Windows 7 : The Zune PC Software (part 2) - Using Zune - The Zune User Experience, Enjoying Music

3/4/2013 6:43:11 PM

3. Using Zune

The Zune user interface, shown in Figure 5, is a breath of fresh air compared to more staid digital media applications like Windows Media Player and, especially, Apple iTunes. This is by design. After basing the first version of its Zune PC software on Windows Media Player, Microsoft went back to the drawing board and built its Zune 2 software from the ground up as a brand-new application, and Zune 3 is an evolution of that design. The result is visually stimulating and, frankly, kind of pretty.

Figure 5. Zune is attractive and easy to use.


You may be interested to know that the Zune user interface was created by the same visual designers at Microsoft who were responsible for the UI of Windows Media Center.

Zune utilizes a single application window and typically uses a columnar display to present content in different, visual ways. There are four main UI views, or parts, in Zune:

  • Collection: This default view shows the collection of media you have on your PC and are managing with Zune. It is in turn divided into subzones such as Music, Videos, Pictures, Podcasts, and Channels. Each represents content that is stored locally on your PC.

  • Marketplace: This view connects to Microsoft's online store, Zune Marketplace. There are a number of subviews here—Picks, Music, Videos, Podcasts, and Channels.

  • Social: Here you can access your Zune tag/Windows Live ID/Xbox 360 Gamertag friends list, personal information, and Inbox, the latter of which is much like e-mail but not nearly as useful.

  • Device: This view pertains to any Zune device (or devices) you own and have linked to this particular PC's collection. It is divided into subviews such as Status, Music, Videos, Pictures, Podcasts, Friends, and Channels.

First, however, it's time to take a look at the main reason so many people are interested in Zune: digital music.

3.1. The Zune User Experience

Regardless of where you are in the Collection view, a few common elements are available. The Collection, Marketplace, Social, and Device links are common to all parts of the Zune UI, as are the Sign In, Settings, and Help links in the upper right corner of the application window. On the bottom is a series of three icons on the left (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Inscrutable? Maybe. Useful? You bet.

These icons, from left to right, represent the following:

  • Device: If you have a Zune portable device, you can access its sync status and other information from this first icon. (It also supports multiple Zunes for you Zune-crazy fans.)

  • Disk: From here you can access Zune's disk play, rip, or burn functionality. You can also drag songs here to create a burn (play)list, which is used to create a custom audio CD.

  • Playlist: This icon enables you to create new playlists and autoplaylists, access existing playlists, and add songs to the Now Playing playlist.

What you see in the bottom center of the application window depends on what's going on. If you're not playing any content, adding media, or performing other tasks, it is empty. When you're playing back some kind of content, you'll find a playback timeline with album art, the name of the media, the elapsed time, and the remaining time, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. This timeline appears only when you actually play content.

Finally, on the bottom right of the application window, you'll see the playback controls shown in Figure 8. These controls include what you would expect: Play/Stop, Previous, and Next, as well as Repeat and Shuffle toggles. A final curious-looking pink icon launches Zune's amazing Now Playing view, which we'll examine shortly.

Figure 8. Zune's playback controls include the usual suspects plus one that's not so familiar.

If you mouse over the Volume text below the playback controls, you'll get a volume slider that you can use to adjust the playback volume.

3.2. Enjoying Music

In the Music view you get a three-pane look at your music collection by default (see Figure 9). On the left is a textual list of artists, which can be sorted alphabetically or in reverse alphabetical order. In the center, widest pane, are your albums, in graphical album art splendor; these can be sorted alphabetically, by release year, by artist, or by date added. On the right is a list of songs. These can be sorted alphabetically or by rating.


Sorting these columns is not obvious, but here's how it works: if you mouse over any of the three column headings, the heading name will be highlighted in gray. To change the sort type, just click this heading. It will toggle through each available option as you click.

Figure 9. The Music experience provides an attractive three-pane view.

Suppose you want to drill into your music collection. If you select an artist from the leftmost Artists pane, the middle and right panes change to reflect this choice, as shown in Figure 10. For example, selecting Collective Soul from the collection will display what-ever Collective Soul albums are contained in the collection in the middle Albums pane; on the right, in the Songs pane, is a list of all of the Collective Soul songs in the collection.

Figure 10. Filtering the view to a single artist

You can drill down further, of course. If you select an individual album in the Albums pane, that album becomes selected and the Songs list is constrained to only those songs in the selected album, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Filtering the view to a single album

To play an album or song, just double-click the item. The first song in the album (or the individual song you selected) will begin playing immediately. Meanwhile, a few things change in the Zune UI. The playback timeline appears, a small Now Playing icon appears next to the currently playing song in the Songs pane, and the Play button changes to Pause.

This is probably a good time to point out Zune's amazing Now Playing screen. You enable it by clicking the pink Now Playing button to the right of the Next button in the playback controls area. Alternately, you can click the Now Playing icon to the left of the currently playing song in the Songs pane. Either way, the Zune player UI switches to Now Playing mode, shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Zune's Now Playing mode is particularly impressive looking.

There's some information about the currently playing song over a cool backdrop composed of your collection's album art. In addition, temporarily, you'll also see the current playlist (what's displayed in the Songs pane), the playback timeline, and the playback controls. When you move the mouse off these elements they fade away, as shown in Figure 13.

If Zune doesn't have imagery and other information about the currently playing artist, the Now Playing view will instead show a grid-like collage of album art, as shown in Figure 14.

To close Now Playing, click the Exit button in the bottom-right corner of the player window.

Figure 13. Stop moving the mouse and most of the onscreen fluff disappears.

Figure 14. Even when there's no artist info, the Now Playing screen is pretty cool.
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