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Microsoft's muscle hasn't helped Zune

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Last month, I decided to review the new Zune MP3 player. After all, Microsoft's potential iPod killer had already received a fair bit of buzz.

So I wrote to the company in Redmond, Wash., requesting a review copy (which I promised to return). I received a nice reply from a woman who told me she'd put my name on a list to get one. Weeks passed. I wrote a few more times asking when my name might rise to the top of that list.

I never heard back.

So, being the resourceful, enterprising columnist that I am, I went to a local electronics store where, with the help of a salesperson, I tried one out. I came away more impressed than I had anticipated, but not enough to want to buy one.

The Zune looks like an iPod (surprise!), except that it's a bit longer. It also has a built-in FM tuner (an add-on for an iPod) and a larger video screen than the iPod's. MP3 files sound pretty good on the Zune, but not that much different than what I've heard on my wife's iPod.

The best feature, in my book, is the larger screen. Not that I would ever watch television shows or movies on such a device (regardless of its maker). But I can see using it as, say, a digital photo album. You can upload plenty of photos to a Zune, and I can see passing it around the Christmas dinner table to share pictures of the kids.

Other than that, the Zune is an iPod, except that it has all the neurotic ticks that mark Microsoft products these days. For instance, one cool feature allows you to "beam" tunes or photos to other Zune owners. Great idea, especially for the photos. The only problem is that the beamed songs only last three days, or three plays, whichever comes first.

Say what? That's digital rights management gone loco. Such limitations offer very little incentive to Zune owners to share tunes, and it's the kind of move that makes technology geeks grind their teeth.


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