Zune Crew

Official Zune Team Employees

Windows Weekly Podcast Interview with David Caulton of the Zune Crew

Mar 092007
 
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Paul Thurrott of WinSuperSite.com and Leo Laporte of LeoVille.com have a great podcast interview with David Caulton from the Zune marketing team. Dave is a sharp individual and really knows his business about the Zune player and where Microsoft is going with the Zune product line. It’s an hour long audio interview available in mp3 format that is well worth the download. The cover quite a bit about the Zune including some of the shortcomings in the device such as copy protection and other drm services as well as what direction Microsoft is taking with the new line.

Dave opens up the question of podcasting support and they hit him on it. Dave acknowledges the need for podcast support but dances around about when. Dave is very good at these things and there are no commitments on when we’ll see podcast support but it’s beginning to appear like it will be some time before we do see it. Dave comments on the importance of fixing the current Zune players with firmware updates focused on stability and addressing the minor issues found in the current software.

They point out how impressive the hardware configuration is but note the markets disappointment in what the Zune can actually do right now. Dave counters with how important it was to them to provide a stable base to begin with and hints we’ll see a lot more from future upgrades. There is no road map to when we’ll see updates and Dave is vague on what we can expect to see in future features.

The current Zune setup covers the basic needs for an mp3 player to be competitive with the target audience in the current market place. It may not meet the needs of many enthusiast or niche users. The ability to build a device with features consumers are looking for is why Microsoft has jumped into the hardware business with Zune players and Dave mentions what might happen with Zune 2.0 and beyond players. They also go into some detail on the content deal signed with Universal Music and how important content is to the device success as well as how to approach the fight with Apple. They touch on DRM and why they we’re forced to drop Plays4Sure in favor of their own device and closed ecosystem and some great information on what people are actually doing with their mp3 players.

It’s a great interview with a knowledgeable Zune team member. If you’re interested in what is happening with Zune and the future of the devices it’s a great interview to catch. You can download the mp3 interview from http://www.Twit.tv and play it on your Zune or iPod..


The TWiT Netcast Network with Leo Laporte

Windows Weekly 17: David Caulton of the Zune Team

Hosts: Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte

David Caulton, Zune team member since 2005, welcomes us to The Social.

Check out Paul’s Blog at http://www.internet-nexus.com and the SuperSite for Windows http://winsupersite.com for more information.

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Nov 202006
 
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I’ve spoken to two different members of the Zune Crew about the Zune as a platform. Both Microsoft employees were rather quick to tell me it’s not. Dave Caulton flat out says Zune is not a platform in this blog posts at Zunester.com. I understand Daves’ reasoning as to why he feels it’s not a platform and what concerns me is that they miss the point. I think consumers want it to be a platform and they want it open up to modification by a variety of developers so that they can truly personalize their Zune players.

Within days of the Zune release date we saw as bunnie studios cracked open a brand new Zune player and revealed to the world the Zune internal hardware. The Zune uses a Freescale iMX31L processor which "implements high-performance audio functions suited to high-end applications, such as smartphones and UMTS handsets" according to their websites.

 

That sounds like plenty enough for a portable media player and some say it’s enough processor for a gaming device. This product detail page shows the Zune has a "FS455/6 PC-to-TV Encoders support High Definition (HD) and Standard Definition (SD) outputs and are compatible with most graphic controller chips" It seems the Zune could support High Def and better resolution than we get on the Zune player but the limitations must be related to battery consumption. What really lacks here is battery technology as a whole, they really need to focus on building a better battery for the mobile age or we’ll all be wireless for 12 hour stretches tops without a booster battery.

Our new friends at IpodMods.com , an industry leader in used iPod repairs and parts sales, are setting up to offer Zune Repairs for the inevitable day when a Zune breaks while out of warranty and they have taken their first Zune apart. They have a nice layout of the Zune disassembly process and how to take your Zune apart if you have the need to. They also offer a 40GB hard drive upgrade using a nearly identical Toshiba MK4009GAL Hard Drive instead of the Zunes’ 30GB MK3009GAL. If you think you can handle the installation go for it or you can have them install it for you. They also offer replacement Zune screens, extended life batteries and more. Check out IpodMods.com for Zune upgrade parts and repair services.

 

Talk on the net is about the fact the Zune processor can support Linux and the possibilities of hacking Zunes to run linux and open wifi. I think it’s awesome for one reason. It will force Microsoft to recognize the consumers choice that the Zune is a platform and they need to cater to the developers market so eager to modify and customize the Zune players. What better way to gain market share then to offer one unit with many variations based on users needs. Its good to know consumers want a choice and if not given one suitable we’re willing to make one for ourselves.

