Zune Gaffe Just Business as Usual for Microsoft?

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
Some people say I like to beat Microsoft up. Not really. I just dislike bad technology, and Microsoft makes a lot of poor-quality hardware and software. Anyone unfortunate enough to own a 30GB Zune knows exactly what I mean.

Today, December 31st, many, if not all, 30GB Zunes, Microsoft's first generation of music players, stopped working. They were as dead as doornails.

Now, Microsoft is explaining that the so-called "Z2K9" glitch was the result of how the device's firmware handles leap years. While short on details, the Microsoft press representative also said that the frozen Zunes should start working again by noon GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) on January 1st. In other words, by 7AM Eastern time tomorrow morning, your bricked Zune should be working.

Microsoft assures users that they won't need to reset the time or do anything else fancy. If you buy Microsoft's story, users' Zunes will just magically start working again.

Specifically, Microsoft's rep said, "By tomorrow you should allow the battery to fully run out of power before the unit can restart successfully then simply ensure that your device is recharged, then turn it back on."

There's one additional problem if you have DRM (Digital Rights Management)-crippled content on your Zune from Zune Pass, "you may need to sync your device with your PC to refresh the rights to the subscription content you have downloaded to your device." Until you do, you won't be able to play any of this music.

This entire debacle puts a spotlight on two major problems. The first is that, yes indeed, Microsoft produces mediocre technology. Making a leap-year date mistake is one of the classic dumb programming blunders. That the developers could first make this mistake, and then let it pass through quality control, lives down to my already low expectations of Microsoft's standards.

But, there's another problem. One that, at the moment, we're missing because all the Zunes are currently broken. This next hitch is that the Zune's DRM content will be locked up for at least a short time tomorrow. If all goes well, then Zune's users will be able to get at their music. But, then again, maybe they won't.

For further details, you can visit the Microsoft Zune support site.

In any case, the point is clear. You really can't trust either Microsoft's products or, no matter who does it-- Microsoft, Apple or anyone else--DRM. The right way, the better way, is open-source without DRM's damaging restrictions.

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