Why do people dislike the Zune?

Sorry that this isn't a Windows Mobile related blog entry, but it's a snow day today - an inch of snow fell on Redmond, and so the city ground to a halt - and this has been bugging me.

Yesterday, I bought a Zune. 

I've owned iPods since they were first released: I remember fondly my first 5Gb model with the mechanical scroll wheel, and FireWire only connection. It was amazing having that much music with me. I currently have a 20Gb iPod, which I've been putting off upgrading until I see the next wondrous device to come from Apple.

So, when Microsoft announced the Zune, I had some interesting little chats with myself. 

"Hey dude, it's a Microsoft product and you work for Microsoft, don't you think you better get one?". 

"No way, man, the iPod is cool. The Microsoft one is bound to be clunky."

"But look at the Xbox, that rocks! And it's the same hair-challenged dude that ran that project that is working on the Zune launch, so it will rock too."

"Yeah, but all my music is in iTunes format. And it's brown."

"But the Zune has a great screen. You won't have to carry around the PSP to watch The Daily Show on the plane, you can watch it on the Zune."

"Well yeah, i guess. But brown?"

"And it comes in brown! You like brown."

"True. I do like brown. And it actually looks nice - and if it didn't I could get white or black...  But still, I don't know. I'll wait and see. I'd miss the podcasting features that iTunes provides."

And so on. I don't really called myself "dude" and "man", but looking at the Zune advertising I felt I had to, as all Zune users are apparently very attractive Americans in their very early 30's, who like extreme sports, have little beards and wear random grunge-y clothing, hang out with other attractive young people in their 30's and listen to unsigned bands. Which, by the way, is SO not me. Man. Dude.

So the launch came and wow: the internets exploded. The tubes were packed with vitriol for the Zune. Reading reviews and forums and comments on blogs, it was amazing how much people hated Zune. It was like Microsoft came around to your house and punched you in the stomach. Hard. People really disliked the Zune. And posted such weird things about it..

"Yeah, the screen is larger but it's the same number of pixels as the iPod. What a typical FUD Microsoft trick!"

"The UI sucks, man! All that album art!"

"You can share songs over WiFi but with limitations! That just blows!"

"The brown is the same colour as ****!"

(Incidentally, what's brown and sticky? Yes, that's right - a stick)

There were similarly bizarre comments from larger names in the tech review industry. The sharing was no good, because you could only play a shared song three times (missing the point that sharing is something that's impossible to do on, say, an iPod). The music used DRM (like the.. well, you get the idea). All the features were almost entirely described in a negative way.

So with all this unbelievable hatred, I felt compelled to go get one and try it out. And you know what? I like it. Yeah, it's a little boxier than my 20Gb iPod, but the casing is really nice. It feels nice in the hand, and doesn't smudge up. I don't think I could strap it to my arm when I go running, like the Nano, but it still slides into my pocket. I like the little magnets on the ear pieces.

The central control isn't a wheel which is a little unsettling, but it still works fine and I like the UI - going back to the iPod makes the iPod look monochrome and uninteresting. I also like the radio, and the larger (physically larger, that is) screen makes watching TV programs not too bad (as "not too bad" as TV on anything less than 14 inches can be).

In other words, I was very surprised at how much I liked the Zune. After reading the reviews, I thought I was going to drop it immediately, and wash my hands to get the stink off. Sure, the Zune software has a few rough edges that I'm trying to work around, but I think it's likely that there are going to be plenty of updates. It took years for the iPod and iTunes to get into the state they are in today - and there were plenty of rough edges there too (poor battery life, Shuffles locking up for good, bugs in iTunes - as with every project nothing is perfect, not even Apple products 🙂 ).

Still, this leaves me wondering about the amount of pure hatred for the Zune that is apparent online. It's quite surprising in its ferocity. It's not as if Microsoft is forcing people to give up their iPods and buy Zunes, the Zune is just another cool gadget that's available to buy. And I like cool gadgets. A lot.

What's going on? Well, unlike Pocket PCs or mice and keyboards, it seems that people have a very, very strong emotional attachment to their music playing device. Some people will have "emotional investments", and will be worried that the device they have been enjoying and boasting about to friends might not be the latest and greatest (even if the Zune isn't quite ready to take that crown, in the opinion of many). 

