Microsoft has posted a solution to the problem... unplug the Zune and let the battery drain out, wait until noon, GMT, on Jan 1, 2009, then plug it back in. Once the battery has sufficient power, the player should start normally.
According to hundreds of reports from users worldwide, 30GB Zunes are freezing and locking up due to what appears to be a new years date bug.
One poster summarized the issue on Microsoft's support forums, "At exactly 2am CDT (12am PDT), the docked Zune made the "unplugged from USB port" bong-noise and went to the boot-up screen with the 100% loading bar...and froze. At 2:30am CDT, I decided to check the other Zune. Turned it on and...frozen at the 100% loading screen."
It appears as though only 30GB Zunes are currently affected and some reports indicate that only Zunes with the latest firmware are affected, but this hasn't yet been confirmed.
Microsoft has not yet commented on the matter and is currently unavailable for comment due to time zone differences.
Update: Microsoft's official response so far is "Thank you for your inquiry. We're looking into the situation and will update you as soon as possible." Microsoft has also updated its Zune support service page, "Customers with 30gb Zune devices may experience issues when booting their Zune hardware. We're aware of the problem and are working to correct it. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your patience!". Microsoft's Zune insider twitter page has the following, "Hey all. Yes it looks to be quite a day. Thanks for all the heads up. we are on it working to isolate the issue and I will keep you posted." More as it follows.
Update 2: Microsoft has now additionally stated that the Zune Social "might be slow or inaccessible."
Update 3: On the ZuneInsider Twitter, Microsoft says they are making progress and close to being able to ID the issue. Hopefully for the many users being hit with this bug, that means a fix is forthcoming.
The Zune freezes as pictured below:
Image courtesy of Gizmodo
Thanks to QuietStorm21A for the news tip.