Today Microsoft officially begins selling its Zune, the latest in a string of iPod killers. It comes in colors, including…umm, brown. It has built in wi-fi, but no browser. You can move songs from one Zune to another, but the songs magically disappear after three days or three plays (leaving a link to buy the song for yourself at Microsoft’s store), whichever comes first. It has a slightly bigger screen and slightly greater battery life than the iPod video. There’s no iTunes compatibility at all: purchased goods from iTunes will absolutely positively not play on the Zune unless burned and re-ripped. Even that’s an adventure in Windows.
Part of the iPod’s appeal is the simplicity of its interface. There’s no fuss, no eye candy, and everything just works with a minimum of visual distraction. Minimalist form follows perfect function. On a Mac, there’s nothing to install for iPod. On Windows, Microsoft requires Zune software to be installed. When the installation fails, you’re presented with a full-screen photo of a girl sprawled out on the ground screaming for her life (seriously, I hope she’s okay! check out http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=294929001&size=o).
The copy protection on the Zune is so strict that it applies to all audio files, regardless of copyright status. Say you make a song in GarageBand, save it as an MP3, email it to a friend who uses Windows, and the friend puts the song on their Zune. Your buddy thinks the song is so great, he zaps it to other friends with a Zune, but those people to whom he zaps the song using Wi-Fi get three plays or three days. Ironically, if some media is covered by a Creative Commons license, the Zune violates it as it hinders free distribution.
Honestly, I wish there was something revolutionary about the Zune. Competition is good for the consumer and promotes innovation and lowering of prices. Oh well…Apple will continue innovating regardless of the Zune and of Vista. There’s word in the rumor mill Apple is working on a new video iPod that is entirely a touch-sensitive screen…let’s hope that comes true!