Tech Pundits and Zune, a Look Back

Microsoft is apparently killing the Zune once and for all, according to a report out of Bloomberg earlier this week. As another tech product reaches the end of it’s lifetime, it can be fun to look back at what all the experts had to say about the original model and whether or not anything has changed, really.

Chris Pirillo
In a post on his personal blog made the day before Microsoft Zune was released in to the world, Chris indicated boldly that he would not be purchasing a Zune.

A year later, he gave a breakdown of the differences between the iPod (classic) and the Zune using his experience with his Zune as an example. At this time, the iPhone had already been released and both of these products were quickly becoming obsolete. He remarked that the larger screen was a plus as well as the FM tuner, which was added to some iPod models in future generations, but the most useful benefit to the Zune was access to a subscription service.

He noted in his blog that it’s lack of cross-platform support, podcast management, questionable battery life, and overall lack of anything “new” were clear downsides to the device.

Leo Laporte
Leo’s impressions of the Microsoft Zune became a viral sensation in the tech community, even reaching a top 10 spot on Digg. His impressions were simply that it lacked the core features that made the iPod a success. His statement that the cut of the purchase price the music industry received was an indication that the release of the Zune marked, “The day the music died” served as a bold opening to his 3-minute rant about how terrible the device truly was.

Ryan Block (Engadget)
Ryan’s comments about the Zune were pretty straightforward. The software installation process was far from flawless, battery life was lackluster, there was a lack of Mac support, and the Zune felt bulky and heavy compared to the current model iPod. The positives he noted in his review include a bigger screen, a comfortable soft finish, and a simple interface.

His review on Engadget ended with the prediction that the Zune was not enough to topple the iPod from it’s position as king of all portable media players. Five years later, his prediction has been proven accurate.

Overall, it would appear that the general response from tech enthusiasts and pundits at the time were that the Zune itself was too little, too late. While the device certainly exceeded expectations by grabbing a 9% market share the first month of release, its rapid decline shortly after and lackluster sales for the past five years have done little to encourage confidence in the Zune brand.

Did Microsoft pay attention to what their customers and reviews thought? Changes to the device over time would indicate that their attention was on trying to be something more like the iPod and less about what made it unique. Whether or not spending more time concentrating on these defining features would have made a difference in this product’s success is a mystery we will sadly never uncover.

What started as a fresh take on the idea of portable media, featuring concepts like subscription-based music and a more social way to think about your portable media player has ended up another footnote in the history of tech.

Source(s):
Bloomberg – Microsoft Is Said to Stop Releasing New Models of the Zune
Chris Pirillo – I’m Not Buying a Zune
Chris Pirillo – Zune: Good and Bad
Chris Pirillo – Apple iPod vs Microsoft Zune
Engadget – Installing the Zune…Sucked
Engadget – Zune Review

VocaTalk Personal Podcast v1.0.25

VocaTalk generates personal podcasts that sound like audio documentaries with sound effects and music in the background. You copy and paste any content, select music and effects, generate episodes, and download to your iPod, Zune or any MP3 player.

If the content is too large, VocaTalk will automatically split it into multiple episodes of 50-60 minutes. VocaTalk uses digital signal processing technology to massage the generated speech. Listening to a VocaTalk episode is much more comfortable and fun than raw TTS (text-to-speech) technology, and it integrates with iTunes and Zune directly using podcasting technology. Generated MP3 files are always in CD quality (44.1 KHz, stereo).

There should be an image here!A VocaTalk episode is based on whatever you choose it to be. You just give the content to VocaTalk and choose music and effects. VocaTalk will read the text as it plays the music in the background. VocaTalk will use all available voices installed on your system randomly so you don’t get bored by listening to the same voice, especially during long hours of listening. It’s like a documentary audio that is narrated by multiple speakers.

VocaTalk will leave periods of silence between paragraphs to make the listening experience closer to a documentary. In order to make the listening even more comfortable, keep the focus and attract the attention, VocaTalk uses some sound effects and enhancements in the generated MP3. There are a number of different effects that you can turn on and off.

[Discovered via Download.com]

[7M] [WinVista/7] [FREE (Download VocaTalk Personal Podcast)]

[Photo above by johntrainor / CC BY-ND 2.0]

VocaTalk Personal Podcast v1.0.25

VocaTalk generates personal podcasts that sound like audio documentaries with sound effects and music in the background. You copy and paste any content, select music and effects, generate episodes, and download to your iPod, Zune or any MP3 player.

