The Archive: Microsoft Zune

Few devices carry the infamy like the Microsoft Zune. Microsoft’s answer to the iPod only lasted a few years before it was ultimately discontinued to help pave way for the Windows Phone. While the Zune name lived on for a little while longer (as the name of the music service), that too was retired and now lives under the Xbox Music banner. It now has become the butt of many jokes and even still referenced in pop culture as something that is old and out of date (See: Guardians of the Galaxy 2). As someone who was in the Apple camp since the iPod, I always wondered how the Zune worked since I couldn’t afford both at the time.

This summer that finally changed. Thanks to some judicious tracking of shopgoodwill.com, I was able to acquire a decent part of the entire Zune lineup. My collection now has a 1st generation 30GB, a 2nd generation 4GB & 8GB Zune “mini”, and the touchscreen Zune HD. All three of these devices represent an equivalent to the three main Apple devices I had over the years (iPod 30GB, iPod Nano 8GB, and the iPhone 3G respectively). What I find incredible is that the Zune had unique features well before they became mainstream in other devices, such as on board wifi and mobile song purchasing. They also came too late, arguably, to make a dent in the marketplace before phones really took their market share. 

While all of my collection obviously shows signs of use, they all also still work. It’s pretty wild that I can easily pull out a Zune, plug headphones in, and rock out like I have an iPod playing. The Zune UI is also very different from what iPods had at the time and is arguably the starting point for the Windows Phone 8 interface. The physical design language varies a little bit but is mostly “functional utilitarian” as I see it. Sharp corners, exposed screws, and brushed metal all dominate the look and feel of the Zune devices. Similar to the Apple iPod, all of these MP3 players also have a metal back (brushed metal instead of the chrome look of the iPod). As our phones these days are generally metal and glass (with some plastic in there), it’s cool to see the era of plastic and metal of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. 

One thing I wasn’t expecting when starting to collect devices I wanted in the past was the fact that servers eventually get turned off. That becomes an issue when you are trying to set up a device as a new one and it’s reaching out to a server that no longer exists. The Zune family has this issue which requires a complex set of instructions and spoofs to get it to work. How complex? Let’s just say I’m learning how to do a local web server to spoof the defunct Zune one. It’s not going well!

I do like the Zune. It is refreshingly different, even today. If only Spotify would let me load music onto these….

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