Goodbye Zune, hello Xbox Music: Microsoft says it’s cutting ties with Zune [UPDATE: Microsoft comments]

xbox music plus zuneZune has been knocking on death’s door for over a year now, and the introduction of Xbox Music yesterday at E3 might finally put a nail in its proverbial coffin. Earlier this year, it became clear that Microsoft had no intentions of reviving hardware production, but the survival of the ecosystem seemed up in the air.

Now, it’s all over for Zune as Xbox Music has taken its place. The forthcoming service, set to debut this fall, will run on the Xbox 360, Windows Phone, and Windows 8 PCs. Microsoft rep Melissa Stewart told The New York Times that Xbox Music will replace the Zune brand, making the company’s content plan a little clearer.

In recent years, that “plan” has been lacking for clarity. Microsoft’s hand-in-every-pot approach was verging on some serious fragmentation: while all of its efforts were arguably strong, they weren’t unified. Windows Phone, the Xbox, and Windows 8 are finally starting to integrate and collaborate better, and it can probably go without saying that content distribution needs to be a part of this. Thus, Zune became the sacrificial lamb.

Microsoft has done a commendable job conquering the living room with the Xbox and Xbox LIVE, and it only makes sense that this should become the music management center as well. Zune users will be able to access their music via the new system.

What’s a little confusing about all of this is that Microsoft still hasn’t entirely cut ties with the Zune name. On the Xbox Music site, you’re immediately greeted by the prompt to look at the Zune Marketplace and buy a Zune Music Pass. Why not just rip off the band-aid and call these the Xbox Music Marketplace and the Xbox Music Pass? It’s likely just an effort to help users transition into the new system and avoid unnecessarily inciting the outrage of current subscribers.

As sad as it is that Zune just couldn’t cut it, Microsoft desperately needs to better align its various products. This page right here is why:

xbox live windows liveHow I got here: First, I visited the Xbox Music page. Then I clicked on the Zune Music Pass prompt, which took me to an entirely Zune-branded page. From there, I chose “Get a Zune Music Pass,” and ended up at this page, asking me to either sign up for Xbox LIVE or log in to my Windows Live account. That’s a really ridiculous amount of seemingly proprietary applications in order to simply get music for my Microsoft device. Now, I’m not saying iTunes is perfect – that’s hardly the case. But it’s a better stab at content management than this setup. Xbox LIVE is unarguably a better product for video apps and distribution, but as a whole, central hub, Microsoft’s system as is leaves much to be desired.

Keep fighting the fight, Microsoft. Zune was one piece of the puzzle, but there’s work yet to be done. 

UPDATE:

Microsoft rep Melissa Stewart got in touch and provided the following comment. 

“The Zune music and video service has been a key component of Microsoft’s entertainment offering. We’re leveraging our expertise from Zune to launch a brand-new music service under the Xbox Music brand.  When we launch, Xbox Music will bring you a world-class music library, and great new ways to enjoy, share and discover new music. We will release Xbox music on Xbox 360, Windows Phones and Windows 8 PCs and Tablets.”

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