Connecting the Microsoft Connected Entertainment dots

Microsoft's streaming music-service complement to the current Zune Music platform may get its debut at the E3 conference in June, according to a new report.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? That's what I feel like whenever I try to piece together the ever-evolving Microsoft "connected entertainment strategy.

The overarching idea sounds deceptively simple: Offer users games, music and video across all their screens -- TVs, consoles, PCs, tablets and phones.

Right now, Microsoft is partially there. It has been working with various studios and labels to try to secure the rights to make this happen. On the video side, the Softies have been rolling out new relationships with various carriers over the past several months to enable Xbox Live users to partake of more video and TV content on their consoles.

It seems the music component will be next up, with Microsoft ready to show off its new music service, codenamed Woodstock, according to Tom Warren at the Verge, as soon as early June at E3. Woodstock seems to be the Spotify-like service Microsoft has been working on for the past several months. According to The Verge, Microsoft is looking to bring the service to non-Microsoft devices and phones, too.

Zune Music and Zune Video already are on Xbox and act as "channels," or apps on Xbox, alongside third-party apps like last.fm, Netflix, etc. The idea with Woodstock is to add ad-supported streaming to these existing Zune services, according to one of my contacts who asked not to be named. The Zune Music and add-on Woodstock streaming service are all  expected at some point in the not-too-distant future to finally be renamed as Xbox-something. (I'd note that the Musiwave folks Microsoft acquired back in 2007 seem to be referring to the back-end platform simply as "Xbox Live Music" in their job postings.)

The Microsoft Music app preview that debuted along with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview also sounds like it will become part of Microsoft's evolving Xbox-something music platform. And there will be a browser-based version of the Woodstock streaming service, too, my contact said, confirming the Verge's report. (Maybe this explains in part why there's no Windows Media Player built into coming Windows RT tablets. Users will be expected to rely on the Woodstock streaming service for their music content, perhaps.)

Microsoft is doing more than just phasing out the Zune name. Late last year, the company signaled (but never actually said explicitly) that the ZuneHD is the last of the dedicated media players the company will provide. And earlier this week, the Redmondians said they were removing the Windows Phone app option from the Zune client software.

This removal is the first of several steps the company is expected to take along its road to replacing the Zune software client (that thing formerly known by codename "Dorado") with some kind of an ActiveSync service. This is expected to happen by the time Windows Phone 8 debuts at the end of this year.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft can clean up the branding and user experience around music enough to make its coming platform attractive not just to Microsoft loyalists, but to those using non-Microsoft devices, too.

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