Windows Vista and Zune: Microsoft Blows it Again!

October 10th, 2006

To use an old phrase, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not bashing Microsoft. I am, instead, talking about mistakes that may come to haunt the company as its newest products near release.

First there is Vista, and its lame security interface. Under Mac OS X, when you start your computer, you can set things up to deliver a login window, or use the default, which does it all behind the scenes. For the most part, when you run an application installer, you will be stopped with a password prompt, and you won’t be able to continue the operation without entering the correct administrator password.

Under the standard setup for Vista, there’s a password prompt at login, and an utterly irritating number of prompts when performing certain actions, such as opening a particular setup Control Panel and, of course, when installing an application. But there’s no password prompt. In an office setting, this means that, once you’ve started your session, you better log off or invoke a password-protected screensaver whenever you have to make a bathroom visit or leave your desk for any other reason. You see, while you’re gone, someone could download and install a malicious application behind your back. This may not seem likely, but consider an unexpected visitor to your office, or just a fellow employee who has it in for you, and wants to mess up your computer.

Didn’t Microsoft think of these possibilities when it built Vista? As of RC2, which is said to be the final prerelease version before it is released for manufacturing and distribution, little has changed, except for fewer annoying dialogs. I don’t see much changing when the product becomes available as a retail product, since there isn’t time to overhaul the security interface.

Now about that alleged iPod killer, or at least the latest pretender, known as Zune: On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I talked with Computerworld’s Mike Elgan, a former editor of Windows magazine, about the reasons he feels Apple ought to fear the arrival of Microsoft’s forthcoming music player.

I didn’t buy his full argument, although it’s clear that Apple needs to be aware of any potential competitor, particularly one as ruthless and rich as Microsoft. Even if the product is sheer garbage, Microsoft clearly plans to expand perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to tout the Zune, the Zune Marketplace, and the new community it hopes to establish around the device.

However, I found some of Mike’s arguments to lack substance and perhaps logic. In one case, he appears to have made a critical error, which is about the way the Zune’s wireless technology scheme will operate. You see, when you beam a song to a fellow user, that user can play the song only three times, over the next three days, whichever comes first.

Mike said that this horrendous DRM restriction would apply strictly to songs you acquired from the Zune Marketplace, but that doesn’t appear to be true.

According to a post at the Medialoper blog, entitled “Microsoft Insider Clarifies Zune’s Sharing Limitations”:

I misspoke (mis-blogged) on last week’s post. We don’t actually “wrap all songs up in DRM:” Zune to Zune Sharing doesn’t change the DRM on a song, and it doesn’t impose DRM restrictions on any files that are unprotected. If you have a song – say that you got “free and clear” – Zune to Zune Sharing won’t apply any DRM to that song. The 3-day/3-play limitation is built into the device, and it only applies on the Zune device: when you receive a song in your Inbox, the file remains unchanged. After 3 plays or 3 days, you can no longer play the song; however, you can still see a listing of the songs with the associated metadata.

In his Oscar turn as the title character in the movie “Forest Gump,” Tom Hanks said: “Stupid is as stupid does.” Just consider the consequences. A mother beams a song ripped from a CD to her son. The song wasn’t acquired from any online source, legal or otherwise. It’s a copy for a family member, and yet it is governed by the same silly restriction.

Worse, the disabled song is apparently not automatically deleted when it becomes unplayable, but sits there until it’s removed, thus cluttering up your player’s hard drive. Now I suppose the process of docking and downloading songs from your PC might remove such data. Or maybe not.

Did Microsoft’s product people actually take into account how users are going to be affected by its onerous DRM scheme? Is this going to encourage people to download music legally? Is this going to discourage people from developing hacks to disable the Zune DRM?

The answer to both questions is no, and the best thing you can do, when given the opportunity to buy such a misbegotten device, is just say no.

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11 Responses to “Windows Vista and Zune: Microsoft Blows it Again!”

  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    > .. I am not bashing Microsoft.

    The people who feel guilty enough to say this are usually worse than most.

    > In an office setting, this..

