Zune 2.x


You may recall that I had written up the Zune Wish List a couple of months after I received mine in December of 2006. I took the time to assess my needs and what the Zune hardware and software could do to meet those needs. It has now been nearly a year since that list and it’s time to update it.Microsoft released their 2.0 Zune Marketplace software with the newer Zune hardware made available for Christmas of 2007. The new software addressed some issues with the older software, but more than anything I think the new version was an aesthetic shift for the product team. Maybe they’ve completely replaced the creative group in favor of a sexier image. At any rate, with a good number of users and a year or more on their belt as Zune users, there were clearly going to be some polarized debates about the change.Refresher: Here is the old and new iteration of the Zune (Marketplace) Software, respectively…
zune software 29.thumbnail Zune 2.xzune2.thumbnail Zune 2.xHere are my original ‘wants’ for the hardware and software after 2 months of use:

  • Zune Hardware:
    • Alphabet ToC Navigation in addition to click-wheel
    • Ratings categories (so I can play 4-star or 5-star music only, for instance)
    • The ability to remove songs from my “quicklist”
    • Setting EQ attributes to a song or album uniquely
    • Inline normalization
    • New category…or put a recently added link at the top of each category
    • Make playlists of video files
  • Zune Software:
    • Faster *My software has long periods of unavailability, though I realize I have an over-sized library
    • Automatic playlist creation
    • Support for OGG
    • Insight into the folder monitoring – some sort of progress or status on this
    • Better album art application – album art isn’t always displayed immediately after you add it
    • Without knowing any better, I wish the album art was embedded within the ID3 tag of the file rather than being added as a hidden file in the directory
    • Perhaps support for a real database back-end – I feel the need for enterprise class media management

There were also some real problems that needed attention:

  • Crashing…the software crashes, the hardware crashes. Sometimes it’s solid, but then it goes into a fit and crashes consecutively all to often. **UPDATE – I found out that the hardware is most likely crashing due to an electrical protection feature. Static electricity is not the Zune’s friend.
  • Renaming/hiding MP3’s. This could be related to crashing – I’m guessing that MP3’s were being indexed and something went wrong. Then, the Zune software went and renamed a *lot* of MP3’s to their cataloged GUID and hid them. The files won’t play until I rename them back to a .mp3 extension. It will annoy me when it comes up – so far only a few of these songs have come up in my shuffle list.

In the hardware category, Microsoft did exactly zero to fulfill my wishes. The closest they came was to introduce sorting by “date added” to the software. That’s actually very helpful, but it doesn’t help me find new music on my device after I’ve left the computer. The Alphabetical ToC thing would still be cool, but I will say that the click wheel seems to be spinning songs by faster than it used to. It hasn’t bothered me as much that I can’t jump to a letter in the alphabet quickly, though it would probably make me a safer driver if this feature were added. Depending on your attitude towards the “Ratings” debate, the new software either decimated your organization, or has drug you from Ratings procrastination. I’m somewhat in the middle on this. I’m adapting quickly enough, though I had finally figured out a decent way of rating my music along the 5-star basis that helped me managing my music. The new Zune uses only a “Heart” to signify the emotion a given song lends. You love, hate it, or are indifferent. Despite the change, there is still no way to play music on the device that you’ve “Hearted” unless you create a playlist first (static). Microsoft took away the “Flag” option in the Zune hardware. I was using it a little bit, but it was so unnecessarily slow and useless that I had stopped altogether. I had hoped that the new firmware would add much needed functionality to the flagging option, but now we find it missing in action. No love lost for the old function, but I would like to see the ability to flag a song for my review back at the software. I would primarily use it as a reminder to do something with that song (e.g. add to playlist, look up artist, etc.).

The Zune software; that is, the part installed on a Windows machine for interaction with media and the device itself, is a piece of work. I mean that in two very polarized ways. Piece of Work: 1) Quality craftsmanship, exemplary; 2) opp. The worst, poorly demonstrated – syn. Piece of Shit. I may sound a little harsh, but this new software encourages me to use Microsoft’s new “Heart” ratings to express my emotions. This brings me to my earlier comment regarding the product’s shift in direction. I really get the feeling they threw the old software out and started fresh. On the love side of things, I really like the new look. While I prefer the technical features of an app to let me do all matter of evil to it (i.e. preferences, customizations, tweaks, etc.), I really do like the slimmed-down simplicity of the new Zune software. The previous software left me feeling like I should see more options, but didn’t. This software, on the other hand, gives me the impression that what I see is what I get. It took a little while to get used to – I’m still a little unfamiliar in its kid-gloves aesthetics – but I’m gaining proficiency. I also like the fact that this software appears to be running faster with fewer crashes. I haven’t had any MP3’s get renamed (and hidden) to GUID replacements. While file monitoring still doesn’t lend any insight as to the percentage complete, it does seem to run faster and more consistently.

On the negative, the functionality of the software has been grossly gimped. I am no longer able to do something as simple as edit my own ID3 tags in a simple form-based interface like before. I can’t seem to update an album against a web lookup – it happens automatically, but I don’t have finite control over the process as was given in the previous software. While I love the addition of the podcast category, I don’t much care for the level of experienced interaction given to users here. I prefer the more technical feel when it comes to podcasts. They tend to vary wildly in format and compatibility, so it seems best that I have the option of modifying URL’s, identifying what URL’s are being used, and possibly see the actual error message for a given RSS URL when the Zune software rejects it.

Ultimately, the Zune software direction has the potential of being good. I feel more like I’m using an Alpha product than something released for public consumption, but the good stuff is really good. With the negatives going against my my expectations of software for this type of work, I would actually rather use a third-party application to synch to the Zune. As I’ve stated before, MediaMonkey is my favorite (in case their developers are reading).