Dorado: One more key to the Microsoft mobile puzzle

For those attempting to decipher Microsoft's mobile roadmap, there have been codenames galore to decode. Pink. Turtle. Pure. Rouge. Zune Phone. There's one codename that isn't brand new, but is still a key piece of the Microsoft Mobile puzzle: Dorado.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

For those attempting to decipher Microsoft's mobile roadmap, there have been codenames galore to decode. Pink. Turtle. Pure. Rouge. Zune Phone.

There's one codename that isn't brand new, but is still a key piece of the Microsoft Mobile puzzle: Dorado. Dorado is the codename for the Zune HD interface software for the PC. (Here's a video about Dorado that even refers to it by its codename from Central Planning TV, one of the agencies working with Microsoft on the Zune HD branding/marketing.)

As Zune HD users, of which I am one, know, the Dorado software is very un-Microsoft-like. There's no Windows Start menu, no Ribbon,  and, while it incorporates technologies developed inside Microsoft, it offers a very different kind of user experience.

Currently, Dorado is the back end hub for Zune players. But as Microsoft officials have said, the company isn't staying in the dedicated media player business; its plan is to turn Zune into a service for music subscription, video subscription and more for media players, phones, gaming consoles (and maybe PCs, too).

So what does that mean for Dorado? Does it become more iTunes-like, delivering not just current kinds of content, but also software, ebooks, games and more to Windows Phone and Xbox console users?

Microsoft isn't talking about Dorado's future. In fact, the company won't say much about the Zune PC software at all, as officials' reticence to discuss the new features and under-the-cover tweaks it made to the 4.2 Dorado "maintenance release" it pushed out last week. But others are willing to speculate on what might be next, given Microsoft's plan to allow phone makers to include Zune with their mobile phones.

"Dorado, the Zune app, is the equivalent to iTunes with Windows Mobile 7," said one Microsoft-savvy source of mine who requested anonymity. It will let you "sync content, buy content, update the device." And as the differences between dedicated MP3 players and cell phones continue to diminish, it's not much of a stretch for the Dorado app to be able to act as the back end for phones, too, the source said.

That sounds straightforward enough, in theory, but the reality is a lot more complex.

"Apple's App Store is integrated into iTunes on PC and Macs -- you buy Apps from within the iTunes interface. I suspect they'll do that with the iBook Store as well," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "Microsoft's situation is much more fragmented because the stores differ based on device and content type. So for example, you can't access your Zune downloads or Zune Pass from the Xbox, even though both are entertainment devices, (yet) it might make a lot of sense to play music from your Xbox through your home stereo system. I don't think it matters as much with the other marketplaces -- you buy mobile apps from the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, and other types of apps from Microsoft's online store (or, more likely, directly from their vendors)."

Travis Pope, who is with the ZuneSpring.com site, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Zune integrated into Windows as a replacement for the current Windows Media Player.

"I think you'll start to see Microsoft continue to fill out the Zune software's capabilities, in preparation for it's inclusion in the next version of Windows. In the fall we noticed hidden half implemented support for Internet Radio. Even in the recently released 4.2 update Microsoft added libraries to the software. When people talk iTunes alternatives on Windows they don't mention Windows Media Player. Why would they? The spotlight is on Zune. Now they'll add features from Windows Media Player, and once they're done, it'll be taken out back and shot, as it should be."

Pope also said he thinks video will be Microsoft's biggest differentiator from iTunes and other vendor-specific solutions.

"Music, podcasts, and TV shows aren't the reason you create your own vertical solution and lock out everyone else there. Let's not forget iTunes does Music, TV Shows, Podcasts, Apps, iTunes U, and audiobooks. Microsoft needs a trump card, and my money is on video. iTunes has music locked up, but steaming video, and downloads is clearly anyone's game. Zune Video Pass anyone?"

If and when phones can use the Zune software to update and sync, certain changes would likely be made to the Zune app, said Zune Most Valuable Professional (MVP), Marques Lyons, founder of InsidetheCircle.net.

"I would think that the software should be able to detect when a Windows Phone is connected and give it a little icon like it does current Zune devices. Should people be able to name their phones in the same manner that they name their Zune device? Sure, why not? It should also be able to tell you how much memory is on said phone so that you can effectively put the media you want on it."

Making Dorado the hub for phones isn't a trivial task, said Makram Daou, editor of the MobileTechWorld.com site.

"Microsoft will have to find a way to merge the Zune service with Windows Mobile Center on Windows.. That's one thing, The next one is to finally make Zune (the player) the default media player on Windows Mobile handsets. I say 'player,' because I don't think that Microsoft is currently in the position to offer what iTunes does in terms of being a music marketplace for the world."

Microsoft won't be able to ban carriers from implementing their own music stores on Windows Mobile phones, Daou noted, so Microsoft will have to strike deals with carriers to make the Zune Marketplace the exclusive marketplace for particular phones. Then there's the question of how Microsoft will handle Zune videos on Windows Mobile.

"Bandwidth is going to be a problem so it will probably be downloadable content (like on iTunes) first, then SilverLight streaming in 2011/2012," Daou said.

No one to whom I talked mentioned the dreaded "A" word (antitrust). To what extent can Microsoft integrate the Zune software in Windows without setting off a new rash of antitrust complaints? (Perhaps if the Zune software simply replaces Windows Media Player, that will be less of an issue?)

In any case, I'll be curious what Microsoft has to say not just on the mobile operating-system front with Windows Mobile 7 and Pink phones/devices, but also on the Dorado/Zune interface software side of the equation in the next couple of months. Anyone else have any thoughts/guesses as to what's in store for Dorado?

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