There are plenty of other digital audio players on the market - SanDisk have some nice ones for example - but no-one complains about them. So it's  something about Microsoft having the audacity to challenge Apple that is stoking the fires. I think it's great of course: competition always leads to better products. Look at IE7 for example.

Is it the fact that Microsoft, the company that makes "boring" stuff like Windows and Office, is entering this very person market that upsets people? But the Pocket PC is popular.. the XBox is huge.. Microsoft keyboards are the best out there.. What's different about music? 

All I can think of is that it's the interaction between the companies, not the products, that is causing the friction. It's not iPod versus Zune, it's Apple versus Microsoft. It's the plucky underdog versus The Man. It's elitism versus everyone else. The Zune could - and this might happen some day - be the best music player in the entire known universe, and still it would get a similar reaction. At least, that's my theory.

Sure, maybe Zune could well be on its way to being an internet joke: people enjoy making fun of it, even if they haven't seen it, don't know anything about. It's a kind of feedback driven loop. Will Zune make it onto the Late Night TV shows as the butt of a joke? Who knows - I wouldn't be surprised. 

Does this worry Microsoft and the Zune team? I've no idea. I'm not in the Zune team. I know if I was, I'd be saddened by all the negative press around a product which is actually very good. According to the Zune blog, sales are right on target. 

As a Microsoft employee, I'm used to reading about "Micro$oft" and so on, and that doesn't bother me too much - because I know that most of these comments are just internet jokes, or based on "facts" that simply aren't true. I know Microsoft is a great company, that makes great products (and some really great products), gives a fortune to the community, and is a great place to work filled with smart people (and me). And who knows what upgrades are coming soon?

I would love to read a study on why the Zune is disliked so much, and I'd also welcome your opinions. I don't want to start an iPod/Zune war in the comments (not that I expect many comments), I am more interested in the perception of these products.

Note: As always, this blog entry is my opinion and not that of my employer. 

p.s. Seen the new Apple advert on TV where PC gives Mac a C++ GUI programming book? That's funny stuff

Comments (37)
  1. Justin says:

    I don’t own one, but from reading on the net, here’s some talking points:

    – Doesn’t work with Plays for Sure

    – Doesn’t work with Windows Media Player

    – Adds DRM to unlocked songs

    – Universal Records deal makes the assumption that Zune buyers are pirates

    I can’t back any of these up, but I’ve heard all these points often enough by now to remember them.

  2. C# Distilled says:

    Check out this funny blog posting by John Kennedy about the new Microsoft Zune : Why do people dislike

  3. David says:

    Outside the tech community Microsoft, and it’s products, are highly regarded. (Google is taking a lot of that ‘smartest kid in the room’ kudos away recently, but that’s mainly because they are so big with consumers and who knows if it will last). Outside tech tend to look to see what the ‘inside tech experts’ have to say before purchasing.

    Inside the tech community the Zune reaction is about Microsoft’s history and past behavior. The company that you chose to work for has some great people, but has been convicted of monopolistic business practices (in a US court and in Europe). Lots of people dislike that as the ’embrace, extend and extinguish’ still seems to be a large part of the corp DNA. Zune just looks like more of the same old approach, as it’s been seen that you aren’t doing this as a ‘offer the people some gadget choice!’.

    ‘The corp’ (rather than the people, of which I know a lot inside Microsoft), have very little ‘karma’ left to spend with the early adopter Zune type tech crowd – it’s slowly coming back but a device like Zune needs some ‘love’ to get rolling, and you’re still in the red.

    What J did with the XBox is a good start, but a lot of the reviews of the Zune are really nothing at all about the device – they are about Microsofts karma debt. It’ll take some time I guess…

  4. MSDN Archive says:

    Hmm. Well, do you really think everyone posting negative things is sitting at home with a huge pile of "PlaysForSure" DRM encoded songs sobbing that they can’t play them on a Zune? I don’t. I’ll bet some people are, but they can still use their existing mobile music player, as far as I know..  I can’t play my PlaysForSure songs on my iPod either. Or my Apple iTunes songs on my Zune.

