Thurrott reviews Microsoft Zune: ‘a joke, a travesty, I can’t imagine what they were thinking’

“Microsoft’s “Zune, which was confirmed in mid-2006 and then released earlier this month, is a me-too device that provides only a small fraction of the iPod’s functionality. It’s bigger, heavier, thicker, and delivers worse battery life than the iPod, despite costing the same. The Zune is incompatible with music sold from the iTunes Store as well as all of the Windows Media-based online services,” Paul Thurrott writes for Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows. “And yet. The Zune isn’t a complete disgrace. It does offer a few advantages over the iPod, including a bigger screen, a smoother, more grippable body, and unique wireless features that are currently useless but could become quite important in the future.”

MacDailyNews Take: In which universe does “smoother” make something “more grippable?” wink

Thurrott continues, “The way Zune is marketed is also a travesty. The ‘Welcome to the social’ tagline is clearly meant to evoke the grammatically questionable yet enduringly homey ‘Think Different’ campaign that Apple waged half a decade ago for the Mac. This is just one of dozens of Zune-related examples of Microsoft’s Apple envy leading to outright and wholesale idea copying. To be fair, it’s also one of the more subtle examples. Somehow, that fact just makes it feel dirtier.”

“‘Welcome to the social’ refers, obviously, to the Zune’s wireless capabilities, which purportedly allow Zune users to share music and photos wirelessly, making these people part of a warm and fuzzy community of hippies, from what I can tell. Sadly, the tagline also betrays the key weakness of the device. Because so few people own Zunes in this iPod-oriented world of ours, each Zune is an isolated island of useless functionality, constantly sending out fruitless wireless signals, looking, hopelessly, for a non-existent buddy to connect with,” Thurrott writes.

“Zune devices are packaged in Spartan, Apple-like boxes that don’t utilize the Microsoft name or logo, unless you look at the small bottom side (likewise, the Zune Web site and advertisements downplay the Microsoft name in startling ways, given the company’s name recognition)… If you’ve never seen an iPod, you’ll be super impressed,” Thurrott writes.

MacDailyNews Take: As an aside, it’s just like how, if you’ve never seen a Mac, you’re impressed with Windows. (For more on that subject, please see the related article Analyst: Windows Vista may still impress many consumers because they have not seen Apple’s Mac OS X – January 05, 2006)

Thurrott writes, “The painful process of installing and configuring your Zune will serve as a helpful preview to the pain you’re about to experience trying to use the device and its sub-par PC software interface. Annoyingly also called Zune, the Zune software is quite clearly just a different front-end to Windows Media Player 11 (see my review), but missing many of that software’s best features. And that’s tragic, because Microsoft might have made a good argument for wanting to try and make a much simpler software solution than WMP11. But the Zune software just feels empty and incomplete…”

Thurrott writes, “As an online service, the Zune Marketplace is a joke. Instead of adhering to the normal 99 cent-per-song pricing model utilized by Apple and all other online services, Zune Marketplace uses Microsoft’s questionable ‘Microsoft Points’ system, which is also used on Xbox Live… You can’t just buy a song. Instead, you have to buy bundles of Microsoft Points first, and then feed off of that reserve whenever you want to make a purchase. The minimum purchase is 400 Microsoft Points, which costs $5.00. No 99 cent micropayments for you, Zune boy… Because songs and albums are priced in Points, Microsoft is obscuring the true cost of this content. A song on Zune typically costs 79 Microsoft Points, which, yes, is about 99 cents. But it seems like less because it’s just 79 Points. And that’s not right… Because you’re buying Points in 400 Point increments, you’ll almost never actually be able to clean out your reserve of Points. Thus, you’ve given Microsoft money you’ll never get back, or receive content for. That, too, is not right.”

