Too Zune to Pass Judgment: A Review of the Zune Marketplace

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It’s always been easy to beat Microsoft’s Zune, but when the company announced last week that media player sales fell 54% year-on-year over the holiday season, the whole internet got carried away. Zune’s bashing has reached epic proportions, as one expert after another has called on Microsoft to do away with the entire Zune division.

Considering its low sales numbers, it’s safe to say that most Zune reviewers have never used the device, let alone actually spent any time with the online music store at Zune. But we used it and, in addition, we As this. The iTunes Music Store could learn a thing or two from Zune Marketplace, and if Microsoft ends up ditching Zune, the digital music ecosystem will be worse off.

We reviewed the original Zune in 2006, the Zune Flash in 2007, and the Zune 3G released last September, and in this review, we’ll take a look at the software side of the Zune experience. By the end of the review, we hope you will agree that there is more to Zune’s survival than just a Microsoft platform war against Apple.

A unique approach

Undergoing its own major changes over the past two years, the Zune marketplace has moved away from the market-dominating iTunes Store model to take a unique approach to both multimedia software design and marketing. multimedia consumption. As Microsoft has improved on Zune devices, the market has gained TV shows, a completely redesigned user interface that looks and does nothing like the competition (or even other Microsoft software), and new social features that help remove some of the tainted punchline of Microsoft’s “social” slogan.

Microsoft’s recent addition of a “keep 10” component to its Zune Pass monthly subscription service raises the bar in the company’s battle to give the iTunes Store meaningful competition. Where most subscription services have dried up, Microsoft managed to break new ground in November of last year, allowing customers of its $ 14.99 per month all-you-can-eat option to keep 10 songs per month, which their subscription either canceled or not.

But is the Keep 10 deal a game-changer for subscription models and Zune?

Small. Boxy. Different

One of the worst complaints about the original Zune is that Microsoft’s first version of software barely wanted to install. Microsoft has long fixed these issues, and installing Zune software is now as easy as it gets. The installer also prepares users for what’s to come in Zune software, as it is branded with the distinct user interface that Microsoft uses throughout its software and store.

And it is distinct. We’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating: Microsoft did this? From the expansive layout that focuses on album art (beating Apple in the fist by almost a year) to the subtle UI animations conservatively dotted around, Zune software is neither a copy of it. ‘iTunes nor a direct descendant of Windows Media Player. It’s something completely different, and while this review focuses on the Zune marketplace, some exploration of the fundamentals of Zune software is warranted.

It was a little shocking to get used to at first, but the Zune software uses a very textual, seemingly buttonless user interface located in a square, creamy white window. Naturally, Microsoft provides a variety of backgrounds for the Zune software window, so I used a variety of them in my screenshots. At the top of the window is a main navigation bar with words for “collection,” “market,” and “social,” all defined in the disarmingly lowercase letters of the pleasant Zegoe font. The collection is the default area that the Zune software presents on first run, and it immediately begins searching for existing media in various directories in the user folder, such as Music, Pictures, Videos, and Public. These directories can be customized through settings to include or exclude any directories you like. This flexibility is a wonderful antithesis to the relatively dumb file management features (or lack thereof) of iTunes.

Underneath that top-level navigation is another row of text-based buttons for Music, Videos, Pictures, Podcasts, and Channels, again all defined as lowercase Zegoe. A third media-specific navigation level is set one line down and justified on the right side of the Zune window. Since music is Zune’s default media area, third-level buttons to switch between artists, genres, albums, songs, and playlists provide different ways to view your music. The default artist view features a simple list of artists from A to Z on the left, a reorganizable list of album art in the middle, and a master list of songs on the right. The genre view mixes things up by listing the genres on the right and the album covers in the middle are sorted by artist name, while the albums view collapses to two columns to give more prominence to the album covers. ‘album.

These third-level controls also appear in the video section of the Zune collection in order to separate TV shows from music videos, movies, and “other” types of videos, but nowhere else. Images and podcasts have their own respective static views which work well, and we’ll get to channels in a minute.

Despite this unique user interface designed by Microsoft for its proprietary Zune platform, Zune software is not without its drawbacks. Some are arguably finicky, while others are a bit smarter considering the fact that Zune software hit its stride with version 3.x. For example, Zune software weird keyboard shortcuts do not allow the use of the space bar to pause and play content; you will need to use CTRL-P for this. The UI for managing and syncing playlists also looks very obtuse, as there is no way to display your collection and playlists next to each other to quickly shuffle the tracks into them. .

But again, I want to focus on the store, so let’s go shopping.


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