    Adding DRM to unlocked songs means that when you SHARE a song, DRM is added. Which would you rather have? No sharing of songs at all, or the ability to share a song but you can only play it three times? Yes, it’s a limitation – but does that mean the sharing feature sucks? I don’t think so.

    Universal get a buck – I heard that too. Do I care? Not really. They get money when I buy music from them anyway. I don’t like the trend though.

    BUT these aren’t the point. These are spurious arguments Red Herrings. They don’t make the device evil.  Why do people HATE the Zune? If SanDisk was marketing and selling it, would people hate it that much? More? Less?

  5. Keith DG says:

    For the record. I own one and I like it. The hardware rocks. The software needs work. Hopefully Microsoft will toss out some updates quick. I have been watching a ton of video, even hooking it to the TV in my hotel room and watching Video from it. It is my Personal Entertainment System. Wish List?

    – RSS via Software and Wireless

    – Audible.com support

    – Video / Movies on the Zune Marketplace (It’s on XBOX Live for 360!)

  6. David says:

    >"Hmm. Well, do you really think everyone posting negative things is sitting at home with a huge pile of "PlaysForSure" DRM encoded songs sobbing that they can’t play them on a Zune? I don’t."

    John – I agree that the PlaysForSure user base probably isn’t that large, but what does it say about how to treat a customer? Those devices had a perception of coming from ‘Microsoft’ albeit other manufacturers.

    Maybe the Zune 2.0 will lock out Zune 1.0 users and make them repurchase next year? Maybe Universal will want $1.50 next time.

    Sounds so silly doesn’t it, but then that’s probably how the Microsoft PlaysForSure early adopters felt.

    Like I said in my other comment (unpublished, I think, which is cool – your blog etc.) – it’s about how people regard your company’s track record and ethical ‘DNA’. Microsoft is in a tech-crowd karma debt and it will take some time…

    ‘Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again’ — George W. Bush

  7. MSDN Archive says:

    "PlaysForSure" being locked out is definitely a bad thing, and does nothing to help DRM seem anything other than a nuisance – I don’t disagree.

  8. MSDN Archive says:

    p.s. It takes me a moment to moderate the comments. 🙂

  9. David says:

    No worries – I own a Zune, but wanted to comment on the ‘big reasons’ why the tech-crowd is so down on it at the moment.

    It’s actually an interesting situation, as in most people *like* Microsoft employees they actually know, Bill Gates is universally respected for his huge charity work, and other big companies have done ‘bad things’ too – but still the fashionable trend is to feel good about smacking down ‘The Man’.

    Some of the Zune reviews may just be a more sophisticated way of writing ‘Micro$oft is teh sux!’…

  10. uk says:

    #1 problem = it’s not available outside the usa.

  11. MSDN Archive says:

    Ah, well that’s only the #1 problem for folks outside the US. 🙂

    Ok, without being facetious, actually, you could buy it (and pay the shipping and import duty) but the online store wouldn’t work. And stores not working outside the US are nothing new – it tooks ages for the iTunes store to open outside North America. You could still load it up with all your own music.

    However, again, is this really the reason it’s hated?  Most of the feedback I’ve seen is from within the US.

  12. David says:

    No Vista support (yes, I am on Vista).

    No audible audiobook support.

    No 60gb or 80gb model.

    No integrated podcast support.

    No supported (as in no hacks) way to use as a hard drive.

    DRM added to unprotected songs via WiFi.

    No way to convert playlists from iTunes.

    No way to import from iTunes.

    Only the first three are actual show stoppers for me. I could live without most of the others, so long as the podcast and hard drive support were going to be addressed. I would even rebuy my iTunes music, if all the other key issues were addressed. I just will not give up the hundreds of audiobooks, some of which I subscribe to via podcasts from audible (like the newspaper every morning). I will not buy a Zune until they fix these issues.


  13. Gabriel Lozano-Morán says:

    I will never buy one unless they redesign it, they are so fugly!

  14. MSDN Archive says:

    Ok, back to ticking off the features. But I ask again – do you really think these features – or lack of them – is the reason for the hatred?



    You really think that when Vista is on sale to consumers there won’t be a version of Zune for it? Also, I heard if you install the Zune software in compatibility mode, it works fine. I’ve not tried it. Annoyance factor: not very annoying.