 

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A Day at the Beach

Nov 152006
 
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Having been born and raised in South Florida I’ve had my fair share of trips to the beach. My trip to South Beach in Miami on Monday for the Zune launch event was one of the better ones ever. I moved to Central Florida almost two years ago now and it’s been that long since I’ve been to the beach or swimming in the ocean. I had almost forgotten how beautiful South Florida really is. The weather was absolutely perfect, the breeze rolling in off the crystal blue waters was refreshing and the sun was shining. I arrived on Ocean Drive at just before noon and the day was already hot as beach balls.

South Beach is a wonderful place with lots of natural beauty from the land to the sea but it’s the people that make it so special. I swear they have signs somewhere that says no ugly people allowed but I never saw them. Everyone on South Beach is beautiful, a model or a producer of some sort. I saw more Usher wannabes and Beyonce knock offs then I normally care for but it was all good to me. The Zune Crew was in full effect and the stage was nearly set when we arrived. It was a great location for what turned out to be an even better show. I think we were all left wanting for a little more music than the one hour show offered but it really was worth the four hour drive.

The goal for me was to enjoy the concert and meet with John Porcaro of the Xbox and Zune marketing team and Godfree and Nano from GamerTag Radio. I exceeded my goals and then some. South Beach is the perfect place for a Zune launch party as the people are friendly and ready to talk about anything. I spent the better part of my day cruising the beach and talking Zune to anyone that would listen. I must have spoken to over 100 people about Zune and not a single one of them had ever heard of it. That’s to be expected but what was surprising was the lack of details provided by Microsoft. With all the preparations being made no one seemed to be getting the message out as well as they could have. Most of the people I spoke with thought Zune was the name of the band, this may seem odd but I was impressed with how well the name stuck with people. Everyone saw it and wanted to know what Zune was but explaining it like 100 times can consume your day.

The concert featured two reggae sensations from South Florida, the Morgan Heritage Music group and Richie Spice. I must admit I spent more time with the crowd during Mr Spices’ set and missed much of his music. It’s standard fair as far as reggae goes but definitely good music. I was most impressed with Morgan Heritage and their fusion of old school roots reggae with a new school rock/punk twist. The group is comprised of five family members with Ms. Una Morgan and Roy "Gramps" Morgan on vocals and keyboards, Lukes Morgan on the guitar, Mr. Mojo Morgan on percussion and Peter Morgan as lead vocals.

These guys are pretty tight and play very well together. You can hear that they have spent a lot of time working together and their music really meshes into a great sounding live group. The crowd at South Beach was feeling things and they really seemed to enjoy the free concert on the beach. I had never had the pleasure to hear these guys before I was introduced to them by Zune but I am sure to remain a fan from now on. Seeing a band or group play live really does make a difference in how you hear their music. When I first heard I was going to be seeing them live I reviewed their music on their website and thought it was very original and well produced but not until I heard them live did I realize just how good these guys are and how well they perform together. Must be something about them being family that makes them so tight but they really are a talented group or musicians.

Honestly most concerts make me realize that music today is far too mechanical and the sounds you hear on an album rarely come from a live band. Not the case with Morgan Heritage, I think these guys sound better live then anything and I was most impressed with how well they played together. They have recently recorded a live album in Amsterdam, called Morgan Heritage Live and you can hear the cities influences in their music. I highly recommend you try out their new live album at the Morgan Heritage Music store right now!

I had the honor of meeting the band and watching a real pro interview them when I sat in on the GamerTagRadio interview by Daniel "Godfree" Pena. I can see that I have a lot to learn about interviewing a musician and I doubt anyone can teach me more about being cool under pressure then Daniel. Watching him interview these guys was awesome and he made it look so easy it was crazy. I was nervous and I was just watching him. Download the Morgan Heritage Music Interview by Daniel from Gamer Tag Radio here. YouTube was down when I posted this so I’ll have to upload the movie later. You can view tons of great photos of the event here and I will be posting more pictures later today.

 

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Zune Crew Interview – Episode Two – Bill Wittress

Nov 102006
 
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The Zune Crew has been very busy with the upcoming launch and some of these questions were asked three weeks ago.

Next up in the Zune Crew Interviews we have Bill Wittress the ZuneGuy who labels himself the "Zune BizDev guy" and states "I’ve worked in this space for 8 years. I’ve worked on PMC and PlaysForSure before coming to work for Zune. This really is my dream job". His current work seems primarily focused on developing the "Designed for Zune" accessories program. He is actively pursuing manufacturers interested in joining the program and has opened up discussion on what type of accessories we would like to see for Zune. We look forward to seeing some of the most requested Zune accessories developed soon.

