From the very beginning I was optimistic about Microsoft's Zune media player. Not because I expected to replace my iPod with one, but for the same reasons that I liked it when cable companies release their own DVRs: because competition is good for marketplace and it forces all the players step up their game.
Just like I hoped that the Comcast HD-DVR would make TiVo sit up and take notice, I hoped that the Zune would light a fire under Apple to add features and improve the UI of the iPod. And both are started to happen, If you consider the Series III TiVo and the (prospect of a) 6G iPod "starting to happen."
The Zune itself is a decent-looking piece of hardware. I like the matte finish and the blue/black color of the "black" model. And while I'm all about brown, the brown Zune is atrocious and white makes it look like too much of an iPod wannabe. The Zune's display is larger than iPod's and it has a wireless sharing feature, but I couldn't find anyone else with a Zune to share with.
Another oddity is the Zune controller, anyone who has used an iPod before will immediately try to "scroll" around the wheel, like the iPod clickwheel does, but it doesn't work like that. Although it's round, the Zune controller is really just a directional pad that you click up, down, left and right. Scrolling down a playlist requires numerous down clicks, or holding and releasing the down button. This is really weird at first.
To its credit, the Zune UI is much prettier than the iPod's. Menus pulse, fade and glow whereas the iPod UI tends to just kind of stare back at you. Apple can clear regain the lead in this department if the 6G iPod is a phone-less iPhone, but that remains to be seen.
Luckily Zune comes pre-loaded with some content on it (Hint, hint Apple) because it's fully incompatible with the Macintosh platform. One potential future hack would be to use XNJB (that uses libnjb and libmtp) for low-level device communication between OS X and Zune, but as of now it doesn't allow file transfer making it useless.
That being said, if you want to use Zune with a Mac you'll need to do so by running Windows in either BootCamp or Parallels, which actually works just fine, if you're into such things.
The problem is that Microsoft has made no effort to make Zune work with the Mac, so they're essentially ceding the Mac media player market to Apple. But I wouldn't expect Microsoft to sit on the sidelines forever. Zune is only Redmond's first effort and Microsoft has deep enough pockets to compete in this market for the long haul. Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) has to be thinking that adding Mac compatibility has to potential to chip away at Apple's golden goose. Or are they?