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Music Technology

Reviewers don’t swoon over Zune

I really wanted Zune to be good. I really did. Not because of any particular anti-Apple or pro-Microsoft sentiment, but because if Zune’s better than the iPod then that’ll mean better iPods, which in turn will mean better Zunes, which in turn will mean better iPods and so on (and in the ideal world in which I sometimes pretend to live, a healthy iPod alternative might eventually mean DRM interoperability between Apple and Microsoft). But judging by the various reviews online – which I’m not linking to, because it’d take me all day – Microsoft’s dropped the ball on this one.

The consensus is that there’s lots to like about Zune, including a really nifty interface, but there’s lots to dislike too. In no particular order:

* The software’s spectacularly crashy.

* Album art from the Zune marketplace isn’t the right size for the Zune display and looks a bit rubbish.

* It doesn’t work on Vista. Of all the issues, that’s the one that really surprised me.

* The song-sharing is hopelessly crippled, because it wraps DRM on everything. So even if you’re an unsigned band wanting to promote your tracks, you’ve got the three-play limit.

* It’s not very pretty.

* It doesn’t support PlaysForSure, which will make a lot of previous MS-music customers rather miffed.

* Syncing between player and PC is pretty shabby.

* It isn’t Mac compatible. As Engadget rightly points out, “if Zune wants users, Zune needs to find them where they’re most likely living right now. And one of the more likely customers is the Mac user with an aging or dying iPod they’re considering replacing.”

Engadget describes the problems as “death by a thousand cuts” – if you’re taking on the iPod, you need to make something that isn’t just as good as an iPod, but better. Back to the drawing board…