Bill just finished up a trip to Disney with the family so as expected his Zune blog was kinda light on the posting but he maintains a loyal following in his comments. You can find out more about Who is BillWitt? in his post here. Let’s get on to the questions right? This is a zunemaxoriginal document.

1.) Has running the ZuneGuy.com blog been what you expected or more? Can you tell us what your goals and plans are with your blog?

Zuneguy is a lot more work than I thought. I wasn’t expecting the amount of care and feeding I’d be giving to the site. That being said, it has been a great way to connect with users. There is only so much market research you can do. This way, I get to have direct contact with people and hopefully get feedback that we can use in the next version of the product and the accessories.

2.) You have 8 years experience in the digital music industry. What do you feel Zune brings to the DAP market besides WiFi?

Zune really is about unifying the whole digital media experience. It goes way beyond just the player. Now, when you want to experience your content on the PC or on the Xbox, there is a commonality between them. That experience is echoed on the device as well. There is a sense of family now where there once was no connection. That family relationship may not be brother and sister, but it is certainly close cousins. That sense of connectivity and commonality is a feature unique to Zune.

3.) Do you think the sharing features will really bring music lovers together to share locally?

In a word, yes. There is no doubt that being able to share content wirelessly is a cool feature. I suspect folks will be skeptical about it until they try it. Once they do, the light bulb will go off and they will think it is really cool.

4.) What do you think will be the most popular accessories for Zune players?

Cases, speakerdocks and headphones in that order. Of course, people will buy cables and standard docks too, but the vast majority will buy those three things.

5.) How receptive have accessories manufacturers been towards working with Microsoft on the “Designed for Zune” program?

They have exceeded my wildest expectations. The partners are lining up to work with us. We literally can’t support everyone right now even if we wanted to.

6.) Is Microsoft offering a more competitive agreement than Apple for these manufacturers in order to have them build Zune accessories?

We don’t disclose terms of our agreement. That being said, we offer a very robust program that is beneficial for both parties. We’re not just going to extract a license from the partners and walk away. We offer PR, marketing and retail exposure that they can’t get in other programs.

7.) Do you ever see Microsoft manufacturing accessories or even hardware for Zune?

We do that today. We currently ship over 10 SKUs of what we call 1st party accessories. We’ll continue to explore new opportunities if they make sense for the overall ecosystem.

8.) You mention in your interview with Zunelicious that “the concept of GamerTags is reflected in the MediaTags in Zune”. Will there be Zune tag to identify users on the Zune network like the Xbox tag does for online gaming?

Yes. We have ZuneTags and you’ll get one when you install the software for the first time. That tag can be associated with your passport just like Xbox is today.

9.) How would you address those with concerns that Microsoft has or will abandon PlaysForSure? How can Microsoft fairly support both in the marketplace?

I find it interesting that just about everyone I talk to assumes that the decisions to support Zune means we don’t support PlaysForSure. Both can co-exist. Microsoft has a long history of supporting multiple projects. Take TV for instance. There is the MSTV effort, the MSNTV effort and the Media Center effort. All are TV, but each serves a different need. That’s the same with PFS and Zune.

10.) Is there anything you want to add that no one has asked of you yet?

I’m surprised no one has asked me about my efforts around PMC. Maybe one day I’ll show you guys the first prototype we built for Mr. Gates that I hand soldered (it still works by the way).

11.) What do you like most about working for Microsoft?

It is the people, without a doubt. There is incredible diversity and great debate. It is fantastic to be able to debate the details of a project and then have a great bunch of motivated individuals to make it happen.

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Zune Crew Interview – Episode One – Dave Caulton

Nov 012006
 
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When the guys from Zune started granting interviews we wanted to do one Zune MAX style. We decided to interview each of the Microsoft Zune employees with a blog in one huge interview but that may be too much. We figure there must be more then these three great people working on the Zune but these are the ones with Zune blogs and they were the only people that would answer our questions anyway. We could probably make this the longest blog post ever but you really want to get to these interviews. Theres some juicy tidbits of Zune information in here for those of us starved for some Zune news.

Without further delays ZuneMAX.com brings you the first installment of the Zune Crew Interview series.


Our first interview is with Dave Caulton who manages the Zunester blog. Dave gets to be the first Zune Crew interviewed because he returned the questions first and thats the only reason. Daves’ blog tackles the more technical side of Zune. He’s got some great information on transcoding files for Zune as well as the low down on Zune Sharing. Dave is a multi talented man with an eye for cool pictures and would probably make a great photographer. Dave has excellent taste in coffee he enjoys hiking cycling and has three kids.

