Microsoft Zune (Software) Review

As of this writing, the latest version is 4.7.1404.0.

For those of you who know me or have at least been following my blog for some time know very well that I’ve been an Apple user ever since purchasing my aluminum MacBook back in 2008. As a result, I’ve been using OS X, iTunes, iPhone, iPod and a slew of other Apple products for years. Right before the switch, I was working with Windows Vista and Windows Media Player 11 and 12 and some junkie MP3 player. I won’t go into how irritating this was because most of you know how bad Vista was and Media Player didn’t have much going for it either.

And then Windows 7 came out. I actually really liked it, but by this point, I was practically converted to an official Mac user and was known to my friends (for better or for worse) as a “fanboy”. I couldn’t help it—Apple just had it! The simplicity of everything really caught my eye the visuals just added to the chaos. But having been a Windows user since version 3.1, I couldn’t let go entirely and thanks to BootCamp, I was able to keep running Windows on my Mac. Now I’m bored of my iPhone and after testing some Android devices, I only have one other OS to test: Windows Phone. With that said, I wanted to get a feel of Microsoft’s new image. Step 1, download Zune.

Microsoft Zune Software

Although I haven’t used it yet, I love what I’m seeing in regards to the OS on the new Windows Phones. As a preparation for getting a new Windows Phone ready for my computer, I downloaded the latest Zune software and all I can say is, “WOW!”Zune screenshot

The Zune software just brings an element of style, cleanliness and integration that is not matched by any other music player, namely iTunes. I think the most striking feature of Zune is how one thing seems to flow right into the next. In other words, most computer software is used by navigating intuitive GUIs either by opening menus, clicking on windows or resizing frames, but with Zune, it’s almost like you’re navigating one big image. Even the standard Windows title and status bars are non-existent.

Zune Marketplace

Zune Marketplace
I think when it comes to comparing Zune to iTunes, the biggest concern is the music store. iTunes is known for its vast entertainment store, so how does the Zune Marketplace stack up?

Currently, iTunes has about 13 million song titles available for download while Zune only carries about 11 million. While iTunes holds the lead on this, you should understand that Apple had a huge head start in the music business and Zune has caught up really quick in the last few years! Another plus for Zune is that the currency used to buy music, movies, videos and other items is the Microsoft Points system, so if you’re an Xbox Live customer, everything is integrated.

Each song is about $0.98 cents with a lot of albums priced at only $10.00. If you want to see how far your Microsoft Points will travel, check out this Microsoft Points calculator. If you don’t care to click on that, then just know that one U.S. dollar gets you 80 points.

Zune Pass

Zune Pass is a subscription service that allows you to download any number of songs for play on up to 3 Windows computers and 3 other Zune devices for $14.99. This songs are only available while the subscription is active and they can’t be burned to an audio CD. Each song is in the WMA format with a bitrate of 192kbps and also carry the DRM protection scheme to prevent sharing. As part of this subscription, users are allowed to download 10 songs per month that they can keep forever even when the Zune Pass is cancelled. However, if you don’t use the 10 song credits each month, they will be lost!

This is an incredible feature and one that is worth the money by far! For such a small monthly fee, you have access to over 11 millions songs. Where else are you going to get service like that?

My two cents

I jumped off the Microsoft bandwagon back in 2008 and never looked back. To me, they seemed to be releasing products that were un-intuitive, missing key features, not fun to use and very problematic. Basically, Microsoft just wasn’t exciting anymore. Today, it’s a different story. Just like Apple has their trifecta—OS X, iPhone and iTunes, Microsoft has theirs—Windows 7, Windows Phone and Zune.

If you add on top of that the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, Microsoft is slowly coming ahead. I have to say with all honesty that I’m very impressed with how Microsoft has revamped their entertainment offerings. The real test begins when I get my Windows Phone for comparison to my iPhone 4/iTunes combo. Look out Apple, Microsoft might be taking me back.

Will Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) Cut It?

The simple answer to this question is YES. After taking a look at some of the new features that Microsoft is bringing to the table, I have a feeling that between Windows Phone 7.5 and iOS 5, Android is going to have a tough time finding a spot to fit in. It would be interesting if I’m right considering Microsoft hasn’t had the best start in the smartphone arena with the new Windows Phone operating system.

