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Getting Zuned

Every week at MP3tunes we hear from people who have lost all or a portion of their iTunes music (it's often motivation to get 'music insurance' and open a $40 locker with unlimited storage). While we're happy to have a new customer, it's sad when someone loses their personal possessions. Their loss is often tied to a DRM (digital restricted music) problem. Music wrapped with restrictions like songs from iTunes aren't really a purchase, but rather a rental. Like all rentals they come to an end and you're out on the street with nothing. It's just a matter of time before one of the following happens:

- Technology company changes rules, technology or strategy. See: Your Music Goes Flat
- A hard disk crashes.
- Computer is stolen, broken or upgraded.
- Exceed number of allowed devices (usually some are lost, stolen or broken).

I've been looking for a good verb to describe losing all of your music to DRM because it's increasingly common and I think I have one: zune.

Sample usage: He had an extensive classic rock collection that got zuned.

Now if you're thinking that zune sounds familiar it's because the press has been abuzz about an upcoming MP3 player from Microsoft called Zune. At first glance the features seem compelling but my prediction is it will be the biggest flop of 2007 with less than 50,000 units sold worldwide.

The wow feature of the device is wifi - a wireless way to connect to the Internet. Great - I can get music directly to the device without a PC! Wrong. In a baffling move Microsoft has crippled the wifi so it cannot load music from the Internet. You'll need to attach it to your PC and run their software just like every other MP3 player. The wireless connection is only used to connect to another Zune device to move songs which will then vaporize after 3 days or 3 plays even if you own the music and both devices. Astonishingly the one feature which could fundamentally improve upon the iPod is worthless. If this device sounds familiar it's been tried before with the MusicGremlin which I wrote about earlier this year when I called it the "most disappointing device" from this yearís CES (Consumer Electronic Show).

In spite of the larger display and capacity the Zune is inferior to the MusicGremlin because it zunes your entire purchased music library. Microsoft made a corporate decision to abandon their previous technology called "Plays for Sure" and turn it into "Screwed for Sure". Anyone who purchased music from Rhapsody, Napster, Buy.com, Wal-mart, BuyMusic, etc. will discover that music is unplayable. (Of course iTunes music won't play either because Apple doesn't play nicely with others.) You'll be required to re-purchase that music or go without.

The danger with DRM is that it gives corporations the power to change the rules of the game anytime they think it will benefit their bank account, even if that means zuning your music library. There's no better illustration of this than when the world's largest technology company curtails support of their OWN technology abandoning their hardware partners, music stores and most importantly customers they convinced to use Plays for Sure. Microsoft will surely claim that they'll continue to support Plays for Sure, but their actions speak louder than their words - it won't even play on their own music players! Plays for Sure is dead for sure and it's going to its grave with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of music fansí digital music crammed into the coffin.

Microsoft will likely spend nearly $100 million in marketing the Zune. The press will give them tens of millions of dollars in free marketing. In spite of this publicity the Zune will be an expensive failure for Microsoft because consumers aren't stupid. As the saying goes: Zune me once, shame on you. Zune me twice, shame on me.

--Michael

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