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Summary:

Long before the release of the Zune I wrote an open letter to Microsoft explaining what I felt they had to do if they wanted the Zune to seriously compete with the iPod.  The seamless and simple way the iPod/ iTunes combination works for newbies is […]

Zune_005Long before the release of the Zune I wrote an open letter to Microsoft explaining what I felt they had to do if they wanted the Zune to seriously compete with the iPod.  The seamless and simple way the iPod/ iTunes combination works for newbies is one of the reasons why the iPod has dominated the media player arena.  In my letter to MS I made it clear that the simple plug and play experience for newbies was going to determine if the Zune could make a serious run against Apple.  My own experience with two different Zunes was far from "plug and play" and I thought on this last day of the year I should give an update with my Zune story.

My initial install problems with one of the Zunes in my household were, shall we say, time consuming.  It took me hours to get to a point where the Zune software was installed properly and I could access the Zune Marketplace as I should.  After a day and a half of Zune bliss I lost my ability to log into the Zune Marketplace, it would just sit there at the signing in dialog forever.  Literally forever, until I killed the process with the Task Manager.  I decided I needed to reinstall the Zune software so I removed it and reinstalled, only to have the same problems completing the install that I originally experienced.  Time to regroup.

I then uninstalled the Zune software (again) and this time I rebooted the PC before installing again.  This seemed to do the trick, apparently some dregs are left behind when you remove the Zune software that prevent a successful reinstall.  The new install worked perfectly, taking only 10 minutes to complete.  The only thing I had to do at this point was resync my entire library, including all songs I had downloaded using the Zune Pass from the Marketplace.  The sync of my videos took a couple of hours as the Zune software insists on converting it to a format optimized for the Zune player, even though the videos were already QVGA and optimized for playback on small screens.  Once that was complete my Zuniverse was properly aligned and I was living the audio/ video good life. 

My observations about the Zune experience now that it is working properly:

The Zune player is marvelous, I love the screen and especially the interface.  Having several thousand songs on the player I can state that it is much easier to find what I want on the Zune than it is on the iPod.

Video playback is great- they are very high quality and playback is seamless.

Syncing takes too long- I know I have a lot of media on the Zune but taking 10 minutes to sync when little has changed is just too long.  I think this is because I keep the various media types (audio, video, photos) in special folders that have been added to the "monitor folder" list.  In any event it should be able to tell if nothing has changed and do little if necessary.

The Zune Markeplace (ZM) is fun to use but there are some glaring omissions (at least for me).  Try a genre search for Jazz or Classical music and you’ll see what I mean, they don’t exist.  There is no easy way to locate new artists in these genres because the only good search you can do is on the artist name, since the genre is not listed on the ZM. 

My number one problem still lies in the area of signing into the ZM.  If there is anything wrong with the Windows Live servers or the Marketplace itself the Zune software will sit there forever, hanging up the software completely and the only way out is to cancel the process.  This will frustrate many new Zune owners to the point they might abandon the platform.  It is extremely frustrating for me not knowing if the first connect of the day will work or if it will hang up until I kill it.  I am trying to get into the ZM right now and it’s hanging at the sign in dialog.  It’s been "signing in" for 15 minutes.  That’s just wrong.  When this happens I have to reboot my computer, after which it will log in just fine.  I have rebooted this PC more times in the last week (since getting the Zune) than in all the time I’ve used this PC prior to that.  I usually never reboot my P1610, I use Standby and Resume but I have to reboot constantly when the ZM hangs up.  Just now I rebooted and when I fired up the Zune software I got a message that said the Zune Marketplace update was complete.  Microsoft is updating the Marketplace software and it’s hanging me up until I reboot.  Since the Zune is a consumer electronic device I would absolutely HATE to work on Zune tech support.  They must be getting calls all the time.

I really like the Zune player so I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet.  My wife’s Zune experience is flawless, she experiences none of the problems I have with mine.  I should point out that my computer is only a month old, so it’s not cluttered up with all the junk that Windows XP accumulates over time.  It should be the perfect platform for installing and running the Zune software without problems, so I don’t know why it is having all the various problems that it does.  I guess it’s just my luck of the draw, but that’s hardly a good reason, is it?

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    James: I have to say that this comment resonated with me; I recently bought a new XP computer for my wife, but I’ve been having troubles keeping the OS stable! I’ve already reimaged the hard drive twice because of Windows OS failures (their diagnosis, not mine)! So far, the most recent reimage seems to be holding (knock on wood), but I would have never expected this much trouble with a mature version of the OS!

    By contrast, my XP computer has been running the same install of Windows for about 4-5 years, and it’s been abused by everybody in the house, but it still continues to work (nearly) flawlessly!

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  2. Can you give a little more detail on why it’s quicker to find a track on the Zune than the iPod?

    thanks,
    bob

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  3. Has anyone heard any word on whether Zune is ever going to support Audible audio books? I’d buy one in a heartbeat, if they so much as indicates an intention!

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  4. I’ve been waiting for exactly this type of Zune info ever since the darn thing was announced. I never expected the Zune to work as seamlessly as the iPod+iTunes combo, and it’s nice not to be let down. Maybe the next gen model, which they reportedly are designing from the ground up, will work better, but that doesn’t forgive what I consider a very weak launch cobbled together just to get shelf space for Christmas.

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  5. Geez, I mean really, this *is* an MS product, so WTF did you expect — an *Apple-like experience*?!!? Come on! At least this report gives some *truth* — and not sucking-up! Hey, jk, seen any other Zs yet? I’ve seen one.

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  6. I’ve seen two.

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  7. Yeah, MS is making headway. But the Sansa is selling *very* well. For many people, an HD-based player is overkill.

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  8. Bob, I find it quicker to locate songs due to the 2D navigation on the Zune. Having the ability to scroll not only up and down but left and right as well lets you jump around much faster. At least it feels that way to me.

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