I have to say that with all the latest news surrounding the new Nokia N9 and the subsequent complaints about it being the first and last device to run Nokia’s MeeGo operating system, I was stuck with a decision I hate making. That decision is whether I should buy a new phone with a new OS or stick with the tried and true iPhone and its new iOS 5 coming out this fall. In the last 4 years, I’ve used nothing but iPhone and surrounded myself with friends that use iPhone too, so I’ll admit I’m a little behind when it comes to knowing about other options that are out there.

But thanks in part to my brother showing me the “light” of how great Android is, I’ve started growing bored with my iPhone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Apple products and my MacBook still reins at the top of the list when it comes to computers, but it’s time for a change. I’m tired of Apple being behind everyone else when it comes to the most basic features. As a result, I’ve been looking heavily into Android, but after reading articles touting Microsoft as a new contender in the market, I’m now turning my head toward Windows Phone 7.

Windows Phone 7.5

I used to own smartphones that ran Windows Mobile and I never had pleasant experiences with them so I gave up on Microsoft producing phone software. After seeing what Windows Phone 7 has brought to the table, I was slightly interested in seeing more and even considered using it at one point, but I was stuck in a contract with AT&T and iPhone 4.

Now is the time to explore my options and even though I love the Nokia N9, I don’t feel like using a phone where the operating system will eventually stop being supported. If in the future, the N9 or some other powerhouse Nokia device starts using Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango), I think we’ll have a winner. It would be even more interesting if this combo happens because it’ll be like coming full circle for me—I started with Nokia 10 years ago and my first smartphone was Windows-based. Let’s take a look at Windows Phone 7.5 Mango:


I think the best feature Mango has going for it (besides the 500-some features that Microsoft says will be included) is the fact that it’s built around people. Simply put, in comparison to every other device out there, Mango doesn’t require you to open one app, perform a task, then close it, open another app and perform a different task, etc., etc. For example, in the People tile, you can click on a name and see all of that person’s social updates like Facebook status, Twitter updates and more. You can then chat with that person right from the same screen, place a call or send an email. There’s no app-jumping here.

My two cents

From what I’ve seen in the above video and countless others on YouTube, I have to give Mango two thumbs up and I also have to say that this fall is going to be an exciting time with new phones coming out from all the usual suspects (but maybe not Apple), new operating system updates and Nokia positioning itself to make a huge comeback after their new deal with Microsoft to load their phones with Windows Phone 7. This might be the first time in 4 years that I decide the iPhone is not for me.

Check out everything that Windows Phone 7.5 has to offer.

Nokia N9 and MeeGo OS

Just one day after Nokia officially announced their new N9 phone, the naysayers are already coming out of the woodwork. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Nokia in recent times because I’ve been focused on my own battlefront of iPhone vs Android phones, but after reading practically everything I could find about the N9 phone and Nokia in general, it was interesting to learn about what’s been going on.Nokia N9

First of all, the new N9 phone has just been announced, it has no release date, no pricing information and we’re not even sure which countries will be able to get the phone—Nokia’s website allows us to believe that the device will only hit 23 countries, not including the U.S., the U.K. or even India.

Second, in light of Nokia’s new partnership deal with Microsoft, some wonder why Nokia would build a new device using an operating system that appears to be on its deathbed.

Nokia’s MeeGo OS

Whether or not MeeGo is being used on any mass-market devices, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. In fact, MeeGo is still being used on many mobile devices including netbooks, in-car stereos and tablets. The design of the software lends itself to the mobile platform in that it doesn’t require grossly over-powered system specs and tons of bells and whistles just to make it work.

However, after a failed partnership between Nokia and Intel not more than a year ago, Nokia was left wondering whether to drop MeeGo and go with Microsoft’s Windows Phone or Google’s Android or perhaps branch out on its own. We all know that Nokia might be a great hardware maker, but can they do software too?

Unfortunately there’s no telling what they might be doing, but with yesterday’s announcement of the new N9 phone that contains MeeGo and the fact that we know Nokia is developing Windows phones, one might speculate that Nokia will be utilizing two different operating systems to give choice to its customers.