If the content is too large, VocaTalk will automatically split it into multiple episodes of 50-60 minutes. VocaTalk uses digital signal processing technology to massage the generated speech. Listening to a VocaTalk episode is much more comfortable and fun than raw TTS (text-to-speech) technology, and it integrates with iTunes and Zune directly using podcasting technology. Generated MP3 files are always in CD quality (44.1 KHz, stereo).

There should be an image here!A VocaTalk episode is based on whatever you choose it to be. You just give the content to VocaTalk and choose music and effects. VocaTalk will read the text as it plays the music in the background. VocaTalk will use all available voices installed on your system randomly so you don’t get bored by listening to the same voice, especially during long hours of listening. It’s like a documentary audio that is narrated by multiple speakers.

VocaTalk will leave periods of silence between paragraphs to make the listening experience closer to a documentary. In order to make the listening even more comfortable, keep the focus and attract the attention, VocaTalk uses some sound effects and enhancements in the generated MP3. There are a number of different effects that you can turn on and off.

[Discovered via Download.com]

[7M] [WinVista/7] [FREE (Download VocaTalk Personal Podcast)]

[Photo above by johntrainor / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Absolutism In Tech Is Sad

There should be an image here!My household, like most, doesn’t have silly rules exclaiming that you can use one brand of product but that other comparable brand is forbidden. Yet apparently, this is not what it’s like in the upper echelons of Microsoft. According to multiple reports, both the Gates and the Ballmers, led by what may be described by some as an absolutism mentality, put severe limitations on the tech enjoyed by their kids.

In this piece, Melinda Gates makes it clear that Apple products are not allowed in their home. This means no iPads or iPods for the kids in the Gates household. On Ballmer’s side of the fence applies with the addition of no Google. Seriously, and I quote: “…I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.” Wow, life is limited in those two households.

Now here is the interesting thing: I imagine that there are similar rules in the Jobs household and I know that in Google’s offices, Windows PCs are a thing of the past. So clearly this issue is much more than some anti-Apple/Google issue. It’s overly competitive individuals who take their lives WAY too seriously limiting the experiences of their kids and or employees due to personal bias.

Why does it have to be this way? In my household, despite my distaste for Windows and OS X, we run both and Linux as well. At no time is one machine “banned” from my home because much of my work flow revolves around the Linux platform. Banning something from my family members because I am potentially competing against it is just stupid.

By not being such an absolutist, I am able to see how other non-Linux products might do something better, perhaps that needs to be emulated in my chosen platform. Vice versa, in some cases. However you cut it, I think it is important to never “ban” something in your home because you work for the competing product vendor. I mean, does Michael Dell ban HP printers from connecting to his computers? After all, HP makes PCs, too. Surely I am not the only one seeing how utterly dumb this mindset is?

[Photo above by James Vaughan / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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Microsoft Kin Being Sold For 1 Cent On Amazon With Service Plan

As most of you are aware, Microsoft has dumped its plans for continuing with its failed Kin project. Amazon is dumping its stock of Kins for just one penny when you purchase a service plan from Verizon. The phone is described on the Amazon site as:

Technical Details

  • Compact 3G-enabled social networking phone with 2.6-inch touchscreen display and slide-out full QWERTY keyboard
  • Easy home screen access to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace; easily send updates, Web sites, locations and more to friends with KIN Spot
  • 5-megapixel camera with VGA video capture; Wi-Fi networking; Zune-powered music and video; Bluetooth stereo music; access to personal and corporate e-mail
  • Up to 5.7 hours of talk time, up to 210 hours ( 8.75 days) of standby timeWhat’s in the Box: handset, rechargeable battery, charger, 3.5mm wired stereo headset, micro USB cable, quick start guide, 14-day Zune Pass trial

But why would anyone want to buy a phone from any company that just dropped the product like a hot potato? Does anyone not believe that if the phone fails that support from Microsoft will be non-existent?

Microsoft has dumped way too many failed projects — like its accounting program, money program, Encarta, and other products — that the confidence level for the company is anything but stellar.

Opinions and comments welcome.

