“You've sold out, you're nothing but a number in the machine now...”. This was the reaction of a friend of mine when I told him I bought a Microsoft Zune to replace my dead iAudio XL5 mp3 player. Not that he had any investment in me not buying a Zune, only that after I've railed against Apple and iPods for so long, he couldn't understand why I would buy something from Microsoft that is just as closed and proprietary. It was a fair question.
I've been a pro-Linux anti-Microsoft guy for a long time. However I can't really maintain that without becoming a hypocrite. I love Linux, I prefer it for my work computer. The Linux desktop has many features I like that are lacking in Windows, and there are many open source applications that I feel are far superior to their Windows counterparts. For all that, I still use Windows at home most of the time. I've spent a lot of time trying to get the games I play to work under Linux, to get all my media files to work, and I've had some success. However it is usually a lot of effort to get something that works not quite as well as it did under Windows. This isn't even Linux's fault, if anything it is a testament to the power of Linux that I can take a program designed to work under a Microsoft OS and get it to run at all. However, when I get home at night, I really just want things to work. I don't want to have to spend a lot a time configuring things to get an experience that isn't quite what I had hoped for. So it's hard to keep bashing Microsoft while grudgingly using it because it just works better for what I'm doing. I will continue to explore and promote Linux, but I also have to be honest that it just isn't quite what I need it to be right now. Linux definitely has the power to do everything I need, but the rest of the world has to get on that bandwagon if software, drivers, and codecs are going to be developed for it and make it truly competitive. After nearly a decade of preaching the good word, I don't think I've created a single convert. So yeah, I'm selling out and accepting the fact that it might just be nice to have a full featured device that just works without a lot of tweaking.
As far as continuing to shun Apple, well, it's the principal of the thing. Apple is every bit as much a closed, proprietary, bully of a company as Microsoft. But they get away with it. The tech press fawns over them, ignoring every flaw and transgression in hopes they may be the next one fortunate enough to place their drooling lips on Mr. Jobs' backside. Anything Microsoft attempts gets reviled and criticized, while Apple can do no wrong. Don't get me wrong, the iPod's are nice pieces of tech, but they aren't the only ones and don't deserve the overwhelming hype. There is also more of a mandated obsolescence with them. Microsoft has actually done something really cool with their Zunes. They update them. They roll out new firmware and OS revisions that add all kinds of new features. They make these available for the previous models so that the Zune you bought two years ago can do pretty much everything the latest model they roll out can do. The Zunes also appear to be a little cheaper than similarly featured iPod's, you don't have to pay the “I'm part of the cool crowd” tax. Beyond that, there isn't much to recommend it over an iPod. I haven't used a iPod much, but looking at my brother's iPod touch it is a pretty awesome interface. The Zune does a pretty good job as well though and I have no complaints with navigating it yet. It also features wireless sync which is a nice feature. Of course both iPod and Zune require proprietary software to work. I'm not happy with that, but it's just kind of the way things are. In the case, the Zune made more sense to me. I don't like iTunes. Of course I haven't tried the latest versions of it so it may have gotten better. However Apple software has several times now loaded components and updates I explicitly told it not too, so there is no way I'm loading it on my system. There are also lots of compatibility problems being reported with iTunes and Vista 64. So I'm guessing that running an application from Microsoft on a modern Microsoft OS I will have fewer problems. So far so good.
Both players have a number of features that deal with buying music from their respective stores. This isn't really a feature I care about. I don't listen to much in the way of popular music. Almost everything I listen to are from small independent groups with no major label affiliation, so the iTunes store or the Zune Marketplace aren't likely to have what I'm looking for. I get a fourteen day free trial with the Zune Marketplace, so I will probably try it out, but I'm not expecting to be excited about it. My biggest complaint with the Zune, is that it uses a proprietary cable to charge and transfer files. I just don't understand why you can't use a standard usb cable for this. All I need is another cable that if I lose or damage my device becomes useless. And if I want to have the ability to charge my player at work, I either have to take the cable with me, or pony up another $30 to have a spare to keep at the office. Of course, this would have been a problem with the iPod as well, and many of the other players out there.
The other issue I'm having with the Zune is the fact that it manages your music library by ID3 tags. I knew this was going to be an issue when I got it, I just didn't realized how messed up the tags on my collection were. My old player did everything by folders, it didn't sort by tags, you just organized your music in a logical way in different folder. I kind of like this actually, but most modern mp3 players and software like to use tags, and there are good reasons to do so. Since my collection is eclectic from many different sources though, there is no real consistency to the tags which makes it hard to manage. In fact I found many of my Celtic music albums tagged as Reggae, so eMusic of CDBaby had some weird ideas of genres going on when I bought these. So, I have a lot of work ahead of me, but its not that big of a deal, something I should have done to begin with.
Anyway, call it selling out if you will. I've been tilting at windmills for a long time, now I just want to sit back and enjoy the breeze.