Work Crews, Right Turns, Bad Music Players

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This morn­ing, I was stopped at a light on the water­front, wait­ing to turn onto Moody and on to the free­way. My eyes wan­dered and fixed upon the cor­rec­tional facil­ity work crew van across the road. Lately, there have been a lot of these kinds of work crews on the free­way doing stuff like pick­ing up trash, but I haven’t seen them close to foot traf­fic before. My eyes then wan­dered to the guy stand­ing next to the van. He was wear­ing an orange jump­suit and hold­ing an elec­tric hedge trim­mer. I then double-checked the door locks.

This after­noon, as I was mak­ing a right turn (in the outer of two right turn lanes) with a large van obstruct­ing my view to the left, the light turned green, and a small asian lady in a large red SUV ran the red light and almost T-boned me. We gave each other dirty looks when we reached the next red light.

So the Zune came out today. For those that do not know, it’s Microsoft’s sup­posed “iPod killer,” Maybe I just don’t under­stand, but their whole busi­ness model looks retarded to me. This arti­cle does a pretty good job of sum­ma­riz­ing the pric­ing issues. With most ser­vices, you sign up, put a credit card num­ber on file, then pur­chase things that get charged to the card. In the Zune’s case, you buy a block of “points,” then use those points to pur­chase music. If you run out of points, you need to buy another block of points–like a ticket book or book of stamps. You’re effec­tively buy­ing and redeem­ing gift cer­tifi­cates over and over again rather than directly pur­chas­ing songs.

So then how much do songs cost, com­pared to iTunes? Zune songs are 79 points and iTunes songs are 99 cents. So it’s cheaper, right!? Nope. The exchange value for points is 1.25 cents per point, so they end up being the same. Actually, the Zune songs are a quar­ter of a penny cheaper, but the draw­backs make it not really worth the one-penny-per-four-song sav­ings. When buy­ing any music, you have this extra layer of cur­rency con­ver­sion to keep track of. In the US, we have this thing called “dol­lars” that has been proven to be per­fectly ser­vice­able for trans­ac­tions for sev­eral hun­dred years. More recently, the greater por­tion of the free world has this thing called “credit cards” that make it eas­ier to pur­chase on the inter­net because it’s elec­tronic and auto­mat­i­cally con­verts between cur­ren­cies. I’m not sure what about this sys­tem needed to be rein­vented, but Microsoft rein­vented it any­way.

The fewest num­ber of points you can buy is 400 for $5. That’s 5 songs with 5 points left over. There’s no way you can use up your points until you buy $395 worth of songs. The left­over points (and asso­ci­ated cash) end up sit­ting in your account at Microsoft–sort of like a bank. You’re effec­tively giv­ing MS an interest-free loan. Your pen­nies alone don’t amount to much, but when you get thou­sands of peo­ple using the ser­vice, that can be a lot of money that MS is earn­ing inter­est on and not pass­ing along to the peo­ple who effec­tively “own” those points/money.

The other con­fus­ing this is that Microsoft built up a music store and a DRM tech­nol­ogy called Plays-For-Sure. It means that music you buy from Napster or Rhapsody or what­ever non-iTunes ser­vice you use will play on Windows Media Player and will be playable on music play­ers that sup­port this Plays-For-Sure tech­nol­ogy. Basically, MS has thrown that into the trash. The music you pre­vi­ously pur­chased from one of these ser­vices won’t play on the Zune and music you buy from the Zune store won’t play on your exist­ing Plays-For-Sure media player.

The wire­less abil­ity intrigues me, but the iPod already has a big place in my life and prob­a­bly won’t be replaced any time soon–especially not for some­thing like the Zune.

P.S. it doesn’t work with Windows Vista!!?! The sup­posed next-gen portable media player doesn’t work with the very same company’s next-gen oper­at­ing sys­tem?!

Posted in: Dear Diary Gadgets

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