Microsoft Fixes Zune-Vista Compatibility Issue

Microsoft on Tuesday fixed at least one of the issues with the Zune digital media player: a compatibility problem with Windows Vista, its new operating system scheduled for release on Jan. 30.

The patch may not be enough to turn around poor holiday sales of the software giant’s so-called iPod-killer, though.

Zune’s Vista incompatibility has drawn criticism as a launch blunder on Microsoft’s part — reminiscent of a similar issue that cropped up shortly after Apple’s iPod launch several years ago.

Apple saw high post-Christmas return rates on the MP3 player after consumers discovered it wasn’t compatible with Windows.

Microsoft addressed the incompatibility problem much more quickly than Apple did, however, with a 22 MB update that the company is calling “plumbing stuff … that customers will notice and appreciate.”

The update also streamlines the Zune software installation process, Microsoft wrote in its ZuneInsider blog. “So you should install the update, even if you’re not running Vista.”

Working Furiously

Microsoft declined to offer further explanation, but Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle said these types of compatibility issues are not uncommon with new Windows releases.

“With Microsoft, typically there is a gap between release to manufacturing (RTM) and when product is officially released to retail,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld. “During that time, folks work furiously both inside and outside of Microsoft to make their products compatible.”

“Release to manufacturing” is a term used in software development to describe the completion of the code. This usually occurs after beta testing, which may include several release candidates (RCs).

RCs are working versions of the product that are being refined and debugged. When software goes to the RTM stage, a copy of the program is sent out for duplication and distributed to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Window Closing

The window Enderle mentioned extends to the end of January, when Vista officially hits the store shelves or becomes available preinstalled in computers. Third-party vendors don’t bother to make their products compatible with a new Microsoft operating system before RTM, Enderle said, because it’s a waste of time.

“They wait. Otherwise you build compatibility in release candidate 1 and then they break it in RC2. Then you fix it in RC2 and they break it in RC3. So you do all of this work for nothing. Most folks realize it’s better to wait to ensure compatibility so they only have to do it once,” he explained.

Zune came out during a gray area, before RTM, so Microsoft anticipated having to update the product. Since Vista hadn’t been released and the company wanted to push its media player to the market in time for holiday shoppers, the software giant decided to release the Zune and issue a patch.

Consumer Annoyance

Enderle doesn’t expect much marketplace fallout from the patch. Zune hasn’t sold high volumes, and the consumers who did purchase the digital media player might not upgrade to Vista for some time.

“This was a tempest in a teapot. You only care what works with the product when you can actually buy it. Vista isn’t available yet. It would be like people running around right now complaining that Adobe doesn’t work on Apple Leopard,” Enderle argued. “It doesn’t matter.”

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