Windows Media Player has been the standard built-in media player software in Windows for as long as I can remember. Now in Windows 8, WMP is up to version 11, but there’s a new competitor in the market, strangely this also comes from Microsoft.
Zune is the desktop software that accompanies the Zune hardware device available in the US. We haven’t yet seen Zune hardware in Australia, so why do we care about Zune software ? Windows Phone 7 will launch later this year and require Zune software to sync your content to the device. Similar to the iPhone being married to iTunes, Microsoft have decided to force users down the same tie in path.
You don’t need to wait till later this year to find out what the Zune experience is like, you can download and try it out now.
Shortly after using Zune you realise that Windows Media Player largely becomes redundant. If your running Windows 7, you can actually remove WMP from the OS entirely and rely solely on Zune for all media playback on your PC. By default Zune works with your keyboard media controls and automatically references content paths defined in your Win7 Libraries. Zune still allows for ripping of CD audio, and searching across your collection, but ads new features like Quickplay and Smart DJ Auto-playlists.
While the WMP 11 UI is ok, it’s very, this generation and largely unexciting. The new Zune interface is referred to as ‘Metro’ and is perhaps a portal into what’s coming in Windows 8. Metro’s core principle is clean, slick, simple. Minimalistic UI elements and smooth transitions, are completed by a borderless window that separates itself from the desktop with subtle shadows. Overall the design and feel of the product is solid, there’s no quirks or unexpected surprises, it just works intuitively.
So with a slick new UI and Zune and future Windows Phone 7 support, are there any downsides to using Zune ? There is actually one serious drawback to using Zune software, you cannot open an online video / audio stream using the app. Personally I listen to a lot of internet radio, so this is annoying, not everyone does, so this may not be an issue for all. My workaround for this is to set streams to open in iTunes. As an iPhone owners I need that installed anyway, so it’s a reasonable solution, but I would like to see Zune add this feature in the future.
Zune Software is currently at 188.8.131.52, which means the next major update will likely be version 5.0 and will arrive when WinPho7 ships. What’s not included in this version is applications or and due if your outside the US there’s also no marketplace. The Zune Marketplace will sell music, television and movies. Currently Australia’s only official Zune offering is the Zune video marketplace via the Xbox 360.