price of innovation. Apple-branded minds will revile Microsoft for this and congratulate themselves on buying Apple-branded music that won't play on non-Apple portable music players.

But it you look at the history of Apple, you might take a more cautious approach. In the computer field Apple has repeatedly sold its fans hardware and software that then, in a few years, had to be replaced. Apple has never worried much about backward compatibility. (Microsoft actually has a better track record on this issue)

Sooner or later, you will find that your paid Apple collection is worthless.

The best way around that for now is Napster. Napster charges $10 a month for unlimited music rental to your computer or $15 a month if you load it into a portable player (be sure to get one that is clearly labeled as Napster compatible). You own nothing, so it music formats change, you just get a new player and keep on renting. You have a library of millions of titles, unlike your Apple-branded friends who bankrupt themselves trying to load up those iPods.

Better still, lets go back to MP3s. Let's bypass the recording industry and the promotions men and the radio propagandists. Let's volunteer to donate money to artists or bands that put out music in MP3 format. Let's set up a gift economy where music can thrive instead of being forced into channels by the monopolists.

It's your future. It's your choice.