If you spend most of your day at your desk and love music, the chances are that you and your music playing software have become quite close. For nearly every one of you reading this, that means one thing: iTunes.
I want to introduce you to, in my humble opinion, the best way to manage your music: Zune. I am not saying that is has the best music store, it doesn’t. However, if you already have an extensive media collection, you must give Zune a try. It will change the way that you enjoy your music.
To clarify, I use iTunes when I need to sync with my iPhone. That happens twice a month when I cycle the music. Twelve hours a day I have Zune running.
Zune is an immersive music experience. When you fire up the main screen you are shown a three column interface: an artist list, albums displayed with cover art, and the current track listing. It looks like this, all screenshots from my desktop:
Zune invites you to order all the columns as you wish. The first (artists) column can be done alphabetically forwards or backwards. Albums can be displayed by date added to library (my favorite), alphabetically both ways, by release year, and by artist (alphabetical artist listing), and the third column can be sorted by song first name, user rating, and by original album track listing. Need more options? I didn’t think so. Of course, all three columns are fully scalable.
Once you select and start playing music, Zune shows off its pretty. The Zune now playing screen is one of the best interfaces ever created for music. It works in one of two ways, depending on how popular the artist is that you are playing. Once a track is playing you can either select to head to the now playing screen, or wait and have Zune do it for you. Once the screen is loaded it will display a panorama of album art in your library. All the square images are randomly sized, making some albums large, and others quite small. They all revolve, creating (slowly) a fresh screen. It looks like this:
If the artist that you are playing is famous, Zune has at the ready a number of photos of the artist, which they fade in and cycle through while the music is playing:
Especially if you are running Zune alone on an external monitor, the effect is immersive. Zune has some great shots of Tool, if you are so inclined. Zune is designed to make music glamorous. The colors cycle. Text hovers and skates over the images, displaying how many times that song has been played across Zune in total. People will walk past your desk, stop, come over and ask what software you are running.
Even more, Zune has great playlist capability. I put together an auto-playlist that tracks my music based on how often I listen to it, with one caveat: no song is allowed to be on the playlist unless I have played it five times. Result: a constantly updated and updated playlist of my all time favorite music. Of course, I can slice, dice, and sort it any number of ways.
Zune has the best folder management, the best genre management, quick search, and also a strong social aspect. When you use Zune, you can sign up for a Zune Tag. Add me as a friend, my Tag is WarKaiser42. It’s like a Last.fm for iTunes users, but integrated. Zune also has a badge system not unlike what Foursquare uses (Zune did it first, I think), to track how much you listen to a particular artist. For example, I have four Silver Artist Power Listener badges, meaning that I have given four artists over 1,000 plays each (Metallica, Eminem, Slayer, Jedi Mind Tricks).
As a final note, Zune is fast. On all of my very capable computers, Zune is leaps and bounds faster than iTunes. I am nearing some 10,000 tracks, so my library is not as massive as some friends that I have, but in Zune there is never a second of lag. iTunes has buckets of lag and a 2 minute start cycle.
I could go on for another 700 words, but that would be ridiculous. These are just my favorite parts of Zune, what you like will be different.
If you have never used Zune, you owe it to yourself to try it out. It only works on Windows at the moment, so to the 6% of you on Macs, I do apologize. Windows users can download it here.