“This isn’t an iPod killer. This isn’t even going to give the iPod a bad case of the sniffles.” — tech industry analyst Michael Gartenberg, speaking to me in September 2006.

I remember my gut reaction to the first Microsoft Zune. I was packed into a conference room with a bunch of other reporters at the makeshift Zune headquarters, inside an otherwise ordinary office building near the end of state Route 520 in Redmond, Wash. When Microsoft executive Chris Stephenson dramatically unveiled the device, one thought flashed across my mind.

Brown?! Really?

It was a bold move, to say the least — the subject of many jokes in the months that followed. And with the news yesterday that Microsoft will no longer manufacture new versions of the Zune hardware, the risk is that the Zune device will go down in history as little more than a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to challenge the iPod’s dominance in portable music players — distracting Microsoft while Apple was moving on to break yet more ground with the iPhone and now the iPad.

OK, so that’s pretty much exactly what it was.

However, I’m going to be contrarian and point out that the Zune was not a total failure. Yes, some might accuse me of trying to polish a Zune here. But the device does not deserve a place next to Kin and Bob in the Microsoft Hall of Shame.

The latest version, the Zune HD, is truly a slick gadget, maybe the nicest piece of hardware the company has developed. Yeah, it doesn’t run Windows Phone apps, but as a pure-play music device — with a subscription service! — it’s pretty hard to beat.

But more than that, the Zune device was a testing ground for new concepts, such as the ability to share songs wirelessly from device to device. (A mechanism that came to be known as by the unfortunate name of “squirting.”) Give the company credit, at least, for recognizing early on that social networking would be a major force in the spread of digital media.

The problem is that social networking requires a social network — i.e., other people using the same device. So much for that.

In its later years, the Zune was also important as an early showcase for Microsoft’s “Metro” design scheme, which has since made its way onto Windows Phone and other Microsoft products. The Zune-branded music and video services will also outlive the hardware, continuing to exist on Windows Phone and Xbox Live, at least for now.

But the Zune device, it appears, is finally getting flushed.

Todd Bishop of GeekWire.com can be followed on Twitter and Facebook. No squirting required.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dhoward76 Dale Howard

    Sad news for me. My first MP3 player was the iRiver H10. I rushed out and bought the first Zune 30G on the day they were released. My wife had the Zune 4G. I upgraded to the Zune HD when they came out. My wife now uses my old Zune 30G and our son uses her Zune 4G. All of them still working great. Absolutely the Zune HD is the best and I think has much more style and compact than iTouch. Guess I’ll have to move on to a Windows Phone. iTunes is far too restricted on their usage rights for the purchased content. With Zune I get unrestricted content that can be moved to any device.

    • Anonymous

      Good stuff, Dale, thanks for sharing. Did you ever find any other Zune users to share songs wirelessly with?

  • http://www.addthree.com Paul Uhlir

    I’m with Dale. I downloaded the new Portugal the Man CD to my Zune last night. Unrestricted content is so liberating.

  • Bob

    Another likely $1B+ failure for Steve. How many is that now?

    • Boodog

      The zune hd was 20 times better than the ipod touch or any of the junk that that company releases. watch the commercials folks: ipad? cloud. I touch? zune. just watch. every time apple releases some new stupid idea microsoft tops it within 4 months. the only reason the zune is going out is cuz they spent NOTHING advertising it. so before you start saying yay!! the zune is gone!! do. your. research.

      • Bob

        Failure is still failure and money lost is still money lost, at least last time I checked.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zrcalo Zrcalo Sveta

    D: sad news… not only did they announce that they would no longer continue the franchise yesterday, but my brown zune which I’ve had since highschool got dropped into the cat dish and died.
    RIP ZUNE!!
    I’ve dropped you into the ocean twice.
    I’ve dropped you into a pool once
    I’ve almost run you over with my car when you flew out my window on the road.
    you’ve been trampled on by ravers
    you’ve been lost at a target store for almost a week.

    BUT NO, you couldnt stand it anymore when they announced they would not continue on with your buddies, so you had to launch yourself into my cat’s bowl and now you are dead.

    I think I’m gonna buy an 80 gig zune now.

  • jaykayess

    RIP Zune. I still love my little black 8GB Zune. But brown???????? That was a truly horrendous design disaster.

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