Zune Software Revisited

The Zune software player has gone through an update or two since I last checked it out at the beginning of the year, so I thought I'd give it another look. Unfortunately, I'm still not impressed.

The player is responding to the media keys on my keyboard, so I can play, pause, and skip quickly. It also does the neat (and useless, but I like it, so there) trick of updating your Windows Messenger status line. And it hasn't caused my computer to blue screen (yet).

However, when I set up the software, plugged in my Sansa media player, and told Zune to watch the E:\MYMUSIC folder, it did absolutely nothing. I thought it was supposed to automatically add the files to the library? I tried dragging and dropping the files from Explorer to Zune, but still nothing happened. It wasn't until I selected the files in Explorer, right-clicked, and said "Play with Zune" that the Zune player would play the files. It still didn't add them to the library, but it did at least create a playlist of all the files.

There are still features that are just missing. Automatic volume leveling, quiet mode, a graphic equalizer, crossfading, a mini-mode... These are all features that I can remember being built-in to programs for years, and are, in fact, built-in to Windows Media Player.

Now, when I first started writing this post, it was about a week ago, and as I was checking the Zune.net forums to see if I was the only one to complain about this, I noticed that Zune 3.0 was to be released very shortly. New features, including crossfading, were coming. So I decided to wait until now to install the new version and finish this post.

Unfortunately, if there are any new features, they seem to be reserved for the Zune device itself, as the desktop player is almost entirely unchanged.

I'm not suggesting the Zune team reinvent the wheel. There's no point. What they should be doing is making this a WMP plug-in. Not only would I, as a user, be able to take advantage of the features that already exist in WMP, but I could also download and/or purchase other plug-ins for WMP that enhance my music however I like, and I'd still have the "Zune Social" connection.

I've posted this suggestion in the Zune wishlist forum, and basically the response I got back was, "The Zune team couldn't do everything they wanted with the software within the confines of a WMP plug-in." To which I say, "Do they have to?" Keep their software with whatever it does as a separate app. Heck, all I really want is a plug-in for WMP that updates my Zune card with my plays, but let me use WMP as my player.

I suppose what I'm asking is not entirely reasonable. The Zune Social is meant for people who own Zunes and is meant to interact with Zunes. I don't expect any sort of DirectX plug-in that adds the PC games I play to my Xbox Gamercard, as that is meant for people who own Xboxes and is meant to interact with Xboxes. Still, it seems almost cruel to have a taste of this "social experience" thing and have it be so crippled when it could be solved by the simplest little piece of code.

*sigh* Maybe I'll check on it again in another nine months...


Best Buy Store 694 Customer Service

I've had to deal with the customer service desk at Best Buy Store #694 in SE Aurora, CO on four occasions since it opened (about 3 years ago). I have to say, I'm very happy with them.

The first time was when I had to exchange an Xbox 360 that was giving me the infamous "red ring of death". Since this was before Microsoft had owned up to their hardware failures and started fixing problems after 3 months, I decided to invoke the Best Buy product replacement plan. Took the box to the desk, they brought me a new one. I asked if I could keep my old hard drive, and they said it would be no problem. (It was a common request by this point.) They helped me unpack the new console and swap hard drives. Aside from time spent in line, I was in and out in probably 10 minutes.

The second time, I had ordered a game from BestBuy.com, and when it was finally delivered (UPS mis-routed it first, and then severe snowstorms prevented its final delivery another week), it ended up being the wrong game. I brought it to the customer service desk, and the gal working there explained that Best Buy stores and BestBuy.com were separate entities, so they were limited to what they could do. They checked to see if they had the game I wanted in stock, but they didn't (which was why I ordered online in the first place), so she said I'd have to deal with BestBuy.com's customer support. She then picked up the phone and called BestBuy.com's customer support, explained the situation, and turned the phone over to me so I could finish the details. She could've very easily just told me to go home and call them, but the fact that she took an interest in getting me in touch with whom I needed to talk to, to get my issue resolved, really went a long way to winning my respect.

