Monday, February 05, 2007

Thank you for innovating with Zune, Microsoft.

I don’t give Microsoft enough credit for design and innovation!

I am sorry, Guys.

Case in point: Zune.

Yes, Zune.

A little backgrounder.

When Apple created the iPod, everyone was asleep at the wheel.

Microsoft was approaching the CE space from where they generally do that from, the platform side, with Xbox and Media Center PCs.

As we all now know, the iPod became the cultural phenomenon it is today and Microsoft had to do something since Apple was not only getting face time with consumers, but was on the way to extending the iPod brand in a way that would have severely marginalized the Media Center PCs and extenders, and by proxy, Microsoft.

As usual, Microsoft did what they were best at, and created a product. Microsoft delivered a platform, Plays-for-Sure (hereafter known as P4S) for those yum-yums to build on, in order to compete with Apple. A universal media format for both audio and video, windows media, encoders, DRM, compatibility built into every Windows-based computer system, a marketing program for devices, a media player with embedded links to the music stores operated by P4S, etc, etc.

What did they do with it?

NADA.

These idiots totally abdicated their collective gifts and ceded the portable media player (PMC) throne to the loops at 1, Infinite Loop, in Cupertino. For goodness sakes, the only company that tried to do anything sorta innovative and different with their offerings was Real Networks. Real Networks! And you know how I feel about their crapware! (Will this post get me a snottogram from them…Hmmmmmm?)

Where do I start?

Hardware. Frankly, the P4S hardware sucked.

  • Naming was horrible. For all of them, the only device that had a, ahem, hip name, was the holistic-sounding Creative Zen and the funky iRiver Clix. You had the YEPP, and so on. Even iRiver, suffered from the perception that the company name was an imitation of iPod.
  • Design. Don’t get me started about design! They all sucked
  • Extensibility. What extensibility? The device manufacturers all bought into the Apple and CE trap of non-improvable systems.

Software. “Build it, and they will come.” Well, Not this time, for they stayed away!

  • P4S Vision. The only thing the device manufacturers did was stay within the bounds of their license for Plays-for-Sure.
  • Music store interoperability. None whatsoever. There wasn’t any adherence to interoperability at all. They all had their little fiefdoms and the only one beating the unity drum was Microsoft.

Why all this old news?

I had just been reading through the list of revelations that have come out of the idiotic Iowa antitrust case, when I realized that I shared the angst the executive at Microsoft must have felt back when they wrote those memos.

BTW, doesn’t it say a lot about Jim Allchin that his memos always seem to describe the feeling of the troops on the ground, so to speak, in very plain language? To wit: the description of the crop of P4S devices as “pieces of crap”, or something to that effect. Not PC, but painfully descriptive!

As a result, Microsoft was in dire straits, and they needed to do something, and fast, else they would have handed the living room to that smug, mock-turtle-wearing philistine.

Microsoft just had to do something. And they did.

To their credit, they took the easy road and didn’t try to redefine the status quo in hardware design because of the lengthy lead-in time. Moreover, just like J Allard and the crew did with the first Xbox, they took an off-the-shelf design (small form-factor pc case) and modified it enough to suit version 1.0, while they work on getting the backend stuff worked out. For hardware, they went for the Toshiba GigaBeat. My first thoughts on the then-rumors of the GigaBeat can be found here.

For Zune, they tweaked the backend, added Live Points functionality, and also a bunch of stuff that is in the Zune we know and love today. Live Points is Microsoft’s nascent implementation of a global micropayments platform.

Also, Microsoft has already added value to Zune since its release by already making firmware improvements as needs arise. Furthermore, all P4S content can be played on Zune! That alone, totally obliterated one of the problems I thought I was going to have with Zune, since I had content from Napster and URGE on my previous PMCs, which have all been given away to unsuspecting victims.

Folks, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

In addition, Microsoft really, truly understands that the winner of this battle will control the spigot through which digital content is streamed into tomorrow’s homes.

© 2007, John Obeto II for SmallBizVista.com®

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