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September 14, 2006

Microsoft Give Out Zune Details

Microsoft is giving out some specifics about the Zune player and companion  Zune music service that it intends to use in competition with Apple's iPod and iTunes store.  We've known, for example, that Toshiba will manufacture the device for Microsoft.  Zune looks a lot like the Toshiba Gigabeat player according to pictures that have appeared so far.  We've also known that Zune will have WiFi capabilities that allow users to share music.

New details confirm the WiFi and how it will work in practice.  Users will be able to share songs with other Zune users, although these songs can only be shared once.  They will be playable three times or within three days of the share.  After that, the user of the receiving Zune will be prompted to buy the song, and if not, it will disappear from the player.  Another restriction will be a limit of one connection at a time.  The device can store and play videos and photos.  The latter can be shared on an unlimited basis while the former will not be shareable under current plans.   

WiFi can apparently be turned off as Microsoft gave a 12 hour battery life figure when WiFi isn't on.  There were no reports on how long the battery would last with WiFi on.  Ask any laptop user of WiFi and the answer should be significantly less.

Microsoft seems to be trying everything to appeal to users.  The market model they use combines what's currently out there.  Users can subscribe to unlimited tracks per month and/or buy tracks which will not expire.  There were no details about whether users will be able to buy tracks directly from the ether without a computer as previously rumored or if Zune will natively support support other file formats beyond WMA.  See  this artice in PC Magazine for nofmration on how Zune can "import" other formats.  No pricing is available at present.  If the music labels have their way it should be variable.  As Microsoft wants their DRM to be ubiquitous, they will likely roll over and let the labels set the prices.  Music, thus, becomes less an art form and more a commodity.  Oh well.

Comments from Microsoft representatives indicate that the company is in this game for the long haul.  They don't expect to capture large portions of market share from Apple overnight, or even in the first six months.  They are clearly betting on WiFi to distinguish themselves from Apple.  It remains to be seen whether this is enough to overcome Apple's cool factor.  Microsoft has certainly tried to up the cool factor on Zune with the way they leaked details.  Pundits have gone into this but one wonders if the general public cares.  Will we see Vista bundled with Zune music buying software?  Something like that may be their ace in the hole, although the Justice Department didn't care much for that strategy when it came to Explorer.  The Europeans may be even less inclined to allow that leverage.

A long time ago Microsoft announced the birth of the NT operating system.  It's sales were sluggish and Novell dominated the network market with Netware.  NT is now essentially XP and more or less Vista, and Windows Server 2000 on up.  History may repeat itself.  On the other hand, with the release of the initial Star Wars trilogy, we are reminded that the Empire did ultimately lose.  Zune may be NT or it may be the Death Star. 

Stories are in Billboard, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, and ABC News.

September 14, 2006 | Permalink

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