Five lessons the rest of Microsoft can learn from Zune

Five lessons the rest of Microsoft can learn from Zune

Summary: What learnings can the rest of the Redmondians take away from Microsoft's digital-media player team? A while back, I listed ten lessons that the Xbox team could teach the rest of Microsoft. Now I'm wondering the same about the Zune side fof the house. Here's what's on my short list.


If you buy into Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's logic, consumer -- not enterprise -- is where the action is, these days. The cool tech innovations are coming from the consumer world and being adopted by business, not vice versa.

Five Lessons the rest of Microsoft can learn from ZuneSo what learnings can the rest of the Redmondians take away from Microsoft's digital-media player team? A while back, I listed ten lessons that the Xbox team could teach the rest of Microsoft. Now I'm wondering the same about the Zune side fof the house. On the short list:

1. Don't introduce anything in brown. Ever. No logos, no product boxes. And definitely no gaming consoles or other consumer devices. (That said, I must be part of the one percent of the population who liked the brown Zunes. I liked them more than the white ones, for sure. And possibly more than the new green ones.)

2. Keep your bleeding-edge adopters happy when rolling out updates to your product to earn brownie points. Microsoft's decision to provide Zune 1 users with all the new functionality and features that the Zune 2 users are getting won the company lots of kudos.

3. Little details matter. The new free laser-engraving Microsoft is offering with the new Zunes is a very nice touch. I'm not trading in my Sony Walkman yet (so that I could get from Microsoft my five free lines of engraved text -- something classy like "Bye, bye iPod"). But it's still a cool extra.

4. Steer clear of spokespeople who tattoo your logo on themselves. Especially when they do it three times (and change their name to "Microsoft Zune"). They are not the ones you want doing your "I'm an iPod" and "I'm a Zune" commercials.

5. Wait out your competitors. Your motto: First they ridiculed. Then they mocked. And finally, they succumbed. The Zune 2s are way less clunky than the Zune 1s. By the time the Zune 3s roll out, maybe that ugly button in the center will be gone. And perhaps Apple will have made some blunders -- like Sony did in the PlayStation vs. Xbox wars -- that will give Microsoft an added boost.

Any other tips/tricks you think the Zune team could show the rest of Microsoft? Or Microsoft's competitors, for that matter?

Topics: CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • In revserse - don't remove features

    Zune 2s don't have a good rating system for songs. The software doesn't have autoplaylists (!!) - something every other player has and makes it impossible to manage subscription music.
  • RE: Five lessons the rest of Microsoft can learn from Zune

    I guess even Microsoft has to have a fan...
  • Laser engraving?

    Like the iPod has had for years?


    Sorry, that's Vista, isn't it?
    Doug K
    • My thoughts exactly .

      Laser engraving on the ZUNE . Big whoop , APPLE has been doing it for years . I recall
      back a few months when Mary Jo claimed that Leopard was a ripoff of Vista . Talk
      about Zealotry Mary Jo , you really should remove your head out of Ballmers buttocks
      and see what has really been going on these past couple of years . GOOD GRIEF !
    • You don't get the point, do you?

      It's just another feature! Dude.

      I'm quite sure Zune has had the WiFi feature for such a long time already, and now Apple has it, they're not a copycat either? Based on your reasoning of what's copying, the same can be said for this.

      And what does Vista have to do with anything?
  • Little details

    Like making a player that actually isn't a pain in the butt to

    Your point 5 is hilarious. Let me translate:

    Pray MS makes absolutely NO errors in execution while
    Apple makes tons of errors.

    Not likely.

    Zune 2, the paper tiger mewls again.
  • And yet they are still second place

    Yeah, about that Xbox 360, My Wii is still sitting at home waiting to be sold to the highest bidder.

    I would do that with the XBox, but for some reason or another, Microsoft could keep up with demand after only a single year. Oh and to have a product in production for 2+ years and be outsold by one that has been out for barely over a year, for shame.

    The Zune will sell when it stops being the Wal*mart mp3 player. Until then it is simple a piece of second place garbage that screwed over the Plays4Sure loyal.
  • Zune engraving appears to be better

    Why don't people just stop blabbing their silly mouths off about Zune 'copying' laser engraving? Sheesh, it's just a feature. The last time I remembered, it wasn't illegal to put your milk in a nice pretty attractive container, only because your competition has already done that.

    Zune engraving is just another feature to draw people more to the Zune. You can probably say Apple copied off the Zune idea of putting WiFi on a music player. Silly, right?

    Take a look at this article, there's a nice interview about the Zune engravings, and many pictures and close-up details about them:

    And based on the comments of this article, it looks like Zune engraving really does top out iPod engraving:

    So there.
    • Isn't engraving on a Zune like lipstick on a pig?

      • No, the Zune

        is a pretty cool piece of hardware. More like putting lipstick on a model.

        The Zune software, on the other hand...
      • Zune = pig ?

