From the looks of it our own Stephen Speicher was on to something in his latest edition of The Clicker. We've received word from a trusted insider (no, not Mr. Speicher) that the shape everyone's been expecting the Zune to take may not be the approach most people (including us) assumed. Here's what we learned:
  • The Zune name isn't being kicked around with Microsoft; so as far as we know that's still a project codename, but probably will not be the device's final title. This is no surprise.
  • Microsoft's forthcoming portable will not use Microsoft's established media platforms. This includes Windows Media, Windows Media Player, URGE, PlaysForSure DRM, and probably also Portable Media Center. Instead it will use its own software, music store, and DRM that will be incompatible with all the major stores, systems, and device out there right now. Yes, this will piss off the industry (and some of the Microsoft faithful) to no end.
  • Due to this approach, the system is being referred to as the "Integrated Experience." This, we can assume, is not going to be positioned as the final name for the device, but the implications of the description and MO are clear.
  • It will be wireless and not flash-based, so large storage capacities are to be expected; wireless music trading is an important part of the device's feature set and marking presence. This we all already knew.
  • All this information does not conflict with information we've received from our other trusted sources.
We know, we know, this raises more questions than it answers. When Microsoft has already invested millions in establishing their software and DRM platforms, hooking up with huge names like Napster, Yahoo, Real, and MTV, and encouraging hardware partners to get Microsoft-centric devices on the market, now they're going to throw all that away and compete with everyone else (and themselves)? Well, the answer is very simple. In order to fight fire with fire against Apple, it's obvious a music service + device ecosystem like what Microsoft offers now can't compare to the user experience of an incredibly tight vertical integration. Microsoft can't take on the iPod without taking on its own platforms and partners -- they have to fight fire with fire.

If J. Allard and his crew at Microsoft really are behind this project, these details make perfect sense. The corporate culture of the company is such that Allard's team is expected to work outside the confines of Microsoft's typical boundaries, which might otherwise hinder the company getting a foothold in previously unentered markets. Does anyone actually think the Xbox 360 is anything like the normal Microsoft product and marketing experience? No. But it's definitely shaping up so Microsoft's media player is going to be more media player than Microsoft.

Screenshots of AT&T Homezone's Yahoo Web Remote