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Dark Side of the Zune


Over the past week, a couple of things have happened in the information world that are much less important that most of the media would have you believe.

The first is the over-hyped release of Zune, Microsoft’s attempt to unseat Apple in the digital-music world. The media catchphrase for Zune has been “The iPod Killer,” and on the day of its release the headlines screamed things like “Microsoft takes a bite out of iPod!!!”

Rubbish. Let me start by saying that I don’t own an iPod. Years of playing rock & roll without ear protection has severely compromised my hearing, and the last thing I need is tinny, compressed music being mainlined into my inner ear. So what I am about to relate is based on a survey of the literature, not personal experience.

It appears that Zune is DOA. Bigger and heavier than the biggest iPod, it apparently doesn’t offer much in the way of improvement over the sleek, iconic frontrunner. I guess the video screen is a little bigger, which might be a boon for those who think that viewing movies on a calling-card-sized screen is a fun thing to do. The user interface is reportedly OK, but not as seamless and intuitive as the iPod’s. The Zune is available in white, black, and . . . brown? Brown? To paraphrase a great man, brown Zunes don’t make it.

The biggest “innovation” the Zune boasts is the “sharing” function. If you’ve got your Zune nearby somebody else with a Zune, you can send and receive songs from the other person. Freakin’ awesome, dude! And you know the really cool thing about Zune’s sharing function? When somebody sends you a song, you can listen to it three whole times or keep it in your Zune for three whole days! Then the song disappears!

My 2-year-old MacBook has a wireless music-sharing function in it. And when I get somebody else’s music, it’s mine forever.

Then there’s the Zune store, called the Zune Marketplace, which you can try to find by going to Apparently Microsoft didn’t have enough money to wrangle from somebody currently using the site to provide the world with this message: Listado de directorio denegado Este directorio virtual no permite listar contenidos.)

The text descriptions of what goes on at the Zune Marketplace are classic and sickening examples of mind-addled ad-agency cretins trying to sound snappy and hip. You know how, at some public events, they have this annoying system where you can’t just go buy a beer, but you have to stand in line and buy tickets, then stand in line again to buy your beer with the tickets? Same thing here: To buy music, you first have to buy “Microsoft Points” and then buy music with your “points.” But your “points” are wicked cool because “Microsoft Points . . . is [sic] a system that works across borders, including Xbox Live® Marketplace and other Microsoft properties.” Good Lord, I’m trembling with excitement. Can you say Limewire? Sure you can.

Finally, all of this nonsense will never overcome the iPod’s cache, Apple’s coolness factor, that whole John-Hodgman-vs.-the-skinny-dude-who-looks-like-Jimmy-Fallon thing. Apple rocks; Microsoft doesn’t. As if this isn’t self-evident, Microsoft already has issued updates for the software that you have to download into your Zune to get it to work right, which raises the specters of corrupted file messages, SP/2, frozen programs, and blue screens of death.

Preliminary reports show that the Zune is moving slowly. Duh!

In other news, Universal Music Group sued MySpace for copyright infringement, claiming MySpace is responsible for its users’ posting of Universal-owned video and music on individual MySpace pages. Twenty-five years ago, Universal honcho Doug Morris turned down a certain rock band that I know something about, and then refused to give the band its demo tape back because the band was Morris’ kids’ favorite band. He hasn’t gotten any brighter in the intervening years. It’s an idiotic lawsuit, as MySpace is generally protected under copyright laws if it removes offending material on demand, which it does. What’s more, kids decorating their MySpace pages with images and music of their favorite bands is something Morris should be happy about. But then, here’s a guy who recently said iPod owners were all thieves and thinks that suing his own customers makes business sense.

These days, you don’t have to fight the power. The power is eating itself. And it’s great to watch it all fall apart.

—Paul Rapp

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