        I think you need to be schooled in what's an animal, and what's a device.
      • Good one;-)

        Number one lesson:

        1) Continue to closely follow Apple. When copying don't think you can do it better,
        rip off the idea completely. Actually might be easier if you simply call your projects
        by the Apple equivalent. Echo Steve Jobs, not lack of Monkey Dancing.
        Richard Flude
      • Not exactly

        It is worse - more like lipstick on a turd.

        The Zune is what you buy if you are brain dead and love cheap looking, junk; it is only for people who are relentlessly attracted to kludgey junk or know no better.

        Hey, that is the marketing story line: Zune! The music player for the unintelligent. (Come to think of it, that is the same Windows/Xbox/Windows Mobile story line; okay, that works; it is consistent across the whole Bloatfarm. Why not replace it with one message: Microsoft builds mediocre junk! That certainly is catchy and it IS true.
        Jeremy W
  • Brown Zunes rule!!!

    I bought all my Zunes in brown the absolute second I could. Of course now with Zune v2 I will be buying the green ones for all members of my family. One of my MCSEs made a comment that the brown Zune looked like the old Mattel hand-held soccer electronic game. I chuckled at first and then, with a fiendish grin said "YOU'RE FIRED!". Nobody, and I MEAN NOBODY makes fun of the Zune in any way, shape or form. This is not just some lightweight consumer technology, this is LIFE ITSELF.
    Mike Cox
    • 8.9, Mike!!!

      Well done, even if you DIDN'T mention your rep, or those fine cigars that you and he enjoy . . .
    • Oh yeah. Just like UPS - the tune box from the Bloatfarm

      Who in his right mind wants something that looks like a turd brick in his pocket? Only the fashion challenged buy the tune box from the Bloatfarm
      Jeremy W
  • Zune did everything wrong about the ipod

    Okay the single biggest thing that bothers me about the Zune is how they married it to a single music store (Zune Marketplace) and software. IMO they had less of a reason to do it than Apple, because MS had the PlaysForSure system established before the Zune team was ever formed. They deliberately made it incompatible which brought down the customer base three-fold. They lost non-Zune customers who might have preferred them for music purchases, they lost R&D dollars reinventing the wheel, and they lost would-be Zune owners who have a sizeable PlaysForSure library already. I would be *very* interested to see how they've gotten an ROI with the Zune marketplace over just implementing PlaysForSure. Maybe they were worried about how PFS has been cracked a few times?

    The second thing that lost me on the Zune was the face that they made it so that you *must* use the Zune software to sync it. I loathe the Zune software nearly as much as I loathe iTunes. It's like they took the worst parts of Windows Media Player and made it a new piece of software to recognize the Zune. Again, what was so bad about WM player (that wasn't made worse than the Zune software) that a plug-in was out of the question. or better yet...

    Why didn't they just make it mass storage compatible? I mean, they could have easily taken a page from Creative and made it either a mass storage drive with the option of syncing from WM Player, their own software, or any number of other software titles, like Napster, Musicmatch, or even the new Winamp? Just in that list alone, there are six different ways to get content onto the player, so the end user can pick the means that works best for them, but the official documentation can explain the Zune software to minimize support issues.

    Finally, a little more format support would have been nice. DivX, XviD, MPEG-1/2/4 with no conversion would have been awesome and might have sold me on the Zune. Instead, the need for conversion offers no advantage over the iPod, while Creative, Archos, and Toshiba all enable users to do this. as an added bonus, why not support OGG and FLAC? sure only 0.01% of the market would actually use it, but since there are no licensing costs and their ultimate goal is to sell as many Zunes as possible, why not give this niche (which is largely the tech savvy who other go to with questions like "which MP3 player should I buy?") a reason to put away their anti-MS bias and at least look at a Zune?

    I will say though, I 100% agree with Mary Jo on point #2. giving current users all the new features via a firmware upgrade has given them some leniency from me - I think that it was a good thing to do and will keep their current install base happy - a group they can't afford to lose.

  • RE: Five lessons the rest of Microsoft can learn from Zune

    How about getting rid of drm?
  • i know, the key to selling millions...

    much like their ever-popular windows software, make the whole device run using a 'wizard.' people love wizards, they are so helpful.

    i think microsoft can learn a lot from this venture into consumer electronics - they are not very good at R&D. a few years ago when we heard "redmond, start your photocopiers," we heard the true philosophy of microsoft. copy the world's leading edge ideas, but don't refine the rough edges. leave enough wrong with basic features and functionality so that it is markedly different and avoid legal actions.

    the mp3 'wars' are over slick japanese devices and the ipods have already won.
  • What they need to do is....

    1) Provide SDK for developing 3rd party apps for the Zune
    2) Provide and SDK/API for communicating with the Zune, so that 3rd party Zune Utilities can be developed for it. This should include Linux/OSX/BSD at least.
    3) Sell absolutely no DRMed Music.
    4) Support most of the formats MP3/OGG etc