But, the early reviews are coming in for Microsoft's would-be iPod killer Zune, and it's not music to Microsoft's ears. Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal for example, lays out the Zune launch plans:
"Next week, Microsoft Corp. will launch the most serious challenge ever mounted to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes juggernaut in digital music. The software giant is introducing a portable player called the Zune, an online music store called Zune Marketplace and a new music software program called Zune that links the two. It plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind Zune, and promises to expand and refine this new product line in coming years."
He then goes on to summarize the pros and cons of the Zune, especially vs. the iPod in a review that goes on for almost 1900 words.
But the punch line is as follows:
"...this first Zune has too many compromises and missing features to be as good a choice as the iPod for most users. The hardware feels rushed and incomplete. It is 60% larger and 17% heavier than the comparable iPod. It has much worse battery life for music than the iPod or than Microsoft claims -- at least two hours less than the iPod's, in my tests."
The negative that rankled me the most was the way Microsoft is choosing to sell music a la carte. As Walt explains:
"...to buy even a single 99-cent song from the Zune store, you have to purchase blocks of "points" from Microsoft, in increments of at least $5. You can't just click and have the 99 cents deducted from a credit card, as you can with iTunes. You must first add points to your account, then buy songs with these points.
So, even if you are buying only one song, you have to allow Microsoft, one of the world's richest companies, to hold on to at least $4.01 of your money until you buy another. And the point system is deceptive. Songs are priced at 79 points, which some people might think means 79 cents. But 79 points actually cost 99 cents."
The use of points to sell music is a carry-over from Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console and Xbox Live service. And while it may be fine for the Xbox's demographic, it may be a bit much for mainstream consumers of music players.
David Pogue of the New York Times adds some additional negatives of the Zune that warrant consideration.
Anyway, this is version 1.0 of the Zune, and it's not going to have all the features one may wish for. And we all know that Microsoft doesn't hit it's stride until version 3.0.
So maybe the Zune may be ready for prime-time by next Christmas.