Microsoft KIN ONE Windows Phone (Verizon Wireless)

Zune HD This Fall

Speaking for myself, an mp3 player is an mp3 player. I mean, most people are all excited about Apple’s iPod products, while I do not even bother using my own iPhone as an mp3 player. Currently, I still use one of the old school iPod nanos for my mp3 needs and when it goes bad, will almost certainly go with a Cowon flash player as it means I can go with more codec options. Hey, I have a lot of FLAC music files! Do not believe the iPod is going to be a lot of help there.

But for those of you who want more, yet are not really wanting to fall into the iPod niche, you might consider looking at the latest Zune called the Zune HD. Offering much of what the iPod touch offers, along with some additional features, one might find that it is a better match for them in the end.

To those who believe this Zune HD to be a FUD tactic, I would strongly disagree. The iPod market is not one that Microsoft is going to ignore. And for better or worse, you had bet your backside that MS will be shipping this Zune HD asap. They are already very late to this market. So waiting any longer would be counter productive for them.

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30GB Zune – Did Yours Die?

The blogsphere is full of horror tales of Zune 30GB owners waking up to dead Zunes. Microsoft states that:

“We are aware that customers with the Zune 30GB are experiencing issues with their Zune device. We are actively working now to isolate the issue and develop a solution to address it. We will keep customers informed on next steps via the support page on zune.net (zune.net/support).”

One reported fix that later failed:

This fix just worked for me (apparently), and mine is back up and working.  It’s a pain removing the plastic shielding, and you have to be careful not to break the delicate connector, but once you get those tiny screws removed, the housing comes apart easily enough.

You said the battery connectors were at the top left and right, but mine were at the bottom left and right.  Did you just have the orientation wrong, or does that speak to different generations?

UPDATE********
This did NOT work, not permanently, anyway.  Initially all was well, but then I connected it to my computer to charge and sync with the software.  It almost immediately reset and is frozen again at the logo page.  No doubt I could unfreeze it again, but what’s the point if it’s just going to mess up again when I reconnect it?

It makes one wonder how well Windows 7 is going to work. :-)

Have a Happy New Year everyone.

Source.

Trying Ubuntu

Today, James writes:

I am running a Windows XP based system and I am considering moving on to Ubuntu. The only thing holding me back is application support. I need to be able to use applications like my Zune media player, Reason, etc. If there are any ways to get programs like these to work on Linux, please let me know. I’ve enjoyed using Windows XP for years now, but I’d like to try different things. I am beginning to feel a bit “shackled” to Windows.

If you are completely serious about taking Linux for a test drive, I would point you to Wubi. Unlike so much of this dual-boot nonsense, this allows you to install Ubuntu without touching any of your MBR or your partitions. Best of all, it can be uninstalled from Add/Remove programs as well.

As for getting the Zune to work under Linux, it is possible, be it very geeky as MS has shown no interest in seeing their product gain a larger market outside of the Windows world. This is not to say that it cannot be done, but compared to the plug-n-play simplicity to a Video iPod with Linux.

Having said this, it might be fun to try a trial version of Parallels and use this for running Windows from Linux. This would mean that you could run XP inside of Linux itself, then sync up your Zune with the desired contents whenever you like. And of course, if you want to get extremely geeky, you could even run your Zune locally in Linux, while having zero access to anything DRM protected. I guess what I am saying is that running Wubi with XP is what I would do in your shoes. The Zune is a fine piece of hardware, it’s just a shame that it is so cut off from the rest of the platform choices out there. And of course, with regard to Windows applications, having native access to the OS they are designed for is always better.

Windows users will often point out that making things work is generally easier with Windows. Well, in this particular case, they would be right. But using Wubi might give you an opportunity to learn a little more about Linux, how it differs, what it’s like not to have everything you do dictated by one company, it’s actually a lot of fun.

Do you have an IT-related question? Perhaps you are just burnt out on writing on the walls with crayons? Whatever the comments may be, drop me a line, and you too can “Just Ask Matt!”

Also, don’t forget to check out “Just Ask Matt,” Linux Edition!

[tags]Linux, Ubuntu, Zune[/tags]

I Was Zuned, But I Was Not Impressed

Not that I am in the business of reviewing hardware… but I do get my mitts on a lot of different technology these days. Some work related, some not. I attended a Microsoft event in the Chicago area recently, and had the luck to win a door prize of a Zune media player. I had that brief rush that comes with winning something, but then thought to myself, “oh boy, a Zune.”

