You know, Microsoft is a company that is capable of amazing products. However they continually fail miserably when it comes to understanding the market they are selling to. Is this geeky legacy from Mr. Gates era or not - we're unsure off. But the facts are as they stand.
As an example let's take a look at their latest offering the Zune HD. As a hardware device it is simply amazing. I have been testing out the one we have here and think it is hands down better as a portable media player than the iPod touch. We will be releasing our review of this soon.
However, on the software side it is another matter. When I first looked at the New Zune 4.0 Software I was impressed. It is clean fast and intuitive. I liked it better than iTunes. That was until this morning.You see I logged in and found a $50 charge for 4000 points on my account. I did not buy any points. I did not click on anything that said that my credit card would be charged. It was just there. Normally to buy points you have to click on a "Buy Points" button and something should pop-up telling you that a charge is going to be applied to your card [including the amount] I called the Zune Support line and was told they could not do anything about it. They told me they could not refund anything because their system did not have that option. They also told me that any purchase will have a pop up asking if you agree to it. When I explained that I did not purchase anything they did not seem to understand or grasp the problem. In fact at one point I was actually told that if the Zune Software had any problems they would have "already found them and fixed them."
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So I tried to spell it out. I proposed a situation where my child was on the account using the free music service and they accidentally purchased something. I was then told "they could not because you have to sign in first and have a credit card."
Now here is the funny thing. To use the free Zune Music [which is all over the box AND in the marketing materials] you have to have a Zune Pass. To get a Zune Pass you have to provide a credit card and have a Live ID. To use the free music you have to be signed in. At that point you are pretty much open to having your bank drained by a few clicks.When I complained that I could not find any parental controls I was told they were easy to find and then put on hold for 6 minutes while they searched for them. They told me they were easily found on Zune.net. But yet none of the searches they game me yielded anything.
Click to EnlargeI then searched outside Zune.net and found one article that explained them. Basically to get any type of parental controls you have to have a parent account and child account. This means at least two live IDs, one of which your child will now be able to use to get on Live Messenger, Live Mail and a host of other potentially unsafe programs. Now on top of this extra [and hard to find] step, there are no protections inside the actual software to prevent unauthorized purchases unless you have multiple accounts. So there are no easily set up protections nothing to control the purchases on your new Zune account, and Microsoft will not lift a finger to help out a parent that might find themselves the victim of an accidental click by a child or a malfunction of the software.
This is a perfect example of why MS fails so badly with many of their products. Parents will not want the annoyance of multiple accounts just to make sure their kids do not over spend. They will simply not buy the product. Microsoft needs to make it easier to access and use these controls or they will doom the Zune HD to failure simply because no one wants to deal with the software.
Reading through this article only made me wonder what in the world was Microsoft thinking. There is no other way to call this $50 deduction anything else but a robbery. Yes, there is no doubt that you're going to spend money on Zune Marketplace, because the apps, music and movies there are simply too good to miss. BUT, to literally steal money from you without authorization is as close to Nigerian scam as it can be.
During the call with support, Sean was told that cannot refund you if things go awry. It is very easy to conclude that if mistakes happen, Microsoft Support won't have an option to compensate you for their fault. Any sort of financial transaction involves confidence from both parties that the other will be fair and correct. If we add the fact that Zune as a platform is practically an USA-only affair, it is easy to understand where Microsoft fails compared to the competition.