The third issue was when we had just picked up a business points membership or some such promotion. We bought a couple items, and we were supposed to get a certain amount discounted. The register refused to give us the appropriate discount, and the cashier wasn't able to do much about it. (Not surprising. I've been a cashier, albeit in a grocery store, and for better or worse, you're given very little control.) She directed us to customer service. We took our receipt over, and the gal there worked with the register for a bit. Then fought with it. She wasn't able to get it to give us the precise amount of credit back on our credit card, but she figured out a way to coerce the register to give us a discount that resulted in a slightly higher amount (like a buck and a half), so she went with that and called it good. All the while, she had a very positive attitude about helping, even when the system was obviously frustrating.

And then comes the most recent experience. I figured this one might be the most... interesting. Once again, I had an Xbox 360 that needed replacing. Because the hard drive sizes had been increased, I figured this time, I didn't want to just keep my old hard drive; I'd want to transfer my data from the old drive to the new. I'd done the research to see what it would take and invoked the GeezerGamers.com network to obtain a hard drive transfer kit that Microsoft provides for this purpose. I entered the store, armed with the transfer kit and some fresh Krispy Kreme donuts for bribery.

Once I had selected my replacement system (a 360 Elite, which, since the Best Buy replacement plan is based on original purchase price and the console prices had dropped quite a bit, only cost me the price of a new replacement plan if I wanted it -- "You better believe it" was my reply to that), I explained what I wanted to do. I explained that I had the transfer kit with me, and donuts. She politely declined the donuts (saying that, oddly enough, I was the third person to offer her donuts that day) and asked what I would need. Just a TV, and I made a point of saying it would probably take an hour. (I figured it was only fair that she knew exactly what I was asking.) As it so happened, the Geek Squad desk around the corner had a TV monitor that they rarely use, and they were happy to let me use it. They couldn't assist with the actual transfer (a policy that comes from wanting to avoid getting into legal tangles transferring songs between MP3 players), which I understood completely. About an hour later, I handed her the old hard drive, thanked her again, again offered her donuts (which she again politely declined), and walked out with my shiny new Elite.

So I just have to give "mad props" to this store's customer service team. They've really helped me out. I'm not saying I'd expect them to break rules for me, though — before helping me, the gal (who is likely a customer service manager, which is probably why she was able to get me set up on a TV for an hour) had to be called over to explain to someone else that they can't price-match another store's bundle deal. But as far as helping me out with issues, they've been nice, friendly, willing to help, and willing to do what it takes to resolve whatever problem I've had.


I may be slow, but I'm FIRST!

I've been meaning to add this to my driving posts for a while. I just read an interesting article on Ars Technica, titled Selfish driving causes everyone to pay the Price of Anarchy, which is a pretty interesting discussion about an upcoming research article on traffic patterns and how, when each person is driving according to their own personal best interests, the entire group (including themselves) suffer.

It doesn't really have anything to do with this particular post, but it did remind me of one behavior I've observed and thought worth mentioning.

Many times, I've approached a stop light on a multi-lane road, where my lane is clear, but adjacent lanes have multiple people waiting at the light. Since I tend to accelerate fairly quickly "off the block", I like seeing this, because it means I'll get to reach cruising speed much faster. (One theory is, for better gas mileage, one should accelerate more slowly; however, in a hybrid car such as I drive, the theory is reversed, as faster acceleration is supposed to induce more assistance from the electric motor and actually decrease gas consumption.)

However, quite often, as I'm approaching the stop light, someone from an adjacent lane will pull out in front of me and take the "pole position". (If I'm lucky, it'll happen far enough in advance that I won't have to slam on my brakes to avoid a collision.) There are two possible, logical reasons for this behavior: (1) this person likes to accelerate quickly, and therefore wants to be where no one is in front of him, or (2) they need to make a turn soon and are changing lanes while they have a chance. However, way, way too often, this person will end up accelerating more slowly than the person they just got out from behind, and keep going straight for quite some time (i.e. several miles), even moving back into the lane they just left.

So what was the point of changing lanes? A better view of cross traffic before the light changed? A desire to witness the changing of the light for one's self? Mistrust that the car in front of them would actually be able to go once the light changed? Or that irrational fear of someone passing them, that same one that causes people in the right lane on the interstate to suddenly accelerate as I approach alongside in the left lane (note that I habitually drive with cruise control, so I'm reasonably certain my speed is constant)?

Or maybe this pathological desire to be "FIRST!" extends beyond internet comment boards?