Zune is dead. Long live Groove (aka Xbox Music, aka Zune)
Microsoft has consolidated its two online music streaming services under one name — Groove. But beneath the fresh coat of UI paint it’s really the same old same old.
In a nutshell: the nine year old Zune music service, which (many believed) became Xbox Music in 2012, was finally shut down this week and rolled into Microsoft’s Groove streaming music service, which, as of July 6, became the new name of Xbox Music, which, as I said, was originally the Zune Music service.
News of this confusing reorganization deeply shocked the tech press, which could hardly believe that anything connected with Microsoft’s ill-fated Zune portable media player still existed to be shut down in 2015.
Xbox Music will be back in the Groove very Zune, if not in a Flash
Personally, I was much more shocked when I tried to have a look at Microsoft’s newly refurbished online music streaming service and found that I couldn’t — because Groove requires Adobe’s Flash Player plugin.
I ripped Flash Player off of my laptop back in July, following a quick succession of major security flaw revelations that forced Mozilla Firefox to briefly blacklist and block the multimedia web browser plug-in for lack of a safely patched version.
It’s clear now that the rickety 19-year-old code base of the Flash Player is so full of flaws that it’s virtually a screen door for hackers to use to get through the security of any computer that it’s installed on.
Many people have gone on the Groove forum to ask Microsoft to stop using Flash to stream music on Groove. Some say that they uninstalled Flash and aren’t willing to put the buggy plugin back just to use Groove while others say that their employers actually forbid Flash Player from being installed on work computers because of the high security risk that it poses.
The explanation from Microsoft Groove is that the encryption method used by Groove requires Flash:
“Thanks for the suggestion! However because music streaming on music.xbox.com needs to be encrypted, the site must use flash technology. We appreciate the feedback and keep the suggestions coming!”
That may have been true five or six years ago but it really isn’t the case anymore.
So why is Microsoft really starting up a brand new music streaming service that requires the use of the antiquated Flash Player on the desktop, at a time when the rest of online world is abandoning it in favour of safer HTML5 streaming options?
The answer is that Groove isn’t new at all. It’s just a new name for Xbox Music, which itself was a rebranding of the Zune music streaming and downloading service, created nine years ago.
How Zune they forget
Microsoft brought out the Zune portable media player in 2006 in an unsuccessful attempt to compete with Apple’s iPod. The Zune player was discontinued in 2011 and the Zune music service was refurbished and rebranded as Xbox Music in 2012, to coincide with the launch of Windows 8.
In 2013, the Microsoft-only Xbox Music streaming and downloading service was made available to other platforms through a new web version that required a browser running the Flash Player plugin.
And finally, in July of 2015, Xbox Music was again refurbished and rebranded as Groove, this time to serve as a “freshed-up” companion to Windows 10. The old Xbox Music website URL simply redirects to the new Groove URL.
Curiously, some tribe of Zune users with original Zune Music Passes manged to avoid the automatic 2012 conversion to Xbox Music Passes. It was these last vestiges of the first generation Zune music service that Microsoft finally terminated, once and for all, on Sunday, November 15.
In September, Microsoft sent an email to all existing Zune Music Pass subscribers to give them advance warning of the shutdown and tell them that they would automatically become Groove subscribers:
“As a Zune customer, you’ve been a big part of our music community. Thanks for being with us from the start. Over the years, we’ve continuously worked to evolve our music app and service – and as part of that process, we will no longer support Zune subscriptions or streaming, either on the Zune device or the Zune PC client. These changes will take place in the next month, and may impact you as a Zune subscriber.”
“Current Zune subscribers will automatically transition to Microsoft’s new Groove Music Pass, which lets you stream and download 40 million songs ad-free to your PC, Xbox, tablet, the web, and compatible phone (including Android, iPhone and Windows Phone).”
A related Zune Retirement FAQ gave the date for the shutdown and reassured users that it wouldn’t completely brick their Zune players:
“As of November 15, 2015, Zune services will be retired. You will no longer be able to stream or download content to your device from the Zune music service. However, Zune devices will still function as music players and any MP3 content that you own on the Zune device will remain there. You’ll also be able to transfer music to and from your Zune player.”
Along with all the functionality they naturally lost by no longer having their players linked to a streaming/downloading service, these original Zune Music Pass Subscribers also lost the 10 free songs per month that they had reportedly been getting for upwards of nine years.
[sounds of math]
“1,080 songs? Oh my Great Goldfish!”
Hopefully, Zune users will at least be able to use their new, $10 dollar-a-month, Groove Music Pass accounts to download tracks from Groove to their PCs and then sync the music to their Zunes using the Zune desktop software — Microsoft still makes version 4.8 (for Windows XP to Windows 7) available for download.
You would hope. However a piece on the WIRED website fairly pours cold water on that idea (underline mine):
“It’s worth repeating that copyrighted music you’ve downloaded with Zune may not play with Groove if the licenses didn’t renew, which is a very real possibility. And it’s worth noting that although your Zune will continue playing all of your old music, anything you stream or download from Groove won’t play on your Zune.”
In the absence of 10 free songs a month, Microsoft’s Retirement FAQ explained to Zune users that as Groove subscribers they would get:
- More features for less money
- Access to over 40 million songs in the Groove catalogue
- And the ability to store music on
SkyDriveOneDrive and stream it to Groove-enabled devices
The list of devices/platforms which can be enabled to use Groove, by the way, are Windows 10, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iOS, Android and Sonos.
So Microsoft forgot the most important thing that Zune users will (have to) get as Groove subscribers, namely a new device. Click the images to enlarge them.