I’m know I’m very late in the game on reviewing the player… but I can tell you this: I am not impressed. It was a long and complicated software install, which is a turn off right away. Will somebody please tell me why MS decided to not make this device sync with Windows Media Player? I guess that would make too much sense. I suppose there was so much functionality in the device that WMP couldn’t do it justice… but perhaps people should be given a choice when installing it.

As an example, I’ll use my Creative Zen Vision 30gb media player. I can plug it into any Windows XP PC and have it recognize the device with no additional software required. I can even sync it with WMP, or manually drag compatible files to and from the device in Windows Explorer. Not so with the Zune. You must install the software.

The navigation is much more clumsy than the iPod it is trying so hard to emulate. But I guess you can excuse that because, given enough time with it, one could become proficient. Also — why didn’t Microsoft put a Mini-USB connector on the device, rather than the proprietary connector it currently uses? The connector is really awkward to plug and unplug (on the device end). Not cool. What I do think is cool, however, is how it has the display set up for video — the landscape mode, which gives you a larger screen experience. But that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about it.

So my first, and probably last, Zune will likely end up on Craigslist or at my in-laws’ garage sale.

[tags]zune, mp3 player[/tags]

Some Short Takes On Computer Stuff – May 6, 2007

Here are some of the things that have occurred during the past week that you might find interesting.

Vista Compatibility Woes Adobe, IBM, and Symantec are among the software vendors still struggling with the complexities of making their apps work with Microsoft’s new operating system. Even Adobe’s newest Photo Shop doesn’t work with Vista.

OLPC Still Using Open Source – The One Laptop Per Child has now confirmed their laptops will be using open source software but provided technical info. to Microsoft only to test the system in case a country wished to switch from Linux to Windows.

First Cell Phones – Now iPods & Zunes Banned – During testing, schools have had to ban cell phones since students were text messing answers. Now iPods and Zunes are on the hit list as well.

MySpace – A Connecticut law is in the works that would require MySpace and other social-networking sites to verify users’ ages and obtain parental consent before minors can post profiles.

Ubuntu Studio is a multimedia editing/creation remix of Ubuntu. Its built for the GNU/Linux audio, video, and graphic enthusiast or professional. Coming soon.

APPLE BOOT CAMP SUPPORTS VISTA – That just about says it. You can now run Vista on a Apple machine.

Dell + Ubuntu – Oh, rumors, rumors and more rumors. Dell will be using Ubuntu on their Dell Linux systems which will start being offered at the end of this month.

Ballmer Again – Steve Ballmer once again is being critical of Google and the iPhone. No one is listening. :-)

Microsoft & Yahoo – the two companies are once again talking about a merger to compete against Google. But the talks were short lived and insider information says it is over.

AMD Name Change – AMD is dropping the Athlon name and will be using Phenom.

[tags]apple, dell, amd, vista, olps, zune, adobe, ibm, symantec, [/tags]

Microsoft and Vanishing Point – Win A Trip To Space

I have to admit it. I’m terrible at solving puzzles. And I have never been much of a game player. So when I read during the Consumers Electronics Show that something was up about a puzzle game and free prizes from Microsoft, I just dismissed it saying to myself ‘I’ll never win ’cause I stink at puzzles’, and let it go.

But curiosity got me after I received a special announcement for members of hotmail to join in the fun. What struck me even funnier was that I do not even have a hotmail account. Or is a MSN account the same as Hotmail? Ron scratches head thinking. Enough. So I wondered over to Vanishingpoint.com to see what I could win.

First prize – a trip into space. Plus they are giving away Computers, X-Boxs, Zunes, Vista, Office software and more.

I’ll give it a try. Guess what? I just confirmed what I already knew. I’m terrible at puzzles! :-)

But if you are a good puzzle player, and want to have some fun trying to fun some great prizes, you may just want to stop by and take a look.

Good luck!

[tags]microsoft, vanishing point, puzzles, prizes, x-bos, zune, vista, office, [/tags]

Zen Vs. iPod Vs. Zune Inbox

Q: Can you tell me the differences between the Zen, the iPod and Microsoft’s new MP3 player? -Jonathan

A: The portable digital music player category is starting to heat up with some new competition from Microsoft.

Apple has owned this category since it launched its iPod line and a big part of the success had to do with the iTunes store.

Just playing digital music back on a portable device is not enough to capture a substantial portion of the market, as was proven by the forgotten pioneer in this segment: Diamond Multimedia’s Rio PMP 300, which was introduced in September of 1998.