Thurrott explains that the back of the Zune “reads ‘Hello from Seattle. Model 1089. Assembled in China.’ Now, that’s all cute and everything, unless of course you’re familiar with Apple’s similar messaging. ‘Don’t Steal Music,’ Apple’s iPod packaging reads. ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’ Yep, even the cute, seemingly friendly note on the back of the Zune is basically an iPod rip-off. I’m sorry if I’m beating this to death, but seriously, there seems to be nothing about the iPod that Microsoft is unwilling to copy. It’s pathological.”

Thurrott concludes, “The bottom line is that Microsoft should have waited until it had a more compelling product to sell. I can’t imagine what they were thinking.”

There’s a lot more in the full review, including Thurrott hitting the nail squarely on the head when calling Microsoft Zune/Xbox executive J Allard “the human embodiment of the Zune in the same way that Steve Jobs is for the iPod” and criticizing Allard’s and Microsoft’s attempts at “faux coolness” here.
Give Thurrott credit for a thorough, largely unbiased review.

Unfortunately, Thurrott does go to great lengths trying and failing to equate Zune with the Mac in one portion of his review. He’s obviously forgotten that the Mac came well before and inspired Windows, just like the iPod came well before and inspired the Zune, and that Macs can run Windows and Windows software. The Mac is nothing at all like the Zune. Period.

Paul, Apple Mac owners enjoy the world’s largest software library, not Windows PC owners. Only Apple Macs can run all the OSes and software you’d ever want to run. Windows PC owners are limited to a smaller library and less choice than Apple Mac owners. Wrap your brain around it, get it through your head; you’ve had more than enough time to process and accept it by now.

Back on subject: can anyone name any product that has been so poorly received upon its debut as Zune? We can’t.

Related articles:
Apple iPod clearly immune to Zune – November 27, 2006
Zune reinforces Microsoft’s dorky image, pushes people toward Apple iPods, Macs – November 27, 2006
Ihnatko: Microsoft Zune experience about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face – November 24, 2006
TheStreet.com: It’s not looking good for Microsoft’s Zune; bad press may taint brand for years – November 24, 2006
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Bill Gates: Apple iPod ‘phenomenal, unbelievable, fantastic’ – November 16, 2006
Cramer’s Mad Money: Microsoft’s Zune is pathetic; Vista may cause people to turn to Apple Mac – November 15, 2006
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83 Comments

  1. It just shows how poor of a company Microsoft are when one of their staunchest supporters has to tell the truth about some of their products and declare them crap. It’s gotten to the stage where if he didn’t he would just absolutely lose any credibility he may be perceived as having in respect to his windows viewpoints.

  2. I was in the math lab with all the other calculus geeks the other day and this guy comes in with a zune and nobody was interested. the one guy that didnt know anything about it asked a bunch of questions and was handling it until he found out that some of the features he thought were cool really didnt do the things he thought they did. he put it down and it just sat there in an uncomfortable silence till the owner picked it back up a few minutes later.

  3. MDN — “Can you name any product that has been so poorly received upon its debut as Zune?”

    I seem to think the Ford Edsel was not exactly well received.

    Still, I went to an Edsel owners’ meet recently, and the Edsels looked absolutely great in a mad, sad, retro sort of way.

    Maybe that’s how ZuneBrown will be described in a few decades!

    ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

    ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”cool smile” style=”border:0;” />

  4. Once again, your frothing-at-the-mouth enthusiasm for bashing carries you away. I cannot believe you actually comment on the “smoother, more grippable” bit from the article! And in what universe do you not understand that he means smoother AND more grippable. I don’t know about smoother (my iPods are pretty darn smooth) but many have written about the rubberized and more grippable Zune surface.

    There are enough reasons to mock the Zune. Relax.

  5. I still do not trust the man.

    Fast forward six months. Thurrot takes a delivery at his front door: Zune 2.0 and a check (for his reviewing troubles, of course). He runs to his computer, tripping over the dog and the carcasses of Dell towers and writes, “In typical Microsoft fashion, their second try is a homerun. Zune 2.0 is a winner!”

    Thurrot, if you’re reading, you can’t use the line without sharing that check…

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