What is the Zune?


Zune is Microsoft's portable media player. Introduced in late 2006, the Microsoft Zune was expected to compete with the popular Apple iPod for dominance in the portable media player market. In addition to standard media player features such as audio, video, and still photograph playback, the Zune offers wifi media streaming, FM radio reception, television output, and many other exclusive features. The gadget's exterior casing is formed by a unique plastic molding technique which changes color at the edges with varying viewing angles. Although the Zune comes preloaded with select music and video titles, the problematic DRM scheme employed in the Zune often erases them upon first synchronization with a personal computer.

DRM and other restrictions have prevented widespread adoption of the Microsoft Zune, even though similar devices such as the iPod are also encumbered by DRM. The Zune hardware is heavily dependent upon the Zune online media store and client software, limiting the device's ability to play music acquired by other means. In fact, the new DRM scheme used in the Zune (Windows Media Digital Rights Management, or WMDRM) is neither backwards-compatible with previous Microsoft DRM schemes, nor are the previous schemes forward-compatible with the Zune. Therefore, all music played on the gadget must either be purchased from the exclusive Zune marketplace, or encoded from CD by the Zune client software. The only exception to this is the possibility to beam tracks from one Zune to another via wifi, with the beamed tracks expiring after three playbacks. Of important note is the new MWDRM scheme's habit of causing protected music to skip. While Microsoft has released four updates to the scheme in the first six months of the Zune's public availability, none have been able to prevent the notorious skipping.

The Microsoft Zune began life as the Toshiba 1089 development model. Based on the Toshiba Gigabeat's hardware and it's Microsoft Portable Media Center 2 operating system, the Zune incorporates a lighter body, larger screen, and increased battery life. Some features of the Gigabeat have not been designed into the Zune, notably the Gigabeat's unique USB host capability and support for older DRM schemes such as those used by Yahoo, Tivo, and Napster. The 60 GB hard drive used in the Gigabeat machine is not available in the Zune, with the only storage option a 30 GB Toshiba hard drive. Future versions of the gadget are expected to include both a hard drive model with increased storage capacity, and a smaller flash-based model with up to 16 GB of storage. A Zune cellphone is rumored to be in the works, and Microsoft insiders have hinted at a dedicated video model with an extra-large screen or a possible portable gaming device.

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