    No audible or podcast support. True. No audible support, and you would have to load any podcasts manually, or use this tool:


    It’s not as nice as iTunes. Annoyance factor: Quite annoying. And for me, it stops the Zune being my day to day device as I listen to a lot of BBC podcasts on my way into work.



    True, no 60 or 80gb models. I’m not sure if this really counts though. Let’s say it does for sake of argument. I don’t know how the larger iPods sell compared to the smaller ones. I do know – Apple say so – that the Nano is the top selling one. So the larger capacities aren’t the most popular. Therefore, Annoyance factor: a little bit annoying.

    Hard drive Usage


    Yeah, I don’t get this one myself. I wonder if the Zune’s approach is more reliable? I seem to be able to unplug it mid-sync and nothing terrible happens. I think I’ve used my iPod three times in the past two years to move files. For me at least, Annoyance factor: not very annoying.

    DRM Added to Shared Unprotected Songs


    It seems tedious. I wonder if the only way to avoid getting into trouble with the record companies for allowing any sharing at all, was to encode it? Well DUH. So while annoying, it’s understandable. I think it’s a tradeoff, and at least there is sharing. Annoyance factor: Quite annoying

    iTunes Compatibility


    Yes, someone should write a tool to do this. Annoyance factor: Quite annoying. I don’t expect the DRM songs to work, but it would be great to import it. Moving the songs was NOT hard, moving playlists was (I didn’t even try). There is an option marked "Add files, playlists and ratings from other media libraries", but I don’t know if this supports iTunes, and if it does, it’s too hidden. Annoyance factor: Quite annoying



    I accept that your reasons are your reasons, don’t get me wrong. Yeah, there are some quite annoying things. It could be the Zune is just not the ideal device for you, and the iPod (for example) is better.

    And on the plus side – and let’s never forget there IS a plus side 🙂

    Screen – very nice screen. TV is watchable.

    Xbox – great support

    WiFi sharing – yes, there is sharing. it works.

    Radio – the radio is very nice.

    UI – it’s good.

    Sound quality – great.

    Overall design and build quality – good.

    Plays video, music, slideshows, and podcasts (if you add them)..

    But seriously, is this why it’s hated?  There’s a LOT more to this fanboy-ism.

  15. Mike says:

    I really tried to like Zune. But

    30GB only

    No lossless

    No podcasts

    No way to use as USB drive

    No integrated adapters for cars (think Alpine iPod adapter) – sorry, FM modulators don’t cut it.

    So I went and bought 80 GB iPod. Even 30GB iPod gives more value than 30GB Zune. Folks, if you want to compete you must provide all the competor’s features plus some more at the same or lower price. Not just ‘some features we think are most popular’. If car A cost X and car B cost X but has 20hp more, people will buy car B even if they never use all that horsepower. It is called ‘value for money’.

  16. MSDN Archive says:

    "What J did with the XBox is a good start, but a lot of the reviews of the Zune are really nothing at all about the device – they are about Microsofts karma debt. It’ll take some time I guess…"

    Exactly. Most of the comments have little to do with the device, written by people who have never even seen one or bothered to read up. Anyone who defends the Zune – in the forums I’ve seen – is accused of being a fanboy and "astroturfing".

    As I guess I would be, for simply suggesting that the Zune isn’t a pile of pants 🙂

  17. MSDN Archive says:

    Please before you post a comment saying the Zune is fugly, bear in mind that it doesn’t really help or add anything to this thread.

    I’m more interested if you think it’s ugly because of the fact that the Zune is made by Microsoft rather than Apple. See the difference? The Zune is getting feedback that is WAY out of proportion to any perceived features of lack of them. Why is this?

    For the record, I am a huge fan of design in general. I have a Zune right in front of me as I type (and I’m ‘working’ at home today, so I’m typing this on a MacPro), and I don’t think it’s ugly. IMHO of course. 🙂

  18. MSDN Archive says:

    Mike – I hear you. I love my iPod’s car integration (even if I did it myself with a soldering iron). Do you believe the press the Zune is getting is simply because of a lack of your favourite features?

