Pogue on Zune

by on November 9, 2006 · 8 comments

Reader Steve R. points out David Pogue’s scathing review of the Zune:

PlaysForSure bombed. All of them put together stole only market-share crumbs from Apple. The interaction among player, software and store was balky and complex–something of a drawback when the system is called PlaysForSure.

“Yahoo might change the address of its D.R.M. server, and we can’t control that,” said Scott Erickson, a Zune product manager. (Never mind what a D.R.M. server is; the point is that Microsoft blames its partners for the technical glitches.)

Is Microsoft admitting, then, that PlaysForSure was a dud? All Mr. Erickson will say is, “PlaysForSure works for some people, but it’s not as easy as the Zune.”

So now Microsoft is starting over. Never mind all the poor slobs who bought big PlaysForSure music collections. Never mind the PlaysForSure companies who now find themselves competing with their former leader. Their reward for buying into Microsoft’s original vision? A great big “So long, suckas!”

And he doesn’t much care for the WiFi sharing feature:

This copy protection is as strict as a 19th-century schoolmarm. Just playing half the song (or one minute, whichever comes first) counts as one “play.” You can never resend a song to the same friend. A beamed song can’t be passed along to a third person, either.

What’s really nuts is that the restrictions even stomp on your own musical creations. Microsoft’s literature suggests that if you have a struggling rock band, you could “put your demo recordings on your Zune” and “when you’re out in public, you can send the songs to your friends.” What it doesn’t say: “And then three days later, just when buzz about your band is beginning to build, your songs disappear from everyone’s Zunes, making you look like an idiot.”

Microsoft says that the wireless sharing is a new way to discover music. But you can’t shake the feeling that it’s all just a big plug for Microsoft’s music store. If it’s truly about the joy of music discovery, why doesn’t Microsoft let you buy your discoveries from any of the PlaysForSure stores?

Pogue also notes that they don’t provide even the most obvious functionality with the hardware that’s in the machine. The thing’s got a WiFi card, but it can’t connect to ordinary WiFi networks. It’s got a hard drive, but it doesn’t let users store ordinary files on it.

As Pogue points out in his conclusions, Version 1.0 of Microsoft products almost always suck. Presumably, future versions of the player will be better. But the problem, I think, is that Microsoft is still acting like an incumbent, when it should be acting like a scrappy competitor. Building a closed platform with limited interoperability is a good strategy if you’ve got 80 percent market share, because it helps lock your competitors out. But if you’re starting from scratch, it just makes your product less useful. Microsoft is already facing an uphill battle for consumer interest. Artificially restricting the player’s functionality only makes the task harder.

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