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Full Zune 2 coverage from Zunerama:
   Zune 80 review
   Zune 8 review
   Tour the new Zune user interface video
   Watch how wireless sync works video
Fun stuff:
   Unboxing Zune 80 video
   Unboxing Zune 8 video
   Zune gallery - close-ups and 360o views
More stuff:
   Zune software install
   Walk through Zune's PC software
   View Marketplace screenshots


Zune Software: preview of Version 2.1

Microsoft released its second generation of Zune players in November 2007, and along with it comes completely overhauled Zune PC software. Zune software verison 2.1 provides a much more intuitive, responsive, and cleaner user experience.

Zunerama's editors point out the highlights and features of this significant upgrade to Zune software. Click on any of the screen grabs below, to see a full-size version.

collection | device | marketplace | social | settings

First look

Take a look at the screenshot below - it contains a few new items that are used consistently throughout the new design of Zune software.

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The upper left corner contains main menu options (collection, device, marketplace, social). Additional main menu options appear when appropriate - for example, a "disk" menu option appears when a CD is inserted for ripping.

Clicking on each menu option causes a set of submenu choices to appear.

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The upper right corner of each screen has a Sign In for your Microsoft Live ID (needed to download Marketplace content); a settings menu that we'll drill down on later, a Help icon (taking you out to Zune.net/support), your standard Windows min/max/close controls, and a search field. The search field searches both your local collection as well as Marketplace content.

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In the lower left corner are three icons that are key to the Zune software's ease of use; they represent a connected Zune player, a CD, a playlist, or your PC (not shown).

The icons are outlined if they are not active - as shown in the first graphic below. In the second graphic, a Zune 80GB player has been connected to the PC. In the last graphic, a green Zune 8 has been connected, a music CD has been inserted, and a set of tracks has been dropped to the playlist.

Items can be dragged and dropped to these icons. Items can be dropped onto the Playlist icon to build a list for playing, burning to CD, or saving as a playlist. Items dropped on the Zune player will be synced to the player. Items dropped on the PC icon will be reverse-synced from the Zune player to the PC.

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The design is implemented consistently throughout the software, and has a very natural feel to it. High marks to the Zune team for an attractive user interface that "just makes sense".

Let's get into the actual use of the software. We'll walk through the menus, starting with...

Collection

Your "collection" refers to the content on your PC that is recognized by Zune software. In Zune software's previous version, this was known as your "library". I'm relieved that Microsoft changed that confusing term - in our tech support boards it often required clarification as users would confuse it with PC content or device content.

Under the Collection menu, five options are listed: music, playlists, videos, pictures, and podcasts. Let's check'em out.

Collection - Music

Your music collection is displayed in either a "browse" or "list" mode. You toggle between the two with the browse/list option in the upper right corner.

In browse (shown in the first pic below), your music is displayed in a single window by artist, album, or song title. You can adjust the width of each of the three areas by dragging the dividing line in between them.

Artists can be sorted by A-Z (alphabetical) and Z-A (reverse alphabetical). Albums can be sorted by A-Z, Z-A, Release Year, and Date Added. Songs can be sorted by A-Z, Z-A, Song Number, and Rating. (The song number option lists any songs that have a track number assigned to them.)

For each track, you can click the "heart" icon to rate the track - a heart for "like it", a broken heart for "don't like it", or leave it unrated. This is a departure from the previous 5-star rating system. It's sure to irritate some, but after using the software for a few days I'm willing to give it a go. (Your track ratings of two stars or less are converted to "don't like it"; three stars and up are converted to "like it".)

Right-clicking in the album area brings up a context menu with the following options: Play; Add to Now Playing; Add to Playlist; Add to burn list; Edit; Update Album Art; Delete; and Sync with Device.

All pretty self-explanatory. Note that "Edit" only allows you to change the album title. To fully edit your track data, you'll need to go into "list" mode.

Also, note that "Update Album Art" opens up a navigation window for you to select artwork on your PC. There is no online "Find Album Art" option, as with the previous Zune software version; instead, the software automatically searches for available metadata online. It will use that metadata unless you've overridden it with your own info or album art.

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In "list" mode, all of the tracks in your collection are shown in table form. While not as attractive as "browse", the list mode is more powerful. You can sort, ascending or descending, by any column. And you can update genre, album artist, composer, and other metadata fields.

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Default columns in list mode are Song, Artist, Album, Genre, Rating, and Sync Status. Right-click the column header to add or remove columns from the display.

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Right-click a field in list mode to edit it. These are metadata fields, which are embedded within the audio file itself.

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To add a track or album to a playlist, right-click it, select Add to Playlist, and select your desired playlist. Or, drag and drop a selection to the playlist icon in the lower left corner. In either case, you can add the tracks to an existing playlist, or create a new one.

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Collection - Playlists

Manage your playlists in this window, and create new playlists.

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One of the few disappointments for me in the new software: no auto-playlists! Surprising, as the previous version had some decent auto-playlist functionality.

I queried Microsoft about it this week; I've informally heard back that it was a trade-off made based on their findings that auto-playlists are not a widely-used feature. Hopefully we'll see this re-introduced in a future version - it'll have an impact on those people who rely heavily on Auto-Playlists.

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Collection - Videos

Your videos are listed here, sorted by name or by date added. You can right-click a video to edit the title. Don't try editing metadata for your videos though - you'll still have to use tools outside of Zune software if you want to update your video tag data.

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Collection - Pictures

Pictures are displayed, organized according to the folders on your PC. They can be sorted by name or by date taken.

Helpfully, the number of pictures within each folder is superimposed on the folder's icon. You can right-click a folder to launch a slideshow.

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Collection - Podcasts

Podcasts in your collection are displayed here, sorted by title or by date. See our Marketplace overview for more on finding and subscribing to podcasts.

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Device

The Device menu shows sync status and space used for any connected players. The left and right arrows near the player graphic can be used to rotate through any Zunes known to the PC. Zune software knows the color of those players and displays them accordingly, along with their device names.

During a sync, the status screen displays a running total of the items that have been added, deleted, or skipped in the sync. (Skipping of tracks can occur if, for example, the digital rights for a protected track have expired.)

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In a clever touch, the background color of the Device screens changes to match the color of the connected player. It gives a subtle reminder at a glance about which Zune player is plugged in.

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The content on the player is displayed and can be updated or deleted through the other device menu options: music, playlists, videos, pictures, and podcasts.

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Rip CDs

Whether you want to play, rip, or burn a CD, you'll use the CD icon in Zune software's lower left corner. It pretty much runs itself:

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Continue the walkthrough with a look at syncing wirelessly with your PC, and a tour of the all-new Zune Marketplace.

collection | device | marketplace | social | settings


Full Zune 2 coverage from Zunerama:
   Zune 80 review
   Zune 8 review
   Tour the new Zune user interface video
   Watch how wireless sync works video
Fun stuff:
   Unboxing Zune 80 video
   Unboxing Zune 8 video
   Zune gallery - close-ups and 360o views
More stuff:
   Zune software install
   Walk through Zune's PC software
   View Marketplace screenshots


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