Microsoft’s Zune disappoints again!

Today, Microsoft released a new version of their music player the Zune
and again, they failed to offer something more than ‘good enough’.

In a market almost completely dominated by Apple’s iPod, their offering look like they could compete with last year’s iPods; that’s not good enough to compete with this year’s iPods.

They have a couple of features that iPods don’t have, like an FM radio tuner and wireless syncing, but nothing really compelling.

If the new Zunes existed in a world of their own, then they could be seen as excellent. However, they don’t and they aren’t. The Zunes are Microsoft’s answer to their own pathological need to enter and try to dominate every market that has any kind of software in it.

What they got right:

The new Zunes look sleeker than their predecessors
However, this is just a visual assessment. Last year’s Zunes looked good in pictures. But, about a month ago, I had the chance to hold one in my hand and my reaction ‘Wow, what a piece of crap’. It feels extremely clunky, especially when you compare it to the same year’s iPods. So, I’ll withhold further judgement on that one until I can hold one of these new ones in my hand.

Wireless syncing
It is nice to be able to sync your music player to your computer’s music library without having to connect it with a cable. Although, since you have to charge it usually, connecting it isn’t a big hassle. So this is nice to have, but not a big seller feature.

FM Tuner
Nice to have sometime. Again, not the most compelling feature for a ‘Personal Music Player’. The biggest draw of all digital music players is that they allow you to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want. Having somebody else make a playlist for you and interrupt it with talking and commercials is not exactly what most people want. But, it’s nice to have if you like talk radio from time to time.

What they got wrong:

Nothing compelling
While this not exactly something wrong, it’s still a drawback. There is nothing about the new Zunes that makes you go ‘Ooh, I must have that’.

Still no Mac support
If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously and give the impression that they’re not just trying to extend their Windows monopoly, then they need to start supporting other platforms. Like it or not, Mac users tend to be influencers. If Microsoft can’t seem to get itself to appeal to those who have a greater influence in the consumer electronics market, then they show that they don’t understand the market they’re trying to dominate.

Lame marketing
They announced this new version of their music player. But, it’s not available immediately (big mistake when they’re competing against Apple).

Their website is completely lame (I mean really, how hard is it to make a picture clickable? a tiny ‘learn more’ link is not enough).

The Zune’s site is a joke. For a company as big as Microsoft, you would think they could have hired an advertising company to design their promotional pages on the site. If you want to have a big share of a consumer electronics market, you have to get people excited about your products. Microsoft doesn’t give the impression that even they are excited about their own stuff. That impression carries to their audience.

The impression that I got from their site and from what I’ve read today in the media goes something like ‘Yeah, here is our new version of the Zune, we know it’s not as good as the new iPods, but we have to release something’.

Colors
The black one and the red one are OK, but the green and pink! ugh! those look like ugly toys. Got to have attractive colors.

That’s all I can think of without being able to see and hold one in person.

I’m a Mac user, and an iPod owner. I’m only disappointed in Microsoft because I believe that Apple is getting complacent. Currently, Apple doesn’t have any serious competition in the digital music players field. They’re not as innovative as they can be. Actually, that’s not the correct word. They are innovative, look at the iPod Touch. The more appropriate word is not ‘aggressive’ enough.

The iPod classic is basically the same as last year’s with bigger drives. No real innovation beyond a new metallic outer shell. Why there is no Touch with a big hard drive? If anybody is serious about watching video on an iPod, then the Touch has the largest screen, and consequently would need larger storage for the big video files. And why is there no Mail application on the Touch?

Only with healthy competition, can a healthy market exist. So far, nobody has put up any serious competition to Apple in the music player business.

To paraphrase Paul Giamatti’s character in ‘Shoot’em Up’, “Either Apple is really that good, or its competition really, really sucks”. From Microsoft’s recent offerings, it’s a bit of both.

Annoying Adobe Programmers!

After upgrading my four-year old Powermac tower to an All-in-one, Intel-based iMac, I needed to upgrade my Adobe applications in order to get the universal version. The experience hasn’t been thrilling; to put it mildly.

First mistake: I got it from Adobe’s site.

Adobe, in their attempt to use their own technologies on their own site, have opted to make it nearly all in Flash. You can never see where links lead and you can never be sure whether you downloaded a certain file or not yet. Not only that, but some features, like their feature comparison page between various version os CS3 suite do stupid things like open in a popup window. In an age where almost every browser on the whole internet is configured to block popup windows, they do it.

First I thought that their site was broken with Safari. But when I accessed it in Firefox, it was broken too. Only when I accessed it with IE7 on Windows did I get a clue.

See, on the Mac, Safari and Firefox didn’t do anything when I clicked the link to the comparison page. But IE7, well, it opened the popup window and then closed it; how smart is that?