    Why would this suddenly become a problem with Vista ? This lack of password prompt has been around FOREVER in Windows (So that’s what, 10+ years ?) so I fail to see why it will become and issue and is a problem specific to Vista.

    > Now about that alleged iPod killer..

    Microsoft has never said nor implied that it is suppose to ‘kill’ the iPod and on multiple occasions they have outlined how it will be a long (Years..) battle and not a short sprint.

    The only people saying ‘iPod killer’ are morons like the person who wrote this article. Get over yourself.

    > A mother beams a song ripped from a CD to her son.

    If Microsoft could there where would NO limitations on how many times you can replay it but they HAVE TO cover their self from legal issues from artists, RIAA, etc.

    So, this person outlines a SINGLE problem for both products (Both of which are not problems and this person is just a moron) and s/he claims that Microsoft ‘blows it again’ and claims s/he ISN’T bashing Microsoft. What a freaking moron.

    Absolute rubbish which we’ve heard many times.

  2. Terry says:

    Regardless of the money that Microsoft puts into the Zune project, it will still be dificult to affect the market in a meaningful way. The one leverage that would make competitors viable is price of aquisition of music. Since .99 is a standard that Apple has negotiated with the music labels (against their argument for higher pricing) Zune and others can only match pricing.

    With a large installed base of iPods, Zune will have a tough time getting users to switch.

  3. Chuck says:

    MS can throw all the money they want into Zune…until the shareholders revolt. Whatever MS spends on Zune, the shareholders will expect a return at some point. Besides, name a device MS makes that turns a profit, outside of their keyboard and mouse business? They don’t. How long will the shareholders allow MS to sell the XBox at a loss? Or the Zune?

    I can tell you the Zune will be a failure. The iPod juggernaut is too big, and if music is selling at the same price on both the iTMS and Zune Store, where is the differentiation? And if most of the music on the iPod is illegal downloads and CDs rips, how influential will their music store be in regards to profits? And when Apple makes only pennies per song? If the Zune is selling at a loss, what will they have to do to turn a profit?

    MS is too little too late. I can’t understand why they even think they need to try to battle against Apple, other than they now realize they are losing the battle for the home entertainment market. I wish MS would just concentrate on Windows and Office. Then they might actually make products someone WANTS to buy.

  4. Mark says:

    “I can’t understand why they even think they need to try to battle against Apple, other than they now realize they are losing the battle for the home entertainment market.”

    MS needs to battle Apple because Apple is using the iPod and iTunes to block further Microsoft endeavors into new markets, particularly the consumer (as opposed to the corporate business) market. Especially as the iPod grows to be a mobile pocketable device for distribution and consumption of all digital media, and as digital media moves from static written words and numbers, to dynamic audio and video.

    So someday, entertainment (via the Internet) will become more valuable to consumers than “Office” or compatibility with their “work” computer when they consider buying a new home computer. When that day arrives, Microsoft could see decreasing market share in the consumer PC market and its core of Windows and Office will be put at risk.

    Further out, if dynamic digital media becomes increasingly important, and if AAC and H.264 become dominant formats for that media, then creation of this media by professionals or amateurs will increase in value when considering the purchase of even a “work” computer. Think about how many non-creative people made PowerPoint presentations 10 years ago vs. how many do it today. This explains Apple’s investment in iLife (excepting iTunes), Keynote, and all of Apple’s media software apps, all of which work only the Mac. Sure, this applies to a tiny market of creative people today, but the trend is one of growth as the tools, especially Apple’s, make it easier and easier for the average non-creative to do. (Think how Keynote presentations tend to be so much more aesthetically pleasing than PowerPoint ones, and it’s not just that the creative people use Keynote.)

  5. TomB says:

    “and it’s not just that the creative people use Keynote.”

    Al Gore, in his movie, uses Keynote. Nice placement.

  6. Jon says:

    It is unlikely that many iPod users will give up their iPods for a Zune.
    Zune doesn’t have to take market share from the iPod/iTunes. All Microsoft has to do to be successful with the Zune is get the majority of people (who don’t have iPods) to buy one.