Nokia and Windows Phone

Nokia and Microsoft struck a deal last Thursday to develop new phones using the Windows Phone operating system and Nokia’s world-famous devices. This partnership “is good for the industry”, said Steve Balmer of Microsoft. In fact, the announcement was so good that Eric Schmidt from Google might be shaking in his boots after his failed attempt to get Nokia to run with Android.

Nokia Windows Phone

It’s estimated that Android is poised to become the leading mobile phone operating system by the end of 2011 with Windows slowly taking up the second spot by 2015 thanks to this new deal. I guess that puts iOS in third?!

A Nokia device with the Windows Phone OS is probably just what both companies need. I’ve used the Windows Phone OS a few times and I have to say it’s not bad, but the choice of phones is not all that great. I still have bad memories of all the Verizon and Sprint phones using Windows Mobile! Only time will tell how this marriage plays out, but from what we’ve seen so far, things aren’t looking to shabby.

My two cents

There’s no doubt that the N9 is coming out with MeeGo and there’s also no doubt that Nokia is making devices with Windows Phone on them, but what does this mean? Some people are assuming that MeeGo is dead (or dying) and that the N9 will do nothing in terms of sales. This could also explain why Nokia hasn’t jumped back into the U.S. market yet. Others, like me, are thinking that Nokia will stick with both systems—possibly using MeeGo as an alternative to place into budget devices or phones not geared for a U.S. launch. Personally, I’m not leaning toward the “budget” theory because the N9 is estimated to cost about $700.

There’s no doubt that I’ll keep a close eye on these developments because I haven’t been this excited about a new phone since the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Let’s hope that the way of the future is that phones and operating systems will be made and in the end, users can pick and choose which combinations they like best. This thought may not be too far from reality considering that phones are starting to turn into little computers.

Whatever happened to Microsoft Bob?

An email was sent to me today with a link going over the top 10 failures of Microsoft and one of my favorites on the list came in at number 2: Microsoft Bob. I remember wanting to own this program because I thought for some reason, it would make life easier. Let’s see why…

Back in 1995, Windows 95 was released as a follow-up to the ever-so-popular Windows 3.1. If you remember correctly, there wasn’t much in the way of operating systems before Windows and without it (let’s be honest), there wouldn’t be much of computer world today. What’s interesting is that Windows 95 was supposed to be the crown jewel of the industry—making computing far easier than it had even been and with a bit of flash too. So why then must Microsoft create another piece of software on top of Windows that’s supposed to make things easier??

Introducing Microsoft Bob

Bob was a house. A virtual house that contained a virtual dog and many different rooms of varying design and function. This is how it worked:

  • You logged into Windows 95 – After realizing it was much too difficult to perform any tasks, you opened Bob.
  • Bob launches – You’re presented with a door that allows you to sign in.
  • You choose a room – Based on what tasks you want to do, you pick a room that has what you want inside.
  • Open an app – Click on the applicable icon to open the app you want to use.
  • Follow instructions – Now you get hand-walked through every single step of doing even the most mundane tasks.

For the best instructional walkthrough, you must watch this video:


I think what’s most disturbing about how Bob worked was just how much more difficult things seemed to get after using him. This is pure irony considering Bob was supposed to simplify things. Bill gates was even quoted as saying Bob was ahead of his time. I’m sure at that time, this seemed far-fetched, but if you really think about it, software interfaces have become more GUI-based and things are becoming much easier to do on computers than ever before.

$0.45 per email?!

As I was learning more about Bob, I found out that when he came out, the Internet was just starting to take off so Bob included an email app that would allow you to send up to 15 emails per month that were each limited to 5,000 characters. Beyond that, you would have to pay $0.45 per email sent! These emails were sent over the MCIMail service, which was essentially a dial-up email account.

Can you imagine having to pay to send emails? What a bargain—a stamp to mail a real letter cost $0.32 and an email cost $0.45. I guess things have really changed for the better. Now you can buy a stamp for $0.44 and send as many emails as you want for free. I wish we could still charge spammers though.