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Zune end of life in sight – WP 7 software platform only, from here on in

While there has been no confirming story from anywhere else, the “scoop” delivered to us this week by Bloomberg, about the ending of the Microsoft Zun

By PETER WHITE

Published: 17 March, 2011

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While there has been no confirming story from anywhere else, the “scoop” delivered to us this week by Bloomberg, about the ending of the Microsoft Zune product line is hardly going to win the Pulitzer prize – we have widely predicted that “hardware” based devices, such as the Kin, but also including the more prominent PlayStation Portable, would become software platforms on the wider plains of the smart phones and tablets.

And given that we know that Nokia and Microsoft are midway through a program of rationalizing their mobile services – including music services – and that every future Nokia Smartphone could easily become a Zune player device, it would seem madness to continue with a device which is costing Microsoft an arm and a leg to produce, but which does not sell.

The Kin was the first time this step was taken in the Microsoft architecture, with a software version of the Zune being dubbed the Zune Phone, when it came out in April last year. It went on sale in a couple of models at Verizon Wireless in the US and was due for an international launch by Vodafone, but this never materialized due to poor US sales.

The big concern for Microsoft was that as the Zune becomes more and more entwined with Windows Phone 7, as an optional software element, was that other handset makers may not want an architecture which has been such an unmitigated failure as a stand-alone device, as well as on the Kin.

But with the obscene interlocking of arms between Nokia and Microsoft over WP7, Microsoft can retire Zune devices and offer up all its R&D and design nous, built up over various iterations of the Zune, to a multitude of Nokia phones, due perhaps more in 2012 than this year. The only question was whether or not Microsoft gave it one more refresh before putting all of its WP7 eggs into one omelet with Nokia.

This is more like the old Microsoft, keeping well out of the way of costly hardware creation, dictating direction purely from a software point of view and letting someone else make all the brave decisions about device components.

The Zune software stack has already been changed, and in 2009 it embraced the PlayReady DRM after all, which although it is a Microsoft product, was actually co-developed with Nokia’s help and relies on patents licensed from DRM IP specialist Intertrust. The Zune originally took an evolutionary dead end when it was developed, on the DRM front, opting for its own DRM, in the manner of iTunes, and trying to bind music to the device to force people to keep buying Zunes.

This was only really an artificial difference, since the underlying encryption process and key management process was the same as Windows Media 10 DRM (Janus), and the same as Microsoft PlayForSure, which was the DRM it released for customers of its MSN Music service. The divergence was that one was supposed to be a closed DRM and one an open DRM that could be licensed on any device. PlayReady has more in common with PlayForSure, but does far more – it supports the idea of domains, clusters of devices which are allowed to share content, because, for instance, they belong to people in the same family.

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