  19. uk says:

    ok, different take. question:

    why is it that the artists who create music in the first place almost exclusively use apple products? why isn’t microsoft featured more in the creative industries?

    there could be some tie as to why the people who make the music choose a certain brand, and the people who listen to that very music also choose that *same* brand.

  20. David says:

    The thing is – I want the Zune. I even like the brown one. But until it can replace the unit I have, at least for the features that are critical to my day to day enjoyment of the unit, it is a non-starter.

    I agree that MS will have a Vista version by the time Vista ships, but it is annoying for the very few of us that helped to test Vista for months and could not go back to XP when it was RTM-ed.

    Size does matter. For those people using audiobooks, size is a big deal. Between music, audiobooks, and podcasts, I have around 40gb. I could try and prune some, but I do not want to. I have a 60gb iPod and I want a replacement. Stating that the Nano is the most popular is moot, as the Zune does not compete against that model. It clearly competes against the Video iPod in this release. I am sure there will be a mini-Zune in the future, but right now they went head to head against a 30gb video iPod and offer less in many areas and few extras that will eventually be nice and for the same price. MS did not offer enough competitive advantage to choose a Zune over an iPod yet.

    Two other things that I do not know if the Zune has, but I do hope that it does.

    1. A Scripting or API interface. iPod has their COM library, and this has allowed for some 3rd party bolt ons that are nice. I hope Zune does this.

    2. Integration with Desktop Search on XP and Vista. I should be able to find a song through the search bar.


  21. MSDN Archive says:

    David – Did you try installing the Zune software in compatibility mode?

  22. MSDN Archive says:

    UK – well that’s a way-out-there question!

    Assuming that your statement is even correct, I know why I used Final Cut Pro when I do, and I know why I used Adobe Premier. I use the best tool for the job: both Windows and Apple-based solutions. I suspect many artists do as well.

    But I don’t buy your argument: if you asked 100 CD buying people at random what operating system the computer used by their favourite artists use for sequencing is running, do you think their response will be "Apple" or "What’s sequencing?" 😉

  23. Mike says:

    I don’t know about press, I didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying about Zune as I am able to select things to buy on my own, not because someone thinks I should or should not buy something.

    BUT if Zune had all iPod features and was not attaching DRM to non-DRM’ed material (is it *really* that difficult to check?), press would not have much to complain about. See, believe it or not, Microsoft does not have stellar reputation among press folks, so why give them things to whine about?

  24. David says:

    No. I did not buy the Zune yet(notice I say yet) and really just waiting for audio book support before playing with the software.

    This way I will not have to reload my audio books into the Zune software.


  25. MSDN Archive says:

    Mike –

    But I’m asking about the Press, not your ability to judge products on merit. As you read MSDN’s Blogs, I am assuming you are a person of above average intelligence, and probably looks too, and are therefore able to make up your own mind 😉

    I assume the DRM issue is for this reason: You buy a CD, and copy it to your Zune (note – contrary to some comments I’ve need, THIS IS POSSIBLE, you don’t have to buy all your music from the Zune store – talk about FUD!).

    As you ripped this yourself, it has no DRM. But when you share it, that’s considered potentially naughty and so the DRM is applied so your share-ee can listen and then decide to buy. I don’t think the software can tell the difference between a CD you have ripped, and an MP3 you made yourself (or could possibly be expected to tell the difference) and so the DRM is applied.

    Without DRM, you’re effectively able to share an audio CD to anyone you meet – something that the recording industry would probably rather didn’t happen. That’s my take, anyway.

    Compare this to the iPod way of sharing: oh wait, you can’t. 🙂

  26. I watched the Mac commercial you mention just moments ago…. here it is:


  27. David says:

    The sharing is a nice to have, but is not yet a critical feature. Playback and capacity are critical.

    Promoting the Zune because of sharing alone is like pushing a car based on its radio. Sure, some people will get it for that reason alone, but others will want to ensure it gets the right MPG, is comfortable to sit in, had proper visibility and actually ran. Sure, some people will ignore one or more of these, but the car manufacturers will target these features over the radio. At least, I believe the would.

    As I said, I want to buy a Zune. I actually dislike my iPod. I have had 2, and both have had problems. I was actually looking at the Toshiba Gigabeat when I heard about the Zune, so I have waited. I am still waiting. Hopefully they will fix these issues soon.


