Coming Zune and Thoughts on Blogging Services

So the new Microsoft “iPod killer”, the Zune, came out today. Aaaaand guess what, everyone says it sucks. Are we suprised? Nope, not really. It had all the potential to succeed as a hardware item, despite the fact that it’s as big as a 1st-generation iPod, it has a much bigger video screen, a rumored very good battery life, and a pretty good interface.

Here’s why it is terrible.

1. You would think that as a Microsoft product, it would just interface with the standard Windows Media player ALREADY ON Windows XP – running computers, and that it would play content encoded under WMP’s DRM scheme, called “PlaysForSure”. Hey guess what, you’re wrong. It will NOT play any media encoded with PlaysForSure, and it doesn’t interface with Windows Media Player at all, it has it’s own software, called Zune Jukebox, with it’s own DRM scheme that only the Zune will support.

2. If you’ve bought anything from Microsoft or Itunes and expect it to play on the Zune, you’re out of luck, because the Zune will not be able to play them because it won’t support either of their DRMs. Of course, you could do the smart thing and just strip the DRM from your media, but the legality of that is ambiguous at this point.

3. The Wi-Fi built into the thing ONLY lets you connect to other Zune players, not the internet or your home computer. And you CAN send music to other Zunes to let them listen to your song….for 3 days, at which point your zune will lock it out and make you buy the track. BUT you can’t buy directly from the player at launch either!

4. No support for podcast integration at launch, no ability to use the device as a hard drive, no video availible at launch, no ability to buy songs directly (you must buy “blocks of points” and spend the points on songs), and comes with useless pre-loaded content

Yeah, good job there, Microsoft. It’s bad enough you have to compete with the iPod, which has diffused extremely widely into the marketplace and dominates the third-party accessory marketplace, but then you attempt to do so with a very substandard software package to go with a semi-decent player. Sorry, but from where I sit, you fail.

HUGE EDIT NEWS: And if that all wasn’t bad enough, the Zune is INCOMPATIBLE with Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released new version of their Windows OS, Windows Vista!! http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=2237 I reiterate my point, Microsoft. YOU FAIL!

Topic 2 for the day: Blogs. Specifically, blogging services. I began my blog a long time ago on Xanga when many of my friends from church started their own. Since then I’ve experimented quite a bit with Blogspot Beta (aka Blogger), and just recently I started experimenting with LiveJournal. Why? Because I like learning. I like seeing what else is out there. Who’s got what features and how useful/cool they are. So I present to you, my reader fans….

“Brandon Reviews Blog Services!!”

I’ll do this based on categories, comparing how well each service functions compared to the other. To see each of the blogs I have setup for the purposes of this review, please utilize the following linkage!!

http://www.xanga.com/ninefifteen99
http://thebmatt.blogspot.com
http://bmatt7883.livejournal.com

Category One: Making a Post

How easily can one make a post in each of these services? How much customization does it offer?

Xanga: In Xanga, making a post is pretty darn easy. All you have to do is go to your site, click the “sign in” link, and then a new bar will appear at the top of your blog, where you can select “New Weblog Entry” The post editor recently underwent a substantial upgrade, giving you a large number of features from most word processors to post with, including lists, indentations, color changing options, strikethrough text, even a list of emoticons. Tabs at the top allow you to easily add photos, audio, and video. Hit a check box and you can now use HTML if you so want. Not bad.

Blogspot: Bear in mind that all my comments reflect the new Blogspot Beta, which you have to register with Blogger, and then convert your account to the Beta, which entails signing up with Gmail for a login address. Since I already utilize Gmail, no big deal. Once you sign in, you can immediately click the “new post” link to make your post. Blogspot’s current markup tools are limited at the moment to only a few text markups, lists, and text color. You can edit in HTML, however. Blogger’s picture button will let you choose if you want your pic centered, right or left justified, and generate a clickable thumbnail of whatever size you want. However, it will ALWAYS place the pic at the top of your entry, instead of where you left the cursor last, and will do so for however many photos you add. Janky.

Livejournal: Livejournal’s pretty similar to Xanga in their ease of signing in and availible options to change your fonts with, but the “rich text” mode is not enabled by default. You have to personally select it. Bit annoying there. Videos, pics, ability to edit HTML in a seperate window, all there.

Category The Two: Making Your Blog Yours

What options do you have to customize your blog’s layout, and how easy to use are they??

