17 August 2008


The Zune would be fun, if I didn't have to manage it from Windows

Zune Homestar at Flickr.comI finally did get the Zune player working a few weeks ago, and my daughter has enjoyed using it ever since with the same set of songs, videos, photos, and podcasts I first loaded onto it. But she wanted some different stuff, so today I borrowed by dad's Windows laptop again and set about updating the little device.

What a freaking pain! Even though the Zune software was fully installed and working, somehow it had forgotten most of the subscriptions I had set up, and was still slow, scatterbrained, unintuitive, and frustrating. Getting new media on it took well over an hour, since I had to try a couple of different approaches.

I'm a Mac guy, yes, but I've been using PCs for more than 25 years, and even worked for a Windows software developer for almost five of them. Yet every time I have to install or manage something using Windows, my wife and kids know to leave me alone, because it turns me into Mr. Grumpy Boy. The Zune software only compounds the problem—somehow Microsoft, the company that makes both Windows and the Zune, can't get them to play nice with each other. At least not for me.

So I'm reinforcing my original conclusion: the Zune device is very nice, with a pleasant and useful interface. It works well once you have media on it. If some third party (or Microsoft, not likely) made a Mac client to manage it, I'd quite like the little player. But the Zune software you have to use to manage it is crap, and only runs on Windows, which for me makes it doubly crap.

Grr. Grumble. Phht. I'm glad I didn't have to pay for the thing.

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19 July 2008


Continued Zune fail

UPDATE: By some miracle (and no, I don't know what I did), one last try at installing the software worked at around 12:30 p.m., and I managed to load on some video and audio, plus podcasts, onto the Zune device. I'm going to transfer a bunch of my daughter's MP3s and let her give it a spin to see what she thinks of the Zune now that it's working, more than 24 hours after I first started trying.

Zune fail at Flickr.comIt's been a few years since I used Windows regularly, but as a typical Mac fanboy I do have to ask: do those of you who run Windows regularly actually have to put up with this level of frustration all the time?

Right now I'm staring at the Zune installer program screen, telling me for the fourth or fifth time that it "Can't access Microsoft Update" (I can access it fine by going to the website, by the way). This is on the second computer I've borrowed from my dad to try to install the Zune application. Yesterday I spent something like nine hours (on and off, mostly off, thankfully) trying, repeatedly failing, and then eventually getting the Zune software to install on his older Windows XP laptop. And then, at the end of the day, while the computer itself could see that the Zune player was connected, the software never did, and I could never sync anything to be able to play it.

Having worked for a Windows software developer at one point, I have decent Windows tech-fu techniques, which I employed during yesterday's mess, even creating a new user account before the software successfully ran. Yet here I am again, needing to put the same skills to use once more the next day to get a Microsoft product working with a Microsoft operating system, because yesterday all of my ninja skills weren't good enough to get the music player to, you know, play music.

It's a pity. I like the Zune as a piece of hardware. It's cute, the packaging is nice, it seems well built, the premium headphones are really quite elegant (if bass-heavy). Yes, the Zune design team has tried way, way, way too hard to ape the iPod Nano—the one that's two generations old now, by the way—even down to the "Hello from Seattle" etched into the back in place of "Designed by Apple in California." They've made the hardware as close as they can get to an iPod without getting sued, I think.

The Zune pad that replaces the iPod scroll wheel is good, and the onscreen interface is nice indeed, smooth and useful and (for once) different. What I've seen of it, anyway: I've been unable to do anything with it, not even listen to FM radio, because the Zune (unnecessarily, I think, like the iPod too) needs to be set up from a computer first. Which is my whole problem.

If you buy an iPod, is setting up iTunes on Windows this bad? I've never done it, but I may try just to see how the experiences compare. If it is, I'm sorry, and it's a wonder that anyone ever uses a portable music player. At this point, if I'd actually paid money for the Zune, I would have returned it by now, since for the past day it has been an attractive electronic paperweight, and not a sufficiently heavy one at that.

But for now, as I've been writing this rant, I've used one of my Macs to download the full Zune installer package and move it to my dad's XP laptop using a memory stick. It seems to be installing. Perhaps by the end of this paragraph I will know if the Zune software can see the Zune player, and maybe let it play some music or videos...

Nope. "INSTALLATION FAILED. Could not write the Zune Launcher to key \SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Run." What a lovely experience, and waste of my time.

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18 July 2008


Zune arrives, not working yet

Yeah, I got the Zune today, but no, despite efforts all fricking day long, I have not actually managed to play any audio or video on it yet. So here are some photos:

Zune letter Zune photo setup Zune for U.S.A. only Zune stickies Zune package contents Zune photo setup 2
Zune headphones Zune charging Zune download Zune license agreement Zune preparing... forever... Zune cancel
Zune fail Zune box Zune packing Zune contents Zune headphones (cross-processed) Zune rising
Zune FTW Zune hooked up Zune subscribe to IHR Zune - come to the social Zune 8 back - "Hello from Seattle" Zune stove charge

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17 July 2008


My Zune may be about to arrive

It looks like a few people are getting those free Zunes from Matchstick I mentioned recently. Mine would have arrived yesterday, but I was off at the clinic, and again today, so FedEx Ground is dropping by again tomorrow.

Honestly, other than the Zune itself, I'm most interested in the "premium headphones" this promotional one seems to come with. I've always found Apple's stock iPod headphone earbuds remarkably lame. On the other hand, these premium earbuds don't come stock with the Zune either.

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04 July 2008


Matchstick and Microsoft are sending me a free Zune to review

Zune at Flickr.comI was a bit surprised to be contacted by Matchstick, a Canadian "word of mouth marketing" company, yesterday. I figured after some of their missteps a couple of years ago, they might have gone out of business—but instead it seems like they might have learned a thing or two and survived.

They've been contracted by Microsoft to find bloggers and other types like me to evaluate the Zune media player, software, and online marketplace, which has finally become available in Canada after its U.S. release almost two years ago. I (and Chris Pirillo) had a chance to play with the first-generation Zune—yes, the brown one—briefly in Seattle before that original release, and I was impressed with the hardware and user interface. At a recent trip to Best Buy, I also liked the fun but very un-iPod-like approach to the Zune onscreen user experience, despite the extremely iPod-like form factor of the device itself.

But I haven't had a chance to work with the Zune software at all, and reviews of that over time have been mixed. Matchstick will be sending me a black Zune 8 to try out, so I'll find out for myself. But I'll either have to borrow a Windows PC from someone, or install Windows on my MacBook, to get it to work—there's no Mac support, alas.

But with luck I'll be able to find out whether our Zune subscription links at Inside Home Recording actually work. The little Zune should arrive next week sometime. Maybe I can photograph it with the new/old camera.

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