Lock of Ages: 30 GB Zunes Freeze Up

[Updated 31-Dec with additional information]

Some owners of Microsoft’s Zune music players—we understand there are a handful—have been waking up to a rude surprise this morning: many 30 GB Zune models have been freezing at startup. The devices make it as far as their built-in startup screen, but proceed no further. Some users have reported the units have functioned fine until they’re restarted or are synced with their PCs; others say the units spontaneously shut down right in the middle of playback.

Microsoft has acknowledged the issue on its Zune support site and says they’re working to correct the problem. According to Microsoft, the best recourse for users of affected 30 GB Zunes is to reboot their devices after 12 PM GMT on January 1, 2009. (That’s 7 AM January 1 Eastern U.S. time; 4 AM on the U.S. west coast). The bug is apparently due to an error in the way the Zunes calculate the last day of the 2008 leap year. At this point, it appears Microsoft does not intend to issue a fix for the problem, but will rely on users waiting it out.

Some Zune users have reported that turning on and off the locking switch at the top of the 30 GB Zune enables them to reboot their players; others have reported that performing a "hard reset"—which involves opening the Zune—have enabled the devices to reboot. However, some users who’ve gone through that procedure report the devices lock up again once they re-sync to their computers. Two users who manage their 30 GB Zunes manually (rather than by sycing) report that their Zunes are functioning normally. Microsoft warns users not to open their device and perform a hard reset; however, users who have already done so will need to wait 24 hours to re-sync their DRM content.

The worldwide failure of the 30 GB Zunes with an apparently date-related bug represents a singular embarrassment for Microsoft; the incident has already been dubbed the "Z2K bug" in many outlets, and Zune owners are wasting no breath chastizing Microsoft for the problem. Fans of Apple’s iPod, of course, are being just as vocal about their preferred media players.

If the bug is truly based on leap year calculations, Microsoft theoretically has until the end of 2012 to issue a patch…at which point, few users are likely to still be rocking a 30 GB Zune.

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