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Zune is all new–but doesn’t run yet on new OS

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

I posted a review at Newsweek.com on my early experiences with Zune, Microsoft’s new effort to take on the iPod. One thing I didn’t mention was that the Zune software (an integrated jukebox and store like iTunes) runs ONLY on Windows XP with SP2 (or the Media Center equivalent). Windows XP, of course, is destined for the scrapheap when Vista arrives soon. The Microsoft people told me that by early next year, when the consumer version of Vista ships, the software will be upgraded to run with the new OS.

zune pix

This caused a crisis for my own testing. I have two PCs running side by side at Newsweek. One is on our network, on which our publishing system runs, and it has an older version of Windows. The other runs on a separate connection, and I’ve been running Vista on it, as have hundreds of thousands (millions?) of other early users. “Thanks for loaning me these Zunes,” I told the Microsoft people. “But I wiped XP from my machine months ago!” The Microsoft people actually went to a store and bought a new PC to lend me while I tested the Zunes. (Of course, I’ll send it back to them when I’m done.)

The more I think about this the crazier it seems. Zune is rolling out next week, and in a couple of weeks Microsoft is formally releasing the professional version of Vista. What if, if the meantime, someone now using XP in a corporation buys a Zune–and then the company upgrades? He or she has to shelve the Zune until the upgrade comes in a couple of months. What if I already upgraded my personal PC to Vista? Can’t get a Zune now. What if I’m dying to get a Zune this Christmas and I have an older version of Windows than XP? Also can’t get a Zune–who would upgrade to XP when Vista is around the corner?

I think the Zune people (who also do the Xbox) are among the smartest at Microsoft, and I think they’ve done a number of things right, and will continue to improve their device and its system. But I don’t know how the hell they found themselves in a situation where Microsoft’s most important consumer product this year can’t work on the operating system that they’re moving to within weeks, and will automatically disqualify some eager buyers who want to try it this holiday season. And you know there will be people who buy Zunes or get them as gifts and will be mightily steamed when they find out it won’t work on their current computers.

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