"I've received a lot of very specific questions and requests for interviews. I've decided I'll answer them all (in all that extra time I have these days). For now, you'll have to settle for a few questions at a time. So today's question comes from Stephen. He wants to know the following: How different is Zune from the PMC, it is obvious that it is a very closed system running a variant of the PMC 2.0 operating system? That is a really good question (and one that is right up my alley). At first blush, it would appear that they are very similar. But, they are actually two separate and distinct projects."
Bill Wittress from Zuneguy.com has posted a short entry about the differences between Zune and Portable Media Center v2. I have a Toshiba Gigabeat S sitting next to me right here, and I've used it a fair bit. Based on what I've seen on the Zune, it looks to me like the Zune team took the PMC v2 software, removed a few of the core features, gave the UI a few polishes, and stamped "v1" on the Zune project. I'm not trying to minimize the work they've done, but I get the feeling that the Zune is something they started working on at the end of 2005 or early 2006, not something that's been brewing for two full years. If it had been brewing for that long, I think we'd see a more evolved v1.
Some of the ways the Zune differs from PMC v2 is actually negative, and no one is talking about it. For instance, the Gigabeat S has a great feature where it can connect to a digital camera and download the photos onto the hard drive. Sure, it's a bit slow and the battery sucking screen doesn't turn off while it's doing the transfer, but at least the basic functionality is there. Why can't the Zune do the same thing? I suspect the feature was dumped to keep the Zune marketing story more clear - no need to muddy the waters by bringing in a feature that isn't related to social networking. Still, this is one way the Zune is less functional that the PMC 2.0.
And here's something interesting a contact at Microsoft told me: there's a software build floating around internally at Microsoft that can be installed onto the Gigabeat S...and it turns it into a Zune (minus the WiFi of course). If there was ever proof how close the two devices are, that's it. I suspect the Zune will evolve more rapidly as it moves to v2 (I hope it does at least), but for now, it's clear that the Zune and the PMC 2.0 are almost the same thing - which explains why a lot of us were hoping for more.