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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