Second mistake: I opted for their download immediately option.

When you download from Adobe, they use Akamai to serve the download, but it doesn’t work normally from a web browser like Apple’s site for example. It requires a Java client to download. That took me a while to figure out too. See, as a security aware web developer, I always run with Java disabled in my browsers. That Java client is the crappiest thing I’ve seen. It stopped downloading few times and the only thing that got it to resume downloading is to quit Safari, relaunch, re-login to Adobe’s site and start downloading again. It took an insane 8 hours (full of interruptions) to download the 2.5 GB file, over my 10 Mbit connection.

And the latest annoying thing is Photoshop. Sorry, excuse me, it’s ‘Adobe Photoshop CS3.app‘.

See, after installation, I tried renaming ‘Adobe Photoshop CS3.app‘ to ‘Photoshop.app’ in order to have a shorter name in my dock. But, Adobe’s programmers, in their infinite wisdom, insist that the application be called ‘Adobe Photoshop CS3.app‘.

Every time I launched ‘Photoshop.app’, it complained that the application has been moved from its original installation location, and some settings needed repair. Each time it asked for my password to perform these ‘repairs’ and yet they never stuck.

After 10 times or so, I broke down and renamed the application ‘Adobe Photoshop CS3.app‘.

The annoying thing is that only ‘Adobe Photoshop CS3.app‘ insists on this naming convention. Illustrator (formerly known as ‘Adobe Illustrator CS3.app’) didn’t mind the change at all. And why aren’t all the applications in the suite named like that? Dreamweaver is simply ‘Dreamweaver.app’ along with ‘Contribute.app’ and ‘Bridge CS3.app’.

And now, ‘Adobe Reader.app’, insists on making my browsers open any pdf file using Adobe’s extremely bloated plug in. Each time I delete their plugin from my internet plugins folder, some Adobe process insists on ‘fixing the problem’. This experience make me wish that some company steps up and give Adobe some serious competition in this domain. They’re starting to seriously abuse their users.

There, I feel much better now…

A start of a new era of design

Gateway One

Aluminum iMac

A new era of computer, and I’m sure other electronics, design is starting. Apple’s design influence is clearly showing in the new Gateway ‘One’.

Here is the new Gateway One, and below it you’ll find the new Aluminum iMac released back in August. A blind man could possibly see the similarities.

By the way, I’m using one of those iMacs with a 24″ screen. It’s sweet. I can’t believe how much quieter it is compared to my four-year-old G5 Tower. The quality of my office’s atmosphere is immeasurably better because of the lack of noise.

While the G5 was much quieter than the ‘Wind Tunnel’ G4 tower it replaced 4 years ago, it’s still a noisy beast, especially in the days of summer when the 9 fans it has would kick up because of the ambient temperature.

IMAP problems with Apple Mail.app

I’ve been wanting to use Apple’s Mail.app for a while now. I’m a very heavy email user; I send and receive hundreds of messages a day, I do so from multiple computers, so I use IMAP.

I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird which works great, however a couple of years ago I purchased a powerbook, so I though why not give Apple’s Mail.app a try, the interface is great – everything from a user experience is great. However, I had a problem with IMAP, and the problem is a delay in reporting the presence of new messages in the inbox.

So at the time, I did not feel like trouble-shooting the problem all that much, so I kept using thunderbird.

A few month later apple released Tiger and the best thing about it was Spotlight, and when I read that it also searches mail messages, I was really excited about using it.

So I got a new Mac mini with Tiger installed. When I gave Tiger’s Mail.app a try and the same problem was still there. Since my powerbook was still my main computer for work, I decided to stick with thunderbird.

Now I’m using a Macbook Pro (I’ll make a new entry for this one on its own), so I thought since I’ve changed my Powerbook to this, I might as well try to move to Apple Mail.app, maybe they have fixed the problem since the last time I tried, and as I expected the problem was still there.

This time I was prepared to take the problem head on, so I called Apple!!!

The gentleman I got asked me a few questions, I told him what the problem is, and first thing he tells me that I might have to reset my Mail application preferences in order to start fresh, so I tell him I’ve been having the issue on multiple computers with multiple versions of Mail from multiple networks. So he goes and talks to some other dude, comes back and tells me it looks like it might be an issue with the provider, so I stop him and say that the problem is only showing up when I’m using Apple mail, no other IMAP client is doing this, and to TOP it all off, I work for the provider and I’m one of the engineers that designed and maintains the system and I’m quite willing to work with him or anyone else to prove it’s not the provider. Then he tells me in so many words that I have to wait for the next update, but without formally acknowledging that there is a problem with Mail.app.

So if you’re using IMAP don’t use mail, it sucks from that perspective.