by Travis Pope
Editor, ZuneSpring
last updated on October 7, 2009
first published on October 7, 2009


Up until this point we’ve been pretty reluctant to do reviews of Zune.net, mostly because there was never much there to review. Sure it could tell you more about the Zune product line but other then the Zune Social why should you waste perfectly good browsing time to go to a slow website about a product you likely already own? This is until this year. As part of the version 4 update to the Zune platform Microsoft has turned the Zune.net site into one of the best websites for consuming media.

A Sound History
Ever since the Zune debuted in 2006 we’ve seen yearly updates to its facade. In the beginning as well as for Zune 2 users were just treated to the basics, including the signature brown color and hip images that accompanied the player’s launch. Areas included Meet Zune, Artists, Accessories, and Support but lacked any real reason for existing other than to introduce you to the Zune. Of course there was and is nothing wrong with that approach at all. It’s a consumer device. What else what a website for a media player have?

Beginning in Zune 3 we started to see a shift in the website. clearly someone understood the value of having a proper web portal for Zune and media. Zune Social got it’s first update adding in a new arsenal of features designed to make it your social network of choice and clearly there were things going on under the hood. For example not until Zune 3 we’re you able to learn more about artists in depth, effectively allowing you the ability to browse for music, right from your browser! There was also the visual refresh, dropping the by the time dull and drab brown, and picking up a more mute, color scheme similar to the one it has today. In September Microsoft update Zune.net again. This time around Zune 4 has become much more of a key player in the Zune ecosystem. Now that I’ve bored you to tears let’s get to the gravy. Zune.net is longer an afterthought or a stepchild, held hostage by it’s device and software -far from it actually. It’s blossomed into the best place for you to stream your favorite media directly from your browser and more importantly one of the best Music oriented sites around.

Listen

Where before Zune.net let you learn about artists without having to open the Zune software, Zune.net v4 takes the experience to a much more logical place. For starters all of your favorite features from Zune.net v3 and 3.5 make there return, which is a massively good thing. For those who used last year’s star feature MixView it’s still available online for you to discover which artists were influenced by other artists. The full biography of popular artists also make their return as well. Now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way let’s get to the gravy! This time around the Zune team has made the Zune Marketplace fully reachable online, going as far as to create a mirror image of it’s counterpart from the software. Your picks are still displayed, all the music is sorted by genres, its really a more complete experience for browsing music. Once you’ve found the music you like what about playback? Zune.net 4 also introduces a Siverlight (Microsoft’s answer to Flash) player for music in the form of a fancy little iframe at the bottom of your window along with a pop-up player to dabble in if you so choose. You’ll also be pleased by the new follow artist system on the site, allowing you in one fell swoop to not only show your friends what artists you like but also keep up with those same artists from one nice interface.

Playback

So I get the feeling you glanced at the header for this paragraph and thought, “That doesn’t need an entire paragraph!” How wrong you are. In addition to the aforementioned Siverlight based player, Microsoft has also included some power goodies for music enthusiasts. The best among them? The ability to stream music within your browser via a ZunePass! Equally call is SmartDJ. Why bother putting together a playlist of related artists when you can have the website stream a playlist made just for that particular artist or song. There also the ability to make regular playlists on the website just as you would in the software!

Video
Although video hasn’t really gained giant new features on the Zune.net side side of things, you can now browse the TV Show, Movie, & Music Videos directly as well as view previews. You can also share these items with your friends via the Zune Tag and review them just as you have been able to do with music for a while now.

Podcasts

One of the best things about podcasts on Zune is how far the company is willing to go to create the best platform for both subscribers and creators. For starters the website now has a straight forward way to submit new feeds to the catalog. equally cool is that this area also allows you to browse it just like it’s Zune Software based cousin. All of that is fine and dandy but what about enjoying your favorite audio and video podcasts? It does that too, allowing you to enjoy the latest of Countdown on MSNBC and NPR’s On The Media without the need to download them to your computer first.

My Social

In this release the Zune social hasn’t really been beefed up as much as it’s been polished to a nice sheen so to speak. Your ZuneCard looks a lot better on the site and allows your to more quickly get at your badges, and overall the look of your just seems better displayed. Honestly is the same delicious cupcake, in national brand packaging, and since when is that a bad thing?

When Microsoft began this little endeavor we had no idea what they might think of. We thought they would have an excellent music jukebox player, or great services to help you make the best of your purchases. None of us really gave Zune.net two thoughts. They’ve managed to broadside us with arguably one of the best Music sites around, a social network for music that at it’s worst gives Pandora and Last.fm a run for their money, and also effectively tell Apple to take their boring iTunes website and shove it. Suddenly I can now have the Zune experience from any computer without having to download a thing! It’s funny but it kind of reminds me of the Wendy’s commercial that aired when I was a kid. Before Zune.net was an empty Styrofoam plate and now suddenly the beef is right in front of me! Zune.net is a highly useful portion of the Zune ecosystem, and I completely recommend it to people who have a Zune Pass, just a Zune, or those who like to research their music before they buy. It’s funny Microsoft started building a player and software, and ended up creating a platform. Bravo Mr. Softie. Bravo.



Zune.net 4.1