Too Zune

My MP3 player has finally, inevitably broken beyond repair. It’s stuck on record, it won’t stop recording everything, so it’s just what you want lying around the White House Counsel’s office. And in an odd twist, Apple’s recent MP3-player announcements were more appealing than Microsoft’s. I say odd because Microsoft and Apple are sort of like Churchill and Hitler to me: I wouldn’t want to hang out with either of them, but there’s “not nice” and then there’s the holocaust. I could never buy either, but I really like that Apple have made each of their models dramatically better in at least three ways each, and reduced the price. I always like it when a company goes further than strictly necessary to maximise sales.

Microsoft’s MP3 player, apart from looking like a seventies TV set (update! Or a complicated biscuit, as Tom puts it), is a festering hive of digital rights-management restrictions. It has the cool-sounding ability to wirelessly share tracks with other Zunes (sans PC), but restricts the sharee to three listens of the track before it’s deleted. To do that, it actually infects your music with its DRM chastity belt, even if it’s an MP3 you recorded your damn self. Having grown up with computers, I’m afraid I’m one of these techno-hippies who regard data as sacred. It seems fine to me to offer services like iTunes where you buy music with restrictions built in, but my stuff is sacrosanct. Your seventies TV has no idea what it is, where it came from and what I’m entitled to do with it.

So I somehow found room to be offended by that even though I didn’t want the feature and knew I wouldn’t buy one anyway. The core reason I can’t use a Zune or iPod is that both insist on their own evil infection of your machine. iTunes is the reason I don’t flinch when comparing Apple’s products to the holocaust. The Zune, like anything that wants to support Microsoft’s DRM stuff, uses the Media Transfer Protocol to talk to your PC. That means it isn’t a storage device you’re free to use as you please; everything you transfer to it has to go through Windows Media Player 10. This is disastrously unreliable, slow and restrictive. MTP will actually stop you from copying a file type that Windows Media Player doesn’t recognise to your player, even if the player itself specifically supports it. MTP devices show up in Explorer, and are mocked up to look like storage drives, but you’re restricted to the default view, your right-click options are taken away, and you can’t open files directly from the device. Explorer is about the only part of Windows that still almost works intuitively, though XP tried its level best to obfuscate it and mollycoddle new users into misunderstanding their system, and they’ve specifically crippled it to be less logical and usable with respect to MP3 players. I will enjoy watching you fail, Microsoft, even if it is to a greater evil.

Some brands pointedly boycott MTP, or at least pointedly include a UMS option – USB Mass Storage, an older protocol from the days when things were built to work rather than monitor and defy you. Sandisk’s Sansa players have had an aggressively anti-iPod campaign, and bragged about their ‘just works’ driverless storage device functionality, but they do lose marks for also supporting MTP as an alternate mode (“I’m clean, but also support herpes as an alternate mode”) and only supporting video in Quicktime format. Their contempt for Apple’s proprietry restrictiveness would ring truer if they hadn’t co-opted Apple’s own grossly inefficient, poor-quality, bloated, slow and disgusting QuickTime format. More admirably but more cumbersomely, bovine-sounding Cowon make UMS-only players, proudly support OGG (an open-source music format, more efficient than MP3), and have a ridiculous 35-hour battery life on their larger model. My favourite musical gadget site Anything But iPod specialise in alternatives, and are good about specifying MTP or UMS in their reviews. My hope is that Microsoft having their own player to pimp will mean they stop putting pressure on once-cool companies like iRiver and Creative to cripple their players with MSDRM-friendly FFS-inducing MTP, and that Anything But Zune launches soon.

12 Replies to “Too Zune”

  1. I may now have to buy the Anything But Zune domain now you’ve given me the idea. Although I would have nothing to put on it…

  2. As with your other MP3 player post, I simply have to push Samsung’s YP-MT6Z forward for consideration. AA battery with long playtime, radio, line-in, mic, recording from all three, MP3, OGG, and UMS with absolutely no proprietary software. It’s slightly larger than my thumb and I got it for one hundred American dollars, a year ago. The only black spot for a serious enthusiast like you is the 1GB storage space, but for all I know they probably have an upsized model now. Samsung’s actually been doing some pretty cool things in a lot of areas lately.

    You may want to capitalise Holocaust

  3. So we can’t have concise links. Well, that’s an improvement…though it seems an odd distinction for an anti-spamotron to make. Then again, you’re not getting comment spam so maybe all the spamming algorithms care about neat links. Huh. Considerate of them.

  4. Also, I missed an underscore before Review in that ciao thing. Sorry, I was in a hurry and a copy-and-pasteless environment.

  5. Fixed. Cheers for the links, and the recommendation Craig. That does actually look pretty much flawless, except that I’d sold myself on the idea of a flash player. The one you suggest, Jason, is great except for the 1GB and AA batteries – I actually prefer an internal one that charges from the mains. Messing around with rechargable AAs was the worst thing about my first digicam.

    What were your humourous HTML tags? It ripped them out so hard I can’t even see them in the source code.

  6. I loathe dealing with batteries, to the point that I don’t use a wireless mouse, keyboard or game controllers. I’d pay, say, five bucks more for a dockable Wiimote, I hate them so much. However, I’ve found that with my NetMD (yes, I owned a NetMD, and I knew exactly what I was getting into – I was strapped and there was a Rush Limbaugh emergency) and now with my Samsung, accomodating the single AA doesn’t bother me. I have a four-battery cradle, so I just carry a charged one in my pocket kit and every week or so when the player dies, that battery goes back into the rotation that night. Of course, the bigger, fancier players all have Li+ batteries, so that particular bit is a moot point unless you’re minimalist like me.

    As far as capacity goes, that’s an area where the big (bad) names have always led. I’m not about to insult a fellow, more audiophilic technophile by trying to track down Samsung’s entire range for you, so my quick check might have missed some 4GB jewel. The info I’ve seen, starting with the second of those three reviews for craig, suggests that worthwhile Samsung flash players top out at a couple of 2GB models (watch out for first-party firmware upgrades that enable UMS). This ignores a couple of 4GB models with idiot dealbreaking flaws.

    My tags were {rave}/{/rave} and {pedant}/{/pedant}, encompassing the entire text of my first comment and placed such that I didn’t look absolutely schizophrenic. Then the variable {product number} inside my “buttons” string.

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