Microsoft beefs up Zune music and community experience

As we noted in our Zune launch post, with the new Zune announcements, Microsoft intends to do more than just launch hardware. The Zune crew has apparently done a complete overhaul of the Zune desktop software so it's no longer just a weak rebadge of Windows Media Player 10 (praise the heavens), which Microsoft hopes will help the social to get more, um, social-er, with a number of things to attempting better engage music listeners and Zune customers:

  • The Zune Marketplace is officially adding DRM-free music support, launching with over a million DRM-free MP3 tracks. As we mentioned earlier, other details (like which labels, whether there is a DRM-free upgrade path is for users who've bought music with DRM, price differences, etc.) are not yet known.

  • Zune Marketplace is also getting podcasts and music videos. (Great, but where's the real video content?)

  • Microsoft is also launching Zune Social, a free online music community / social network (great, another social network!) which allows users to create...

  • Zune Cards, which are web widgets not unlike Xbox's Gamer Cards. Zune Cards let other users track your most played and recently played music (updated each time you sync back to your host machine). Users can also sample music directly from someone's Zune Card.

  • You can now share with others music that was shared with you.

  • No, the Zune still doesn't analyze the tracks it shares, so Zune Pass unlimited customers still can't share music without DRM.

  • But, at very least the Zune's 3x3 DRM no longer has a time limit. Same three play restriction, but it no longer has to be within three days.