Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Zune swoon

ZuneOkay, perhaps this forum was excessively harsh and premature in labeling Ms. Dewey the "worst Microsoft product ever." Microsoft makes so many losers, after all. So much garbage, so little time.

By way of commentary at this forum and a post at Sivacracy.Net, Ann Bartow reports that Microsoft's new .mp3 player, Zune, may break Ms. Dewey's record for most abysmal performance by a Microsoft product. Herewith an excerpt from the Chicago Sun-Times' review of Zune:
Yes, Microsoft's new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I've spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.

"Avoid," is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that's so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity.

The setup process stands among the very worst experiences I've ever had with digital music players. The installer app failed, and an hour into the ordeal, I found myself asking my office goldfish, "Has it really come to this? Am I really about to manually create and install a .dll file?"
No, wait, as they say on the late-night Ginzu commercials. There's more. Sun-Times reviewer Andy Ihnatko registers these grievances and more:
  • Media playerZune manages somehow to be incompatible with Windows Media Player. Yes, Microsoft's own Windows desktop media application. That alone qualifies as one of the most amazing feats of stupidity in the annals of software development.

  • Zune is also incompatible with Microsoft's PlaysForSure standard. Left Hand of the Microsoft Empire, meet Right Hand.

  • Zune doesn't support podcasts. Writes Andy, "That's pure insanity."

  • The only way to get new content is to buy from Zune itself. By the way, the new Zune Marketplace doesn't accept money. The Marketplace demands Zune Points. (What is this, the electronic reincarnation of S&H Green Stamps? No -- we shouldn't confuse the Zune Marketplace with a workable business model.)

  • Fat catWhy does the Zune Marketplace reject ordinary payment systems? Andy gives two reasons. First, "[b]y forcing users to buy blocks of Zune Points (with a $5 minimum), the Marketplace only has to pay one credit-card processing fee." Second, the Zune Point system enables "the Zune Marketplace to institute variable pricing." From price discrimination to a kickback on every player sold and insidious digital rights management, Zune has made itself a virtual arm of the recording industry.
I thought it couldn't get worse than Ms. Dewey. My mistake. Never underestimate Microsoft's capacity for perfidy, cupidity, and idiocy.


Blogger Frank said...

Thanks for rounding up the Zune pans! I think they have implications for past and future legal policy:

1) Why is Zune SO BAD? I think complex digital rights management has to play some role. The content owners essentially appear to be cutting off the "nose" of higher overall sales to spite the "face" of infringement. I have so far bought a grand total of four songs on iTunes, because I have no assurance I can transport them freely from computer to computer and device to device. And I'm not even trying out Zune b/c I've heard it's basically similar to the Apple DRM system.

2) The "iPod killer" & antitrust: Lots of laissez-faire bloggers tend to mock things like France's abortive effort to apply competition law principles to iTunes, because they say the market will spontaneously generate some device that will beat the iPod if consumers get tired of Apple. The Zune's apparent flop shows some problems with this techno-optimism.

I can believe the guy who lamented installing a .dll file for Zune--I had to do all sorts of things to get my first iPod to work. But now that iPod is dominant, extant expertise on installation makes it a much easier sell than the buggy Zune. Apple could iron out its flaws because it was the first player with a well-integrated music sales system and a sleek design. Second comers--even Goliaths like Microsoft--may well find it much more difficult to compete.

3) The silver lining of Zune was the deal with BMG (I think) allocating one dollar of each Zune purchase to BMG. Let's hope that eventually some sort of "hardware tax" or "broadband tax" becomes a preferred mode of financing music, as Terry Fisher proposed in Promises to Keep.

11/28/2006 8:32 PM  
Blogger LyriaBM said...

The hardware tax is an interesting idea, but I am not sure whether it might not be too broad if the goal is "user pays". We are already at the stage where phones are also MP3 players and cameras (and more besides). Personally, I have several devices that can play MP3 files (IPod, organiser, phone, DVD player, computer, car stereo). I am not aware of everything out there, but my guess is that if we don't yet have watches, jewellry (earrings?), kitchen appliances, photo frames, etc we will soon. Of the devices I own, I only use a fraction to actually listen to music (eg why use the phone or organiser when I have an IPod). So, the question is really what to tax? Do I get taxed on all devices, even those peripherally related to music? Does this keep getting more ridiculous as more devices become include music as an option. Obviously, if the question is just an extra dollar here or there, there is no problem, but my guess is that the music industry would want more.

I should apologise but if this point is covered in Fisher's book. I haven't yet read it (it isn't in our university library).

11/28/2006 9:47 PM  
Blogger Ann Bartow said...

But Ms. Dewey is plenty awful! You might enjoy this: http://casadelogo.typepad.com/factesque/2006/11/i_think_ms_dewe.html

11/29/2006 1:03 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Lyria, I agree, it may not be terribly fair to you if you get taxed for it. But I think one of Fisher's points is that we might want to be willing to accept some granularity in the "music/movie" tax system in order to get access to everything, all the time. Clearly, the person who watches or listens to nothing is worst off in this system. But I think we can still reasonably tax them, just as the childless get taxed to fund public schools.

As for the Zune failure: I love Armstrong's post in Info/Law, which pins a lot of the blame for Zune on the Grokster decision. If Armstrong is right, that decision may well be remembered as a terrible step in tech regulation.

12/02/2006 3:52 PM  

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