  28. uk says:

    the public would clearly answer "What’s sequencing?", but that’s because you’re asking the wrong question.

    if i were a fan of u2, i’d get myself a u2 ipod. so the question is…why is there a u2 ipod?

    probably the answer is mostly to do with marketing and money, but whose betting against the fact that because u2 use apple’s Logic sequencer running on apple’s hardware in their recording studio, they could relate that back to apple in some way?

  29. MSDN Archive says:

    "Don’t cry for the Zune just yet

    Microsoft’s challenger to the iPod takes second place in digital audio player market in first sales week, according to report."


  30. Oops… I had the URL for my blog in the clipboard when I pasted into my earlier message… here’s the URL for the Mac commercial…



  31. David says:

    For what is worth, I broke down and bought the Brown Zune. Now that Vista compatibility has been resolved, I can play. Two things remain on my Dang Zune list.

    1. Only 30gb – I need more space

    2. Not audiobook support

    My rationalization for these two remaining issues are simple.

    1. They will have larger, and I will buy it, and my wife gets this Zune. 🙂

    2. They will resolve this.

    It is a bit of faith, but what the hell 🙂


  32. MSDN Archive says:

    1. Only 30Gb. Yeah, sorry, can’t help you there 🙂 I see Toshiba have a 100Gb drive out. Perhaps you could do surgery on your Zune and swap it out? This is not an official Microsoft recommendation, by the way 😉

    I’m sure your wife will appreciate the second hand technology anyway 🙂

    2. You mean Audible? Have you asked them? I know some people use the Zune software’s ability to monitor other directories to use third party applications to download podcasts and sync them.

    So, other than these limitations – do you like it?

  33. I like the Zune…. but still not sure why it’s better than my HTC Wizard phone. Okay, it’s only got a 1GB memory card not a 30GB HDD 😉

    Will be interesting to see where the HTC Athena fits into this mix when it finally appears.

    Oh, and my take on the PC vs Mac guys and the C++ book…. isn’t the OSX GUI written in …. C++ ?

  34. David says:

    Ok. So 1 day later and I have the following impressions so far:

    1. Audible still does not work.

    2. The Zune client on Windows stinks. It does not report errors (such as when I dropped a file on it that it didnt understand). It has been very unintuitive, but that could be as migrant from iTunes. Searching was limited. It also defaulted to using my DocumentsMusic directory which is not what I had wanted since I use a network share for media.

    3. I very much like the Zune itself. It ‘feels’ right and works nicely. Very intuitive.

    4. Podcasting and Zune stinks so far. The FeedYouZune program is like walking back in time a few years in terms of functionality. I am going to try out how Juice works.

    If I had to sum it up. The Zune rocks, but its WIndows software sucks.

    The good news with that, is that software can be changed a lot easier than the unit itself.


  35. Daniel Coppess says:

    I think its also an attack by the media to stick it to the Microsoft company and their so called "monopoly."  I bought a zune recently and the UI is excellent, personalization is wonderful and I actually wanted wanted one that was a little bigger, both screen and for durability issues.  Mine automatically imported my old iTunes playlist… (thought it was mentioned early that that was a problem)  Anywho. Also think about this… it was stated earlier about if MS would have made the Zune with all the features of IPOD for the same price or cheaper the reviews wouldn’t be so anti-MS.  Come one, thats crap,  if MS would have released the Zune with the exact same capabilites and such, they would have been accused of trying to just take sales away from Ipod and that they can’t do anything original!  To me, the Zune is wonderful… i liked my ipod but not nearly as much as my Zune.  

    ps.  Is the touch center on the Ipod really that great…??? i find it hard to believe that pushing down on a button is "SO MUCH HARDER AND TIME CONSUMING" (or whatever) than spinning your finger around in a cirle til you get what you want.  Reviews are making huge deals out of every tiny little thing they can that is different to the Ipod.

  36. dlcoppess@anderson.edu says:

    oh and btw… CNET.com gave the zune an 8.0 excellent and the Ipod an 8.3 editors choice.  which i’d say is a wonderful start for MS.  

  37. MSDN Archive says:

    >. isn’t the OSX GUI written in …. C++ ?

    It’s in Objective C, which is different from C++ 😉

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