Often referred to as the first “mass-market” digital music player, it was all the rage during the holiday season in 1998 even though it could only hold ten to twelve songs and cost $200.

This better than expected launch was what caught the attention of many (including Apple, obviously), and it spawned an onslaught of similar devices.

Many other companies including Compaq, Creative Labs, and iRiver began releasing their version of the digital music player well before Apple got into the game.

The primary thing that catapulted the iPod to the top and has kept it there was that Apple negotiated a deal with a large percentage of the music industry to make it easy for folks to buy songs one at a time.

Prior to iTunes, most folks had to buy standard CDs, convert them to MP3, then transfer them to their music players.

Apple understood that it needed to make it easier for folks to buy and transfer music and to this day, it has what is considered to be the standard for music downloading systems.

Every player released since Apple’s rise to the top has been proclaimed the “iPod Killer” by the competitor, but none have succeeded as of yet.

Creative has a solid, but distant second position in the market with its Zen line of players, and Microsoft is hoping to capture market share from both Creative and Apple with its new Zune player.

In general, here are my recommendations:

If you are buying it as a gift, the safe bet is to stick with the iPods, especially for teens that are brand conscious.

Very technical users will often prefer the Creative Zen because it is more flexible and frankly it’s easier to swap (pirate!) music with their friends because they are not restricted by the DRM (Digital Rights Management) in iTunes.

The new player from Microsoft called the Zune is a much closer competitor to the iPod because it also has its associated music store, but it is very early in its development.

The Zune has a couple of very interesting features, including a bigger display that plays videos sideways and built-in wireless connectivity, but it really has not fully developed either of these features.

In the future, it may be possible to buy music directly from the Zune through the wireless connection, but for now, it can be used to send non-copyright protected songs from one Zune player to another.

Apple does offer refurbished units at a substantial discount (typically 40% – 60% off retail) through its Web site but it is a little tricky to find, so just type refurbished ipod into Google for the quickest access to the current offers.

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services
Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show
Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers

[tags]ken colburn, data doctors, Zen, iPod, Zune, mp3 player[/tags]

First Look: Microsoft Zune

Microsoft is attempting to compete against the very popular Apple iPod. I own a iPod and I must say it is a great device. The reviews I have read about Zune makes one wonder how well it will fair against the iPod. Until the system is tested more throughly, I don’t think I’ll be tosing my iPod in the trash. Besides, I have to much money invested to change now. Others may have a differing opinion.

“Microsoft’s much-publicized Zune media player has just hit the market. After a few hours of playing with it, I’m impressed — less impressed with the hardware; more impressed with the software.

Physically, the Zune lacks the iPod’s jewelry-like qualities: no slick chrome back, no incredibly cool touch-sensitive scrollwheel, slightly bigger, much boxier. While the Zune imitates the iPod’s stark, featureless, how-do-I-use-this-thing design, that only works once. When you see it again in the Zune it’s not even flattery, it’s just imitation. I got the white Zune (it also comes in black and brown) with a white case that seems to be covered by a layer of frosty polyethylene. It doesn’t fingerprint as badly as the iPod, but it does make the Zune look like an iPod in a Tupperware container.”

Full story here.

[tags]zune, Microsoft, hardware, software, ipod, [/tags]

How To Not Market Your New Music Player

This is the single dumbest thing I have ever read – hands down. Not because of where I am reading it mind you, rather because of the fact that the Zune is not Vista compatible. Are you kidding me?

OK look. If Microsoft is not able to create hardware and then support it properly, then stop embarrassing your company and wasting our time. Those people out there looking at buying a Zune are not going to waste their time with it now. After all, it’s as clear as day that Microsoft hasn’t even bothered with a Vista Zune driver “coming soon” statement or anything – brilliant!

To be fair though, I still have seen no clear indication that the iPod or iTunes is compatible with Vista either, thus showing little interest from Apple as well. I could be wrong here, but Apple’s website clearing says XP, not Vista.

It’s a sad day for Vista in my opinion. They had what could have been a powerful marketing tool for music lovers to do what Apple did with the iPod/iTunes back in the day. Instead, Microsoft failed and failed badly on this one.

Never fear folks, reports say that Microsoft will be releasing a patch to make their Zune work…come January. Cool, a patch to make a Microsoft product work with another Microsoft product. Makes sense to me!
[tags]Microsoft, foolish, Pod, iTunes, Vista, XP, Zune[/tags]