Microsoft take a bite out of Apple

As a devoted iPod user, it seems impossible to consider a new MP3 player, especially when it was conceived by none other than Microsoft, the arch-nemesis of Apple. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Zune will forever be cursed by constant comparison. It boasts many similar features to Apple’s wildly successful iPod lineup, but it just came out five years too late. The basic model features a 30 GB hard drive, photo and video capability, WiFi connectivity, a radio tuner and about 14 hours of battery life. It does not have a click wheel, but utilizes a four-button system that allows both up-and-down and right-to-left scrolling. The Zune has gotten mixed reviews since its Nov. 14 release. Many reviewers are grappling over what makes the Zune favorable to the iPod when many of its additional features appear to be somewhat flawed. Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Zune is a good product. For those who are looking for an alternative to the iPod that is comparable in coolness, the Zune provides a classy solution.The player is offered in three colors: black, white and brown.Microsoft made a good move by constructing the outer casing of the Zune out of a virtually scratch resistant material. Unlike the fingerprint-ridden silver backing of the iPod, the Zune will retain its new appearance longer. The rich three-inch color display is stunning and Microsoft renews the significance of album art with the Zune. Artwork that was once found on the jackets of CD cases now occupies the majority of the Zune’s screen while listening to a band. When music goes totally digital, it will be difficult to maintain the presence of album art, and the Zune provides a viable option for preserving this essential aspect of the musical world. The Zune’s most substantial feature is its WiFi connectivity. Zuners may share songs and photos by “beaming” them to one another. However, this can only happen when the two Zune owners are within wireless range of each other. Shared photos are available for as long the user keeps them. When songs are transferred, they are only available for three days or three plays, whichever runs out first. Along with this effort against music pirating, Zune’s online music store provides users with a way to purchase songs legally. But the Zune Marketplace, Microsoft’s equivalent to iTunes, is probably the biggest mistake that comes with the release of the Zune. Rather than using Windows Media Player, Microsoft replaced it with Marketplace and a foolish point system. The Marketplace sells songs for points rather than dollars, adding a mathematical process into the equation and successfully confusing the already bewildered American population. Each song goes for 79 points, the equivalent of about a dollar. The good news is that the Zune is brand new, and it won’t be long before hackers get their hands on it and find ways to bend the rules. If the Zune is successful at all, it will be beneficial to Zuners and Podders alike. Competition means improved products from both Microsoft and Apple. iPod devotees could see quality products at lower prices, while Zune enthusiasts will have an innovativeplayer with readily hackable new features.