What is Going on at Microsoft?

I am not really a fanboy of any company (other than Sega), but I do appreciate when a company does something well. For Microsoft, there have been a few bright spots over the last few years (even if they haven’t all been commercially profitable). Among those, I’d include the Zune as the best portable media player (note, I didn’t say “handheld entertainment device”, as the Zune and the ZuneHD were basically designed to do one thing, and do it extremely well); the Xbox 360 as quite possibly the best modern gaming console (though I do love my Wii, the Kinect kind of tipped the playing field slightly in Microsoft’s favor – or so I’ve been told; I don’t own a 360, yet); and Windows Phone 7 has, as much as Android and Apple fanboys would hate to admit, somewhat revolutionized the mobile touch interface.

Do I expect to see whole-hog clones of the WP7 Metro UI, the way we did with iOS? Absolutely not; but I do suspect that we’ll see subtle changes to touch interfaces over the next year or so as a result of the way the Windows Phone OS works.

All of that said, I can’t help but wonder what the Xbox team was thinking when it came up with the pricing structure for Microsoft Points or when they integrated Netflix into the Xbox ecosystem.

Music Services & Band Names – A UI Nightmare?

Search for Beloved in iTunes

In this image, I’ve used different color outlines to differentiate between the 3 different artists using the name “Beloved”

Recently, as I’ve been using my Zune Pass more and more, I’ve discovered a bit of a quagmire when it comes to usability, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. What should music services like Zune and iTunes do about bands/artists that use the same name? How do you differentiate between very different artists without making the UI and/or UX even less usable than it was before?

The Problem

For instance, if you open up iTunes or Zune and search for the band “Beloved”, you will find results from 3-4 completely different artists that all use that same name (Zune shows albums by 4 different artists; iTunes shows albums by 3 different artists using the artist name “Beloved (U.S.)” instead of just “Beloved”). As a UI/UX designer, how would you propose that these music services differentiate those artists?

Windows Phone 7 vs. iPhone

After using an iPhone 3G for about 2 years, I gave it up last week. Then, this week, I picked up one of the new Windows Phone 7 devices (the HTC Surround). Following is a brief comparison of the two from my perspective.

Zune Starts Selling 64GB HD Models

I didn’t report on this a few weeks ago when the news initially broke, simply because it broke late on March 31 and I honestly wasn’t sure whether it was an early April Fool’s joke or not. Now, though, the Zune Web site has been updated and the news has been officially released by Zune. New 64GB ZuneHD models are being sold via the ZuneOriginals Web site.

In addition to the new ZuneHD model, the original ZuneHD devices dropped.

I’d still like to see a slightly larger version of the device, but I definitely consider the 64 gig ZuneHD device to be my top candidate if my Zune 80 dies before a larger capacity model is released.

Scheduled Zune Service “Pause”

The Zune team has announced that this evening, beginning at 10 p.m. PST, the Zune network will be unavailable for a period of up to 24 hours so they can implement some major backend updates and changes to the service. Apparently the changes are being made to help improve the performance of the network and to make it possible to implement some planned feature additions in the future. Very few of the changes made this evening will be immediately visible to the end user, but it sounds like they’re preparing for some good updates further on down the road.

One thing Zune users will notice after the service resumes, though, will be an update for the Zune software. Again, there are not supposed to be any major feature additions with this release, but the release is apparently necessary to keep the Zune software working properly with the updated network.

If you are a Zune software user, especially if you are a Zune pass user, the Zune team is warning customers to make sure that all pending transactions are completed before 10 p.m. PST this evening. If you are planning to download or rent a movie, make sure that download is finished before they shut off the service.

Update: As of 8:40 p.m. on Tuesday, the service still does not appear to be fully operational. However, a new version of the Zune software (Zune 4.2) is now available, and apparently allows users to view AVI videos natively within the software.

Using Zune Within VirtualBox

Zune error in VirtualBoxSince the Zune 4 software was released, I have been using it fairly exclusively as my media player when using Windows. I really enjoy using the software, and I like the way it tracks and shares my recent plays. In the spirit of Xbox “achievements,” the Zune social system even issues “badges” once you’ve listened to a specific artist enough times.

Unfortunately, however, the Zune software is only available for Windows, and I use Linux about 99% of the time on my home computer. I do, however, have Windows XP installed as a VirtualBox guest so I can use Windows programs like Photoshop, Internet Explorer 6 (for Web development testing), etc. I thought it would be simple to use the Zune software inside of that VirtualBox. I was wrong.

Apparently, the Zune software will not recognize media files stored in a VirtualBox shared folder. When you attempt to play the files, you will most likely receive an error stating that the file couldn’t be played, and that it might have been moved.

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