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Yes, Zune does support iTunes libraries

In his "Bits" blog on the New York Times site Thursday, Saul Hansell mistakenly says that iPod users won't switch to a Zune because they don't want to convert their iTunes libraries. In fact, they don't have to.

A column by Saul Hansell on the New York Times "Bits" blog caught my eye today because it makes a completely unfounded assertion about the Zune versus the iPod.

Hansell writes, "But now many iPods are replacements by people who already have substantial music collections in iTunes. For those people, the choice is between buying an iPod that will simply work with all their music or investing the time and effort to try to convert everything into Zune's formats."

This is totally wrong. Microsoft knew it was coming from behind (way behind) and it took pains to make it as easy as possible for iTunes users to switch.

First, the Zune natively supports AAC, the default file format that's used by iTunes whenever you rip a CD. (iTunes can rip to MP3 as well, but that's not the default.) This was a big deal for a company that had steadfastly promoted Windows Media Audio for many years before it offered full-bitrate support for MP3, mainly because it didn't want to pay a royalty to the organization responsible for MPEG licensing. Here, Microsoft knew it had to support AAC and pay the royalty, or Zune would be dead on arrival.

The only problem comes when you try to play a DRM-protected song that you purchased from the iTunes Music Store--neither the Zune nor any other player (or software) can play those songs unless you strip the DRM off by burning to CD and then re-ripping. But if you're like most users, the vast majority of your library comes from CDs you've owned for years, not from the iTunes Store.

Second, when you install the Zune software, it automatically scans and adds songs from not only the My Music folder (as the Windows Media Player always did) but also the iTunes folder. I know this because I always rip my CDs in iTunes so they'll work on both my Apple devices (iPod, iPhone) and my Zune. I don't have to do anything special--I rip them in iTunes, and the Zune software discovers them the next time I start it up.

Hansell is correct when he says that existing iPod users are more likely to upgrade to a new iPod, but that's because of high customer satisfaction for the iPod and few compelling reasons (so far) to switch--not only to the Zune, but to any other MP3 player. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! I think the third generation of Zunes, used in conjunction with the Zune Pass, might offer enough compelling new features to start changing this equation. But only if Microsoft gets the word out--a good place to start would be informing journalists that yes, the Zune has always worked very well with existing iTunes libraries.

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