Xanga: Xanga offers a wide selection of templates for users to pick when they sign up. Most of them seem to be the exact same layout, but with different colors. Xanga does allow “skins” for premium members (which costs money) which allow you essentially code up your xanga from scratch, but they also allow layouts, which more or less just “tweak” the look. For an example, take a look at Kindel’s xanga. She uses a custom layout by someone else. However, the basic structure of her xanga is more or less the same.
Aside from that, you can edit the basic colors and header of your font, with quick previews availible. That’s more or less about it. No multiple links, no custom images anywhere. You can change your interests in your profile, and link your screen names for various IM clients. When posting, Xanga has the very nifty “Xangazon” which lets you post a Amazon.com link to what you’re currently reading, playing, listening to, or watching on DVD. Extremely nifty.

Blogspot: This is where Blogger truly shines, especially in Beta. The original required you to edit your template’s code directly to change your links or anything, but the new Beta provides an awesome GUI where you can edit a ton of elements about your blog. You can add link lists, regular lists, move your profile info, tag list, and posting history where ever you like, and add little modules to hold any html code you like. That is how I have my own profile link, list of recently played tracks, categorized remote links, and my “Yoda Says” section. None of that would be availible to me in xanga or livejournal.You can easily change font colors (and fonts, though there aren’t many to pick from), and still edit the code directly if you desire. All that with easy previews.

Livejournal: Livejournal has a set of templates you can pick from, a set of color schemes to pick from there, and the ability to directly change the colors of every element to whatever you like. Forget changing individual fonts, and the descriptions of what you are editing are difficult to understand, and there’s no handy preview option. Custom styles = restricted to paying users. They claim there’s a link list you can add, but I have not found out how to edit it. If it’s not a paying customer feature, then it really shouldn’t be this well hidden. Multiple userpics is another awesome feature. You can have Livejournal choose a different userpic (up to 15) associated with each post you make, if one of them more represents your current feelings on them The thing I REALLY like about LiveJournal is their Mood Icons. They let you display your current mood with each post, complete with a cute little graphic representing that emotion. Theres a big list of choices for the icons, though most of them are a little overly cutesy. It’s still quite a cool little feature that I have not found a way to replicate on any other service. Too bad there’s so little else availible. You can list your current music, but it provides no links for it at all.

Category Ones. Twice. Three – Networking and Popularity

Finding other people on this service, and how easy it is to keep up with their blogs.

Xanga: Xanga has a pretty big community of people out there on it, so it’s a good bet you’ll find someone you know already there. You can easily subscribe to someone’s blog, which puts them on your site in a list that you can go through and read. You can also view all your subscriptions most recent posts in one window, or you can have them emailed to you. I personally have my list of subscriptions set to sort by update, which means when you update, you shoot to the top of my list, so I can easily see who’s active. Not bad at all. In fact, the community is the main reason I maintain my xanga.

Blogspot: There’s a pretty good size number of people who are on Blogspot, but there’s no community features built into it, no subscription lists, no way to have new posts emailed to you, nothing. If you want to keep track of a Blogspot Blog, you essentially just have to check it periodically via a bookmark in your browser or link, or via an RSS feed.

Livejournal: Livejournal is another source that does the community aspect very well. You can search for and add people as friends, easily link people’s journals in your post with a neat little tag, and it even has a “friends” page which shows your friends most recent posts. If someone has added you as a friend, there’s a list for that as well. Not bad at all. I’m not sure how well known livejournal is, I rarely hear people mention having one, I believe it’s more niche. Many people associate Livejournal with a negative stereotype of people posting depressing or whiny things, moreso than other blogs.

Category Teh Final – Overall Thoughts

Xanga: Xanga was my first blog and I’ll probably always keep it, if only for easy access to all of my friends who are on it. The Xangazon is a big plus, especially since it displays the artwork of whatever you’re “currently doing”. But overall, I think they could do more with customization of the whole affair, especially allowing a personal links section, allowing more personal HTML items, all without paying for it or needing to understand how to script your own layout.

Blogspot: If Blogspot had better networking capabilities, I wouldn’t bother with xanga anymore. Blogspot direly needs to set up a subscription model and fast, because right now it has the absolute best customization means availible without paying. Also, they really need to figure out a better posting GUI, because not only is theres limited, it’s somewhat messed up in handling certain basic HTML tags. That’s not so big a deal, just requires it to be played around with. I really wish they had a “current mood” or “Currently playing/listening to” option of some kind as well. It’s a little thing, but the little things all make it work best.

Livejournal: It has some nifty minor features that I think the other two would do well to adopt, mostly the multiple userpics, the current mood icons, and the calendar is pretty neat, but aside from that, unless you have a really good size network of friends already on it, and don’t mind the overall lack of options to customize, I wouldn’t bother with livejournal really.

So that’s it. Share your thoughts on these things if you have any!

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