26 November 2006

Thank Microsoft for the Zune

Everyone who cares about the future of culture, and loves music, should be thanking Microsoft for the design choices it made in the Zune. The Zune provides a tremendous object lesson for the music industry of what happens if you let the industry design a music player, rather than the market and users. The Chicago Sun-Times runs a review of the Zune that reads like one of the captions in the Museum of Failed Products:
Yes, Microsoft's new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I've spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face. "Avoid," is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that's so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity...

The Zune is a complete, humiliating failure. ... Throw in the Zune's tail-wagging relationship with music publishers, and it almost becomes important that you encourage people not to buy one. ... Microsoft's colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question [of what users want and Apple doesn't provide in the iPod] and put the music industry in its place. Result: The Zune will be dead and gone within six months. Good riddance.
It seems to me that Microsoft can't really be that clueless. They have always known their market pretty well. So my guess is that the impetus for the Zune came from the music industry themselves, whose attitude is pretty well summed up by Doug Morris, the head of Universal Music:
"These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it," said Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music Group. "So it's time to get paid for it." Well, Morris is just a big, clueless idiot, of course. Do you honestly want morons like him to have power over your music player?
Of course not. And neither does Microsoft, who implements just what the industry ordered, simply to shut them up. Why else would a company make a music player that is incompatible with their own existing (Windows Media) Player? Why else would Microsoft make a player that cannot play music that had previously been bought from them, forcing you to repurchase all the music that you already own (or, as they might put it, force you to relicense all the music that you already have rented)? Why else would they design a marketplace that doesn't even take real money?

Killing the content industry's overwhelming influence in the market for devices and distribution is the only sane and logical explanation. And Microsoft always acts in a sane and logical manner, right Steve Ballmer?

Of course, if I'm wrong, and the Zune isn't merely an elaborate hoax or object lesson to the content industry, can you imagine this attitude being carried over to your computer desktop and file system via Windows Vista? Shudder!
(Thanks David)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, cool analysis! gaping slack-jawed at all the things you wrote above. One of the few, really to say something that more or less is opposite to this. But Zune HAS rockin earbuds though, and an FM tuner too, stuff that iPods dont have.
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