RealTime IT News

New Year's Eve: The Day the Zune Stood Still

Zune
Source: Reuters

On the last day of the year, when many people are barely working, if at all, Microsoft found itself scrambling to deal with an issue that has left a large number of its 30GB Zune media players unusable.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) identified the problem as an error in Zune's handling of the last day of a leap year, like 2008. According to the Zune support page, the problem "should remedy itself" over the next 24 hours as the time flips to Jan. 1. The bug is in the internal clock driver, which was expecting 365 days instead of 366.

That may have come as some relief for the scores of affected Zune users, for whom New Year's Eve arrived with an unexpected surprise. Online boards at gadget sites like Gizmodo and Engadget lit up with reports as users' Zunes froze at exactly 12:01 on Dec. 31.

In response, Microsoft put up an alert on its Zune page confirming that the 30GB Zune was indeed experiencing this problem, but indicating that problems were tied to only the 30GB version of the device. Later, Microsoft provided the details on the error in a statement -- and gave recommendations on how to fix it.

"By tomorrow, you should allow the battery to fully run out of power before the unit can restart successfully, then simply ensure that your device is recharged, then turn it back on," the company said in a statement sent to media outlets. "If you're a Zune Pass subscriber, you may need to sync your device with your PC to refresh the rights to the subscription content you have downloaded to your device."

It's the latest frustration for what debuted two years ago as latest in the line of would-be "iPod killers." Despite a high-profile launch for the Zune in November 2006, it has yet to live up to that billing.

As of May 2008, Microsoft said it had sold two million units. The iPod has surpassed the 100 million mark. Much of Zune's gains have come at the expense of other iPod competitors, making it a distant No. 2 player.

One factor working in Microsoft's favor in today's glitch is that the damage may be somewhat limited. The 30GB Zune had not been on the market long before being replaced with an 80GB and flash-based player, according to Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

While Rosoff said the problem is small in scope, it's a headache for a struggling brand.

"This isn't Windows or SQL Server that's affecting tens of millions of people or is business-critical, but for people who are Microsoft loyalists and wanted something different, this is going to be an annoyance," he told InternetNews.com.

"Everybody likes to pick on Microsoft when something goes wrong, and having this happen a week before CES [the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas] is not a good time," he added. "If there was a place they'd like to talk about it, it would be at the show, and this will likely come to people's minds."