His blog has some unique flavor to it much like the coffee he drinks. We found some amusing irony in the Google contextual advertisements on this Zune blog selling "Apple Imac Computers" as well as "Unlock you Ipod" services but the "Apple 60GB iPod with Video" for $299.99 and the "Apple 30GB iPod with Video" for only $229.99 from Amazon are simply priceless. If we choose to buy an iPod for $229.99 instead of a Zune for $249.99 this holiday season it’ll be from Daves’ blog for sure.

Daves’ a busy man it seems but he took the time to answer a few questions for us and we appreciate it. Thanks Dave.

1.) Has running the Zunester.com blog been what you expected or more?
Can you tell us what your goals and plans are with your blog?

DC: It was really a lark that started when I grabbed the Zunester domain name. I thought this was the obvious thing to do with it. The reception has been great – both the subscriber numbers and tone of the responses. My biggest fear was always that a blog would be useless; every post would have one of three results:

  • Bore everyone to death (Blah blah I went on vacation, my kids are cute, etc…)
  • Irritate folks with useless marketing fluff (“gee, everything my team does is AWESOME!”)
  • Get me fired. (“hey, here’s a cool legal secret nobody knows!”)

It turns out there’s a real thirst for info and insights that are ok to talk about, so it’s been fun. As for plans, I like to think it fills a need for folks that want an inside view and more technical/strategic details than Bill (Zuneguy) and Cesar (Zuneinsider) necessarily offer. I’ll continue that going forward.

2.) How exactly is it that Zune is able to claim 100 hours of video time on the same size HD as the iPod and they can only claim 40 hours?

It’s all about the bitrate. Apple went to high bitrate 640×480 files, which are really overkill for a portable device with a 320×240 screen. There’s some merit to higher res for the video out scenario, of course. But we chose to optimize for the most video at the optimal quality for its screen.

3.) In your blog post titled "Zune’s transcoding feature – ‘splained!" you mention "Once the transcode is complete, it transfers the copy over onto the device – voila, you’re ready to play. It saves the copy in the cache so the next time you need to sync that movie, you don’t need to transcode it again."

DC: Does this mean we’ll need to keep a copy of all movies on our Zune players on our PC harddrive as well? Will we need 30GB of HD space on our PC just to keep a copy of our Zune data for sync?

No, only for the files that need transcoding. Music files will almost universally play, so there’s no need to transcode. Video files will transcode, and thus end up in the cache. But the cache has a maximum size limit (that the user can set) so old stuff gets dumped to make room for new stuff.

4.) How long does it take to transcode a feature length movie?

DC: I’ve got a smokin’ machine, so it’s much faster than real time. A more typical PC will take about real time; 30 min for 30 min of video. This definitely makes filling your device with non-native video an overnight process, but it’s worth it to have 8 hours of Dora and Cyberchase on my device before going on a flight with my kids.

5.) In your blog post titled "Zune Sharing explained" you list searching for nearby Zune owners to interact with as a feature. Will we have the ability to hide from or ignore other Zune users? Will the search function work on "Zune tags" and allow us to search for users by name as well as proximity?

DC: Yes, you can hide from or ignore other Zunes, and also turn off the WiFi. For now, the feature gives you a nice list of all nearby users; no filtering is enabled. Hopefully there will soon be so many Zunes that filtering will be needed ;)

6.) The same blog post also states "Zunes will not (at launch) connect to the internet via your home base station network. Zunes can not download songs over the air from the internet service." Realizing the strong demand for both features can we expect the functionality will be added in the future via a software update?

DC: I’ve definitely heard this feedback, but can’t talk about future product plans.

7.) There has not been much said or shown about the Zune applying DRM to or sharing video. Will Zune apply any DRM to video files like it does music or remain DRM free like images? Will Zune be able to share videos the same way it does music?

DC: We looked at this, but the file sizes involved in video make sharing across the current WiFi impractical. That said, stay tuned. As an aside, “DRM” isn’t applied to files in the sense of encrypting them, rather there’s a device side limit on what you can do with sent audio files. It’s a fine technical point that won’t matter to 99% of your users, but it’s an important one.

8.) Is the DJ mode an actual broadcast or does the Zune act more like a server and require a file download for playback? Is there a streaming capability with the wireless or can there be in the future?

DC: At launch, Zune doesn’t have a “DJ Mode”. Standard answer about future roadmap comments applies.

9.) Do you consider the Zune to be a platform like the PC and Xbox or somehow different? Will Zune development be opened up to the first generation device?

