Welcome back for another edition of Ask enConnected! This month’s we have questions about all of Microsoft’s various entertainment products for consumers including Xbox, Windows Phone, Zune and now Windows 8! Now for the fun!

 How will Xbox Music change Zune?

Q. “I saw your news item on Xbox Music replacing Zune. What changes will there be if any?”

At this point we know more about intelligent life on Europa than we do about what changes may be coming as part of Xbox Music. So far we’ve only been told that the Zune Pass you know and love will still be available after the switch. As for the ultimate fate of individual pieces of Zune, Microsoft has yet to mention anything at all. We do know that Xbox Music will ship as part of Windows 8, but there’s still no word on what might be happing to the client that has powered the Zune experience on Windows 8, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.  Zune Social’s fate is equally vague. We’ll continue to scour the internet for relevant information and bring it to you the moment we know anything more.

 

 The Windows 8 media experience versus Zune

Q. “Is the media experience on Windows 8 better than using the Zune Software?”

The jury is still out on the merits of each. While I grew to be very fond of the Zune software, it’s beginning to show its age and the fact that it hasn’t been updated in any meaningful way for years certainly is improving my opinion of it. That being said the Xbox Music app on Windows 8 is very much like the Zune Software shortly after the 2.0 reboot. There’s lot of promise but there are features flat out missing including things like MixView, ratings, and the ability to edit any metadata. It is my belief that Microsoft is working hard to close the feature gap in between the two, so I won’t hold that against them until I’ve gotten my hands on the version they plan to ship to consumers.

What I will hold against them is the way the new Xbox Music app puts your personal music selection on the back burner to show off music in the marketplace. I’d like the option to have the application open and take me inside my media collection thus not immediately bombard me with the Music Marketplace and Xbox ads. Right now, it’s a wash. Ask me again in four months!

 

What’s wrong with Windows Media Center?

Q. “I’ve seen you bash Media Center a lot lately. Why the hate?”

I don’t hate Windows Media Center. I hate what Windows Media Center represents. Let me explain. In my eyes Windows Media Center is the living embodiment of everything that went wrong with Microsoft early last decade. The solution was complicated, a burden on the user, and left to partners to completely ruin. In short it represents the things that nearly drove me to iTunes and the Apple TV. As far as I’m concerned, if I have to do anything other than plug it in to my television and my internet connection, it’s neither easy to use nor relevant to today’s consumers and thus has to go. There’s no reason for Zune, Windows Media Center, and Windows Media Player to have all existed at the same time. I’m happy to finally see them correcting this in some capacity.

 

Windows 8 and Xbox LIVE

Q. “Will Windows 8 users have to pay for Xbox LIVE?”

This is another detail that Microsoft hasn’t really fleshed out. While it has publicly stated that Xbox LIVE will power the media experiences in Windows 8, it’s never once mentioned if there might be a fee associated with this besides paying for Zune Music Pass for example.

The Xbox 360’s version of Xbox LIVE has always had a premium tier for those who wanted to get the most out of the service’s online gaming aspects, but for the last two years use of Xbox LIVE’s entertainment apps have been behind the Xbox LIVE Gold paywall as well. On Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone however the story is different. Since there’s no entertainment apps to be used through Xbox LIVE and no multiplayer gaming of any kind, the service is seen by the company to be a “companion experience” and thus doesn’t have any features associated with Xbox LIVE Gold. I suspect that we’ll have to wait until Microsoft talks more about Xbox Games on Windows 8 to know more. If it’s a gaming service on the PC and thus not exactly a companion experience I could see some features requiring Xbox LIVE Gold, but my hunch is that it won’t. Instead you’ll only be able to play small Xbox LIVE Arcade style games similar to those available on Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone. That means achievements and little else. Either way you’ll definitely be looking at ads in Xbox Music, Xbox Video, and Xbox Games regardless so you’ll be paying one way or another.

 

Xbox Spring Dashboard Update

Q. “What does the Xbox Spring Dashboard Update Do? I just got the alert to download it today.”

According to Xbox’s Larry Hryb that Spring Dashboard Update, “The system updated contains behind the scenes improvements & prep for future enhancements.” Just think of the update is plumbing behind a wall connected to the faucet you use every day.

 

Previewing the next version of Windows Phone

Q.  “Is there anything more to be known about in advance of the Windows Phone event next Week?”

Chris, honestly I’ve seen a lot of rumor and wild speculation but non if it is totally confirmable at this point. The rumors being exactly what they are, don’t forget that we learned a lot about the next version of Windows Phone from a leaked video of Corporate Vice President of Windows Phone Programming Joe Belfiore. In the video he wet our appetite for the next generation of Windows Phones with talk of four different screen resolutions, multi-core processors, external storage, Near-field communication hardware, SkyDrive storage and syncing, Skype, and device encryption. (Chris is referring to the Windows Phone Developer Summit scheduled for June 20th. You’ll be able to tune into the livestream via Microsoft’s Channel9, or right here on enConnected.)

 

And that’s Ask enConnected for June, we’ll be back for another go around again in a few weeks, I promise. Do you have questions about Xbox, Windows Phone, Windows 8, or the leftovers of Zune? Email your questions or leave a message on our new voicemail at 1-847-497-5483.