In order for Microsoft's Zune MP3 player to compete against Apple's iPod, Microsoft not only had to create a great MP3 player; it also had to create a solid software client to compete against iTunes. In doing so,it's created an attractive, full-featured digital-media jukebox that some users may prefer over iTunes or Windows Media Player.
In 2006, the first version of Zune software was little more than a rebranding of Microsoft's clunky-yet-capable Windows Media Player 11. A year later, the Zune software received a complete overhaul that, despite some growing pains, paved the way for the lean and attractive Zune jukebox we see today.
No other jukebox application does a better job than Zune when it comes to providing a clean and uncluttered layout for your media collection. Against a white background, three tabs in the upper left-hand corner of the Zune window separate the main features. From left to right, you'll find tabs for Collection, Marketplace, and Social, as well as a tab for Device that appears when a Zune MP3 player is connected. Each main tab includes a selection of nested tabs for viewing different content. For instance, beneath the Collection tab you'll find specific tabs for the media stored on your computer, including Music, Videos, Photos, Podcasts, and Channels. We found the Zune's nested-tab navigation much more intuitive than the pull-down menus of Windows Media Player and a refreshing change from the spreadsheet-like navigation offered in iTunes. It's also easy to appreciate small design touches, such as a selection of background patterns, columns that resize when dragged, and a Now Playing view filled with cover art from your collection.
The Zune software hits all the main features of an iTunes alternative. You can import your music and video collections (MP3, AAC, WMA; MPEG4, H.264, WMV, and ASF), create playlists, burn and rip CDs, organize your photos, subscribe to podcasts, and browse the integrated Zune Marketplace for new media. Compared with earlier versions of the Zune software, people can now perform relatively detailed ID3-tag editing, manually or automatically attach album artwork to songs, create intelligent playlists, and sort music files using a wider range of criteria (conductor, release year, composer, play count, and more).
Features that distinguish Zune from its competitors include an integrated tab for managing a Zune Social account, social music sharing for people who create a free Zune Social account, a Picks page that recommends new music and common listeners from within the Zune community, and a unique Mix view that allows you to discover and preview music that relates to the currently playing artist.