  7. jbelkin says:

    You hit the nail on the head about MS. They complete the “checklist” and call it a day … it’s the small things … For instance, when you have the INFO box open in itunes, if you drag in a JPG and release ANYWHERE within the box, Apple/itunes is smart enough to drop the artwork only in the album cover area on the right side … in MS’ music player, bwhahahaha …

  8. Andrew says:

    Zune will fail. I’ve only heard one person talk about it at all outside of various blogs, and that was a guy making fun of the name.

    Vista, on the other hand, is an impressive piece of work. I’ve been playing with RC2 this week on my ThinkPad and I’m impressed. No, it isn’t Mac OS X, and yes, it is Windows. That said, it is MUCH improved over RC1, which was much improved over Beta 2. RC1 was out barely two months before RC2 came along with much less onerous security dialogs, and I’d imagine that the retail version will be better still.

    OS X handles security better, but that is because it is Unix. Windows is not Unix, and short of taking an Apple-like approach and rendering all previous software incompatible or at best running under a compatibility layer like Wine, Windows must remain Windows.

    That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are aspects of Windows that are quite well implemented, good enough that they were copied into the classic Mac OS and OS X. Apple clearly has more vision, but Microsoft has the responsibility of maintaining compatibility with older applications that Apple has ignored more than once in its past.

    Remember the move to PPC from 68K? For a while all was fine, but many older applications were broken as OS8 and OS9 lost the last vestiges of their original 68K code base. Moving to OS X many older applications worked fine in Classic mode, but there were more than a few that did not work at all. Again, not a problem if you don’t depend on one of those applications, and a deal-breaker if you do. Finally we moved to Intel processors and lost the classic mode.

    Strangely, I can an ancient application from the Windows 95 days and run it just fine in Vista. Even many Windows 3.x applications, or DOS programs for that matter, work just fine if you tell the system (compatibility settings) which version of Windows to emulate.

    I don’t call that a failure, I call it impressive.

  9. PV says:

    Zune may be doomed to insignificance, but Vista will roll on as another Microsoft success. OSX will need to take computing to a new level to make any further inroads in the OS market.

  10. E-Dogg says:

    Microsoft “blowing it again” shouldn’t surprise ANYONE really… they may dominate the OS world (95%?) in a sort of monopoly-ish fashion (Thank God for W right?), but that doesn’t mean they EVER knew what they were doing. Their code has ALWAYS been an absolute mess, as is their god-awful bloated/counter-intuitive software, and don’t even get me started on the plethora of viruses (and other forms of stability issues) that haunt every version of their OS. Then we get into the whole counter-intuitive nature of their products… written by megalomaniacal DOS relics that simply just don’t GET the rest of the world. But sadly, the “rest of the world” has been pressured into using the suite of MS products that simply and utterly suck/blow/stink.

    Remember folks, just because a product sells the most, that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s any good or the “best” by a long shot. McDonalds sells a lot of hamburgers, the Ford Escort used to be the highest selling vehicle in the good ‘ol U.S. of A, and Britney Spears sells a buttload of CDs. Go figure.

  11. I.M.Shill says:

    In my unbiased opinion, the zune will overtake the iPod in about a week or so. Microsoft will be distributing umbrellas throughout metropolitan areas so that unsuspecting citizens don’t get pelted by zune converts chucking their nasty old iPods out the window.

    Why, I own one and must say, using it is as easy as a bodily function. Sounds like one too. If is wasn’t for all iPod fans out there, you’d only hear good things about the zune. The G2 zune will be especially popular with the introduction of two new colors-code named Urine and Snot! And Apple thought they were the only ones with a little “creativity”.

    Keep an eye out for the MS 8-track to be released alongside our 2G offerings. Imagine, put your zune in our special 8-track style caddy and pop it in the player-BAM-you’re a rockin! Didn’t think different enough to see that coming-did ya Jobs! To top it Microsoft has restricted our music library to bontempi organ music and disco. I haven’t met a Morrisdancer yet who can finds what he wants on the iTMS. If you think about it, the zune is filling a real gap.

    For those who still doubt the zunes appeal, give it up now, in a fortnight the iPod will be a thing of the past.

    I am not a blogging troll working for Microsoft, I’m a former Mac fan, really I am…

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