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Zune's 'Y2K' Glitch a Repeat Performance

They've been doing it for fourteen years.

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After a string of disappointments in 2008 with their buggy operating systems, the failed bid for Yahoo, and the relentless onslaught of Google, Microsoft's post-Gates management were probably counting on a fresh start in the new year. No such luck. Things are only getting worse.

On New Years Eve the 30 GB model from 2006 of Microsoft's disappointing Zune handsets started trying to roll over into 2009 and failed miserably at it. Microsoft support forums were flooded with thousands of reports of the device malfunctioning.

What the Crap is This?

'I was playing music and all of sudden the music stopped and it shut off. I turned the Zune back on and it loaded to 100% but then froze and none of the reset combinations are working. What the crap is this?' wrote one angry user.

Many of the posters tagged themselves as 'victims of the 31 December 2008 Zune 30 meltdown'.

After a few hours Microsoft techies had isolates the issue: a bug in the internal clock driver related to the way the device handles leap years. The rollover at midnight New Years Day put the flawed Zunes back at 00:01 31 December 2008 instead.

This latest Microsoft blooper comes at a bad time: in a few days the company are expected to present their latest products at the CES in Las Vegas.

Not the First Time

This is not the first time Microsoft have messed up on time changes. The initial release of Windows 95 had a similar bug for returning from daylight savings time: with no additional logic deemed necessary Windows 95 would flag the cutoff hour (often 03:00) and no further questions asked flip the computer clock back to 02:00 AM.

Which worked fine until the computer got back to 03:00 AM again. At which time Windows 95 flipped things back again. And again. And again. Now with the Zune Microsoft again prove their limitations: fourteen years later they still can't conceive of the devices being booted and running at the time of the rollover. As if the 'Pacific times' are the only times people use and UTC is but an abstract concept. Astounding.

While we're on the bloatware debate, let's look at some wonderful features that have come our way via that Mecca of intellectual happiness, Redmond Washington.

The incident below takes place soon after the Premium Release of Windows 95 and about one week before my corporation scrapped it altogether. I had 95 installed in my home and it was Saturday night and time for bed. I kicked in the screen saver and joined my wife under the covers.

Some hours later I was wakened from a sound sleep by a commotion in the next room. The wife did not wake, but I did, and I was curious what had cause the noise and went in to check.

It was the computer. The monitor screen had a big message box planted on it. The wording was something to the effect:

'Microsoft Window 95 has detected that you have now gone over to standard time from daylight savings time and has adjusted your computer's clock accordingly. Thank you for choosing Microsoft Windows 95.'

I was impressed! When I returned to bed the wife was stirring and protesting my being up and about. I told her 'you'll never believe what that Bill Gates did now!' and as she drifted off again to sleep I gave her the whole story.

But my sleep and mirth with Microsoft did not last long. It was exactly one hour later that I was awakened again - and for the same reason! The computer's clock, put back from 3 AM to 2 AM by Wonderful Windows, had again hit 3 AM, and - you guessed it - Wonderful Windows again put it back to standard time. At this rate Sunday would never occur!

Even though I knew better I passed it off as a fluke and went back to bed. And both one hour later and two hours later (my time, not Microsoft's) I was rudely disturbed by the collective alternative intelligence of Redmond. At that point I turned the machine off, had a few moments of black insight into how things are done and tested in that cauldron of cerebral superiority, and decided then and there that Microsoft Windows 95 could never be taken seriously.

But It's Easy to Fix!

The Seattle Post Intelligencer have published Microsoft's easy to follow instructions on how to fix the buggy Zune.

  1. Disconnect your Zune from USB and AC power sources. (In plain English: disconnect from all power sources including your Windows computer.)
  2. This will drain the battery and this is good.
  3. Wait until the battery is fully emptied and the screen goes blank. This can of course take hours so be patient. (You can use your iPod instead while you're waiting.)
  4. The next step is very important. Repeat: very important.
  5. Do not proceed until 00:00 1 January 2009 UTC.
  6. Reconnect your fabulous Zune. Let the battery recharge.
  7. As soon as the battery has enough power your Zune should start normal (for a Zune) play.

Oops! I Tried Something Else! Am I Toast?

People running DRM tracks should sync their devices immediately after recovery to make sure 'usage rights' are 'up to date'. [Yes that sounds like a wonderful technology. Ed.]

Those who attempt to resolve the issue by disconnecting their batteries may be up the proverbial ActiveCreek without ActivePaddle to help them. Microsoft point out the mere act of opening a Zune to remove the battery voids the warranty. [Another gem. Why do people buy this crap? Ed.]

But once the damage is done you should wait at least 24 hours to sync with your computer again and/or delete the player's content by going to Settings->Device->Sync Options->Erase All Content. Then just reload all your tracks all over again. [Piece of cake. Haha. Ed.]

And finally for the globetrotters who by some quirk of fate acquired one of these devices: don't connect your Zune to a computer still in the danger time zones. You may have fixed your Zune for GMT today but it might still freeze up when you land in Fiji later this evening.

The Day the Zunes Stood Still

The Microsoft blogosphere ran witty headlines about the incident such as 'The Zune Screen Of Death', 'Y2K Issue Hits Microsoft Zunes 9 Years Late', 'Zune Chokes on Leap Year Bug', and in honour of the Keanu remake: 'The Day the Zunes Stood Still'.

The Zune is still considered a marketing fiasco and consequently hasn't yet been released outside the US. Meanwhile rumours are growing that Microsoft may be planning significant (10%) layoffs for next week to offset the company's $3 billion decline in revenue.

Did you hear that sound? I think an entire division of Apple just spewed coffee all over their monitors.
 - Seattle PI poster
My 10yo son touched his sister's Zune just after noon and then it no longer worked. He was in so much trouble and started doing chores to buy her a new one. He's so relieved to see that everyone had the problem and it wasn't his fault the Zune broke.
 - Seattle PI poster
Anyone who's worked at Microsoft in the last 5-10 years knows there's a lot of dead weight at all levels of the company. Hordes of workers are simply coasting through the workday contributing little if anything to the company's growth while consuming tens of thousands of dollars or more in benefits.
 - Seattle PI poster
The real problem is that the best and brightest leave to avoid the carnage and resulting chaos and demoralisation because they're always employable and you're left with the undermotivated people whose real talent is hanging onto their jobs.
 - Seattle PI poster
Why can't Microsoft buy Coolness? Because Coolness have a poison pill in their contract in the event of a Microsoft takeover.
 - Seattle PI poster

See Also
Seattle PI: Analyst: Microsoft staff cuts would be 'healthy'
RISKS Digest Volume 20 Issue 36: Bloatware and Nightlight Saving
Sydney Morning Herald: Microsoft Zune music player hit by 'Y2K-type' bug

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