Microsoft have had a bit of a battle trying to gain market share for their iPod killing media player Zune. The Zune just has not captured the imagination of the consumer. In fact this has been the case for most of Microsoft’s explorations into the alien world of hardware. About the only Microsoft piece of hardware I can recommend is the original Microsoft Mouse, it was well built, it took a licking and kept on ticking! Of course it was not a cheap device, generic mice were $5, the Microsoft one was $25.

So, back to the ill fated Zune. On New Years Eve the proud owners of the 30 gig Zune discovered that their units were no longer functioning. The units froze, and would not reboot. Microsoft’s help forums were flooded, on the Zune web site a simple message was posted. Microsoft recognized that some Zune owners were experiencing problems and that the company was working on a fix.

The fix turned out to be to wait a day! Apparently the 30 gig Zune had not heard of leap years. The concept of a year having 366 days was beyond its capability. On January 1st all but a few particularly egregious Zunes were back in action. One hopes that Microsoft will try to rectify this unfortunate piece of programming before the next leap year.

Call me simple, but I still have some questions. Zune is a media player, you feed it music or video and it plays it. Why the concern about what the damn date is to begin with? For the average user and consumer the date and time is irrelevant, sure its handy to be able to tell the time by pressing a couple of buttons, although I personally prefer to use my watch. I don’t have to press any buttons, I just look at the dial and it tells me not just the time, but the date, and even the day of the week. For under $20, I think this is a bargain. I have had it for 3 years, it has never given me a BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death), it does not require monthly updates, and installation consisted of taking it out of the package and putting it on my wrist, I did not need to put in 25 characters of product key, it just does what it was designed to do, it tells me the time.

So why would a media player be so testy over the date and time? I see two possibilities, one is that it is used to synchronize files with the host computer. This would be an insane method to use! Check Sums and version levels would make much more sense. The second possibility is more ominous. The media world has become obsessed with media piracy, and somehow the RIAA and MPAA have exerted great pressure on both hardware and software companies alike. The huge reliance by the Zune in the date and time leads me to speculate that this has more to do with DRM (Digital Rights [mis] Management) than any other function.

It is high time that the consumer talks out, and nothing shouts louder than the wallet. I have a couple of media players, a couple of Portable DVD players, and the worlds most expensive alarm clock (long story), they all do exactly what they are designed to do. It doesn’t matter if its a leap year, it doesn’t matter if there is a complete meltdown of the Internet, they will continue to run.

Maybe the problem with the Zune and indeed other like minded devices such as the iPod is that they are grossly over engineered.

I moved from the frozen tundra of Alberta to Mississippi, my wife and I needed to be able to contact people, my solution was to go to the local store and buy a $20 pay as you go Cell phone. Apart from the fact that the buttons were way too small for my aging hands it did what we needed. A week or so after we moved into our locale, my stepson decided that we needed an upgrade. A couple of weeks after that, he decided that another upgrade was called for. The net result, we now have 3 cell phones, neither my wife or I use them, they are just flotsom and jetsom in the house. I don’t need a cell phone that plays MP3 files, I don’t need it to take pictures and videos, and I certainly do not need it to browse the web or send and receive email or text messages.

In fact my solution was to go to a local thrift store and for $3 I found a nice single line, no frills real phone. No sim cards to fool with, no camera, and no web access. It only has one function in life, to be a telephone. Life is perfect. When it rings someone wants to talk to me, I pick up the receiver and say ‘hello’. When I want to talk to someone, I pick up the receiver and dial the number. I know that my $3 phone is not prone to software problems, it could care less how many days there are in the year.

As devices become smaller and more multifunction, one has to seriously wonder about the actual practicality of the implementation.

A misunderstanding at NASA between Imperial and Metric led to the loss of a 500 million dollar probe to Mars. I say, keep it simple.

Simon Barrett

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