Review of the Microsoft Zune

Yes, I have been welcomed to the social. First, I would like to go through my rationale in choosing the Zune over other alternatives.

My primary interest in buying a media device was for video, so the larger screen was a must. When a friend bought a Video iPod, finding a free way for him to convert video to its very picky format specifications was difficult and very time-consuming. VirtualDub + Windows Media Encoder = works for Zune.

I ruled out the Creative Zen Vision: M because of seeing it in a store frozen while apparently playing a U2 song. The main choices I had were between the Zune and iPod. The Zune had the larger screen, and the gimmick of wireless. The iPod’s screen was smaller, no wireless. Also, the addition of Firmware updates meant that there can, and considering the chatter likely will, be feature additions. This led to favor the Zune.

The only reputable counterarguments were that it’s heavier, which I felt could be accounted for by the larger screen size, and that it’s not the “original” that the iPod is, which according to a recently resolved patent dispute apparently Apple is paying Creative $100 million for a patent violation they made with the video iPod; so much for originality, and even so, being the original product or even one that others emulates doesn’t mean that other products have not improved on the concept. The other counterargument is “microsoft is the devil”, and I don’t like stupid personal biases.

Adding to all of this that the entire reason I felt justified in making a purchase was a TigerDirect gift card(see other postings about that), and TigerDirect only had the earliest model of the Gen5 iPod(not the 5.5) and the Zune, with no Creative video alternative.

My point of comparison for an mp3 player device, the only other mp3 player I’ve had, was a 256MB mpio device. The buttons and screen were small, capacity was small, and it has a number of odd behaviors(such as not reading ID3 tags properly and displaying Japanese characters instead, or freezing on disagreeable ID3 tags).

This experience has, I guess, disillusioned me about portable media players.

So now onto the Zune

First I will start with the Zune device: It’s great.

The size of the device is not overly large, and it’s not heavy. It’s small while still feeling like I’m holding something with some substance. The UI is very fast, very easy to use without any learning, looks sleek, and is large and easy to read and watch with the face at a distance. Album art looks very nice and images are displayed in landscape when appropriate.

Video picture quality is fantastic. Clear, crisp, and bright. I can easily see it out in the sunlight, and Texas sunlight is not very friendly to visibility on any kind of reflective surface.

Settings are easy to configure, themes and wallpapers are pretty smart. I’m not usually a fan of the ear-bud type headphones, but these ones sound better than others I have where surrounding noises are far too noticeable.

I haven’t been able to test the wireless, as I’m at home. When I move back up to campus I’ll give it a try.

Now on to the software: It’s like a reworked and rebranded Windows Media Player. It operates like WMP11’s library, and has a bit of a Vista-styling to the shape of Windows.

It syncs easily, but a little too easily. By default it wants to sync every little thing you put in your library, and if you have a library like mine that’s a bad thing.

It also feels like the software needs optimized. I noticed when it was trying to do a conversion it only used half of my total computing power(only 1 of my 2 cores). It also tends to take a long time when applying custom album art choices(it says “Working” for awhile). On the first install it had trouble finding the Zune, and won’t sync or see the Zune if I plug the Zune into my frontside USB; that might be a hardware issue or related to charging, though.

I apologize if this seems brief, I’ve had a headache all day and so have been writing this off-and-on without any real consistent thought flow.



– Remove DRM on shared content


– Needs optimized, and install/configure needs cleaned up, or maybe those are just bugs needing fixed.

– Doesn’t find album art easily for music I’ve ripped from CD with programs that weren’t Windows Media Player, and even with some that were with Windows Media Player. When I try to associate an album with a certain listing from its album catalog, it usually doesn’t select the right album on its own or loses extra information in the track title(like a live version being on the same album as a studio version). I’ll probably be using the Zune software for ripping in the future, but most of my current content was done with Audiograbber, and all I want on it is the album art and no track/album information changed.

Feature requests:


– Expand wireless capability a little. Wireless syncing would be basic and easy. Internet access of some sort would be even better.

– Firmware patch to allow the Zune to be used a portable drive. Registry hack works, but is inconvenient.


– RSS feed support. I can’t stand the term “podcast”.

– Plugins for the software. I use, for example, and would like to use the Zune software as my primary music player, but can’t because the software does not support plugins.

– Ability to convert from any format. I don’t mind the device being picky about formats, but the software will not convert from any format that any other converter on my computer could take advantage of.
Most of these complaints and requests seem to be shared by Zune critics and users across the board.

And I went with the Brown Zune. The black, with the blue doubleshot, especially under light, reminded me of those partially see-through Gameboy Colors that used to be around. White was not an option.

Brown fits me best, as I tend to like Earth colors(Green, Brown, Blue), and the doubleshot green just looked unique.

Attack of the Zombie!

Not quite.

A New York Times article titled Attack of the Zombie Computers Is Growing Threat talks about botnets and other malicious programs that use a person’s computer for uses, often illegal, of hackers and kiddie-scripters. The article talks, in very inflammatory language, about how security is easily compromised.
I just find it amusing how it mischaracterizes a lot of things; it suggests IRC(which it takes a lot of effort to vaguely explain, and spells it I.R.C.) is an integral part of a lot of hacking efforts, which really it’s not, and laughably suggests that people buy pirated/illegal software on online auctions. If someone is getting illegal software, they’re getting it off of some kind peer-to-peer service, IRC, newsgroups, or bittorrent, all assuming that it isn’t self-built with open source tools. It would be completely moronic to suggest people, at least knowingly or intelligently, buy pirated software.

Again, the mass public cannot handle simple facts about the reality of the technology they use because they are not willing or capable to actually understand it, and again a media outlet caters to this ignorance.

If people aren’t willing to learn about the technology, why would they think they would want to know how their lack of knowledge makes them vulnerable?

Tempted to buy a video player

Right now I’m considering purchasing either an iPod or a Zune. The iPod does, baseline, what I want, but I don’t like the idea of iTunes or in general Apple mitigating my device. I don’t like how picky it is about video format, not just the use of H.264(which encoding to seems more difficult than other formats), but that it has to be the exact resolution and bitrate or otherwise it won’t work; great for iTunes-purchased content but that’s about it. Also, it’s the same price as the Zune with the Zune having bells and whistles.

I have a number of problems with the Zune, though. The 3×3 feature of the Wi-Fi, in combination to the Wi-Fi not allowing video transfer and not doing anything other than Zune-to-Zune communication means it’s not a very useful feature. The use of the WMV video format, though not quite as good of quality, is more friendly to the kind of conversion I would need to do. Also, the DRM it puts on music kind of conflicts with what I may want to do, and unrightly applies it to items under the Creative Commons. With the Zune, the changes that would make me happy seem to be for a future release, but I don’t want to wait until the end of 2007 to get a player.

Very conflicted. Any ideas, such as alternatives to these that will do what I want, would be nice.