“Open up” is a very big term. It’s really a continuum, and finding the right point is very important. Too open and you end up with a compromised user experience. Too closed and the community can’t add value.

DC: I think the best comparison is Xbox. We’ll open things up, but only very carefully and strategically.

10) What can you tell us about Pyxis?

DC: We’ve actually been talking about Pyxis all along. Pyxis is the code name for the first Zune device.

11.) Is there anything you want to add that no one has asked of you yet?

DC: Just to thank you for the opportunity to talk. The whole blogging thing has been a fun experiment for me, and the community of users and bloggers have been really great.

12.) What do you like most about working for Microsoft?

DC: I’ve worked at Microsoft for 10 years in various roles. Different parts of the company have had different good things about them. Before Zune, I worked on an established business (Office) and a hotly competitive part of the Windows business (Windows Media division). Zune is very different.

Once in a while Microsoft makes a serious run at creating a new consumer business from scratch. I had the good fortune to be a founding member of the team and to observe the building of the business from the ground up – a tremendous learning opportunity for me.


Look for the Zune MAX Interview with Bill Wittress coming soon

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Zune rumors and web echo

Oct 262006
 
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There have not been very many posts the past two weeks from me. It’s been slow on Zune news and I try to steer clear of Zune rumors I know to be untrue. There have been lots of rumors thrown around since Zune first leaked and I have tried to pick through and discuss what I feel may be at least possible. Many of the articles and topics here deal with what Zune will actually do now that some details have been released.

The past two weeks have seen some really good Zune rumors come and hopefully soon go and I’ve not commented on them. I have become keenly aware of what has been labeled "web echo" which is when someone puts out bad data and people run with it and make bad stories and they become these giant monsters of misconception and bs all wrapped up in one. There is an older term for this. It’s called "GIGO", garbage in garbage out. Our bud Cesar has had many posts related to "rumor and speculation" at the Zune Insider blog and I’ve read so many bad bloggers write just plain garbage about what it can or can’t do that I personally have decided to steer away from that stuff for now. Maybe a rumor about a Zune phone release or something from a reliable source would be considered but there are some Zune rumors that are plain obvious as untrue.

Let’s have a look at the rumored 60GB Zune This one started here at ClicZune I think and although it was a great piece of linkbait it is most likely not true. The article reads as follows:

"According to Incipio Technologies, Microsoft should be coming with a 60Gb Zune mp3 player very soon. On the company’s website, Incipio announced the availability of a leather case for the 30Gb “and” the 60Gb Zune mp3 player. We can read "New! Microsoft Zune 30GB and 60GB Leather Belt Clip Custom Design Case".
If this comes out to be true, is it going to be available in November 14th? At what price? $399.99? What about dimensions and weight?"

But as you will see from my comments below the article there is a more probable reason for their announcing the 60GB leather Zune case in  red and it is that the webmaster copied the 60GB iPod case in red when he decided they would get a head start on the market and release their product. Smart move on his part as they now have a few more links to the site from all the hype surrounding it. They may have even sold a couple 60GB Zune cases. Who knows?

Recently we heard from Gizmodo that Microsoft would be paying us to share with the Zune. Now this one I still find interesting because the new Zune DRM proposed by Microsoft may possibly allow for this type of service to function but I do not think we will see it in the first generation of Zune players. The features of this new DRM are most likely to be found in a Microsoft designed hardware device for total control over security. I chose not to write about that one because I wanted to hear what Microsoft had to say first and when Cesar answered back so quickly to that rumor he confirmed it for me. I know this one to be true but they don’t want us to know about it yet. Future Zunes will facilitate user generated content sales and may offer affiliate relations with users promoting the Zune MarketPlace in return for Microsoft Points but Cesar isn’t in the know on it and can claim so later.

The best example of things gone bad were comments Cesar made on his blog about the current Zune DRM and how it would "wrap all songs up in DRM". Kirk Biglione at MediaLoper wrote a stinging article based on these erroneous statements and the web went absolutely nuts with it and thus was born the term "viral DRM". Cesar clarified his comments and Kirk cleared things up also but did that really stop the rumor from spreading and infecting more people?

I don’t think so and I don’t want to be party to spreading untruths of any sorts. So, now you know why things have been slow from me the past two weeks. I don’t have much to say about the rumors running around right now and there hasn’t been anything new that I can share with you yet. Well, I did get my first of three interviews back from the Zune Crew and I’ll be posting those soon. Some great information in the Zune Crew Interviews coming at you soon from ZuneMAX.com.

 

Alfred :)

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