When Microsoft does something right

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You know, for all the flak our friends in Redmond get, I’ve seen Microsoft release some pretty decent stuff lately.

I sometimes wonder (ok, so I wonder a lot…) if people have a habit of immediately discounting anything from the hands of Microsoft because, well, it’s from Microsoft. Perish the thought!

Anyhow, I’ve more recently become a regular user of two well-known Microsoft products: Windows Vista and an 8GB Zune. I can still remember when the Zune first came out – it was mercilessly destroyed by critics everywhere as a pathetic attempt to compete with Apple’s flagship iPod products. At this point, anything that plays movies and music is going to be an iPod competitor, period. It’s hard to create something that can validly stand up against the number one digital music player on the merket.

At any rate, I’ve been writing reviews for Julie Strietelmeier over at The Gadgeteer for a few months now. She asked me to review the 8GB Zune, and I’ve been using it ever since. I’ve even gone so far as to mention to her several times how much I like the thing.

You can read the full review here – it’s a bit long, but it’ll be easier than me repeating myself in this post. Why do I really like the Zune? It just works. Seriously. I turn it on, and it works. There’s almost zero learning curve. The up-and-down motion of the touch-sensitive D-pad (wow, that was a lot of hyphens) is easier on my thumb than the scroll wheel on my fourth generation 60GB iPod photo. It fits in my back pocket. Battery life is phenomenal – I only charge it about once a week, and I use it every day. It looks sexy as hell.

The software leaves a little (or a crapload) to be desired, but the latest revision (2.5) fixed several of my top complaints about the usability of it. I’d like to see MS give us Windows Media Player compatibility. Overall, though, what can I say? I really, really love my Zune. When my iPod finally dies on me, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be replacing it with a Zune. Of course, this means my iPod alarm clock will no longer be very useful, so I may have to keep around an iPod just for that.

Epiphany – now I know why people are against buying products specific to a single device. I mean, everyone was thrilled when all the major cell phone manufacturers announced they were going to a single standard for charging (micro-USB), right? It’s too bad that all these music devices can’t use a single standard for docking, remote controls, alarm clocks, video output, etc. I’ve got too much iPod hardware as it is. I’ve looked into how difficult it would be to create an adapter to use my iPod stuff with my Zune – it doesn’t look overly complex, but would require some more knowledge about the Zune’s pinouts (what’s available now is far from solid data). Getting charging and syncing to work is one thing, but getting other signals to work – remote controls and other docks, specifically – is another beast. I’ll add that to my ever-growing list of summer projects.

I’ll save my commentary on Vista for another day. Right now, I’m more interested in figuring out how to add timestamps to WordPress posts.

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