Zune Pass: Microsoft's answer to piracy

Zune Pass isn't something new, nor is it something that hasn't been widely covered online, but we're convinced that it really could be the first good attempt at the fight against piracy. We tested out the music subscription to see how well it really works, and if it could actually have a shot at the big time; iTunes.

A few months ago, Microsoft released Windows Phone, a new contender in the mobile market, and the software giants' "new version" of Zune. I was one of the few that went out on Day 1 and got a device. A launch device. Sure, it's been a bumpy, unforgiving ride, but Microsoft has changed the game with Windows Phone, even if the critics disagree right now. The Zune desktop client that goes alongside Windows Phone / Zune hardware is stunning, and really focuses on the music experience, and had me in love from day one.

Shortly after getting a Windows Phone and signing into it, and setting up my account I realized I'd set it up with a New Zealand based Windows Live account. Over here, Microsoft hasn't launched Zune fully, and Zune Pass isn't available, but I kept hearing great things online, so I hard reset my phone and loaded in my old Windows Live ID from the US, then signed up for a 14 day trial of Zune Pass. This is where everything changed.

Marketplace album download view

Zune Pass works on the idea of "try before you buy" music, a common excuse of self-confessed piraters. Those that would always download an album before buying it. Zune gets around this, in a way. When you sign up for Zune Pass, you get full access to the entire catalogue (a massive one, at that) of music on offer. You can download whatever you like, no limits, no restrictions on how much music and the music is yours to keep -- as long as you keep paying subscription costs. This is where Microsoft really throws a curveball, though. On top of the fee you pay for unlimited music ($15 USD at time of writing), you get 10 "song credits" to convert the subscription files (which are DRM loaded) to unlocked MP3 files. Not only does this make Zune Pass more attractive, it essentially means that you're getting an entire album a month for keeps, as well as an entire collection of music to play.

On top of this, you can download music on any 3 authorized PC's, play music on your Xbox 360, transfer it to your Windows Phone or Zune and stream from Zune.com anywhere. That's a competitive package. I've now ditched my iPod in favor of my Windows Phone, considering I have it everywhere anyway. If I run out of song credits, I tend to just buy albums off Zune, too, considering that they're competitively priced.

Zune.com web streaming

Zune Pass is only available in some countries around the world, for more information and to sign up, check out the Zune website.

Update: For those outside the US, there are methods to get a Zune Pass no matter where you are. Check out the guide here.

Has anyone else taken the Zune plunge? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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I have a Zune Pass. I just recently said to a friend "I can't remember the last time I torrented something". Between Zune and Netflix, my entertainment needs are satiated

Gutierrez said,
the people still buying this crappy device?.

Zune Pass not Zune. One is a music subscription the other is a device.

There should be a run off of pros and cons all music servies, Amazon, itunes, Zune, Rhapsody, Qriocity, ect... THat would be a nice article on neowin

Doli said,
There should be a run off of pros and cons all music servies, Amazon, itunes, Zune, Rhapsody, Qriocity, ect... THat would be a nice article on neowin

Thanks for the idea

Zune Pass is definitely a winner... I know people in the States that have it and have never downloaded illegally in ages. I really hope they can get worldwide release rights soon otherwise iTunes will probably rip them off with a similiar service someday.

I need help !!!!

I live in Canada. I was able to add a Canadian credit card to my U.S. account back in 2006. I changed my credit card recently... and now ... I can't add it using the same technique I used in 2006. In 2006, I used a random valid U.S. address instead of my address when adding the credit card. It was a VISA.

i did read the guide mentioned in the article.......but the tricks wont work ?
If you got this to work outside the US....please help !

Where do you add the credit card to your account exactly ? Web, phone, Zune software, Xbox ???
also, I did a hard reset on my phone yesterday .... I didn't see this :

"Once you done that if you visit the 'Marketplace' on your phone you will be asked for your region (and birthdate) - at this point set the region to United States"

When you go to the phone settings, what do you have exactly under "Region and language" ?

Zune pass is one thing....i can buy one online like you said...but I absolutely need a credit card to buy apps!!!!

Thanks in advance for your help!

@aquanaut88

I'm guessing as you've quoted prices for US dollars that you live in the US, just checked my Zune (UK) and I can download the Beatles, Peter Gabriel and some pink floyd, that "wish you were here" was on zune, but just said unavailable. Guessing pending on country some bands/artists arn't available.

Recently tried the zune pass for 14days and I was quite impressed, massive catalogue of songs, easy quick transfer between my computer and my wp7, very good stuff

Everyone keeps talking about how brilliant Zune Pass is and how awesome it is to have it on all of their Microsoft supported devices. When I used it, it was a good service BUT I would like to submit that Rhapsody is cheaper, and available across a wider range of hardware.

Shadrack said,
Everyone keeps talking about how brilliant Zune Pass is and how awesome it is to have it on all of their Microsoft supported devices. When I used it, it was a good service BUT I would like to submit that Rhapsody is cheaper, and available across a wider range of hardware.

Not as easy to use, tbh

Owen W said,

Not as easy to use, tbh

On what? Works fine on my Droid Incredible. Zune Pass isn't bad, but I didn't care for the Zune HD. I had it for almost a year but sold it because of its lack of the hidden wireless connectivity.

I'm always a little amazed at how accepting some people are. M$ has finally come out with a product that is far less than ideal, but is so much better than their previous disasters, that you jump up and down over how incredibly mediocre it is. If this was their FIRST offering, it would be one thing, this is simply a way to keep you locked into their product and continue paying where with almost every other alternative, it costs less and no DRM. The convenience etc are all very nice, but how about developing a model that DOES NOT include paying forever. Jesus.

Hahaiah said,
The convenience etc are all very nice, but how about developing a model that DOES NOT include paying forever. Jesus.

Right so what, you pay one payment and that's it? There's a major flaw for microsoft and the music artists right there and that's how are they going to get money? The artists like to be paid for their music, so if someone only has to pay a one-off payment these artists wouldn't get much money at all and thus would end up the arists not allowing Zune pass subscribers to download their work.

You only think about the consumer, yes, we would like the best possible outcome, but companies have to compromise because they're not a charity, MS is a business, and businesses need to make money.

Munroe said,

Right so what, you pay one payment and that's it? There's a major flaw for microsoft and the music artists right there and that's how are they going to get money? The artists like to be paid for their music, so if someone only has to pay a one-off payment these artists wouldn't get much money at all and thus would end up the arists not allowing Zune pass subscribers to download their work.

You only think about the consumer, yes, we would like the best possible outcome, but companies have to compromise because they're not a charity, MS is a business, and businesses need to make money.

You can boo hoo for the corporations all you want, the point is there is plenty of money being made, but greedy labels and distributors always want huge profits, not good profits, huge, so they screw the artist, the consumer and each other. This is painfully obvious to most everyone. You got it right though, Yes I don't think I should have to pay more than once for music. If you wan to provide me with a delivery SERVICE, I would entertain the thought, but I for one am not giving M$ complete control over anything. Rock on sheeple.

I just wished more than 3 computers can be authorized to download music. I forgot to deauthorize two computers before I reformatted, but I was able to deauthorize one and reauthorize another (on my netbook) and now I have to wait a month to remove another computer (hoping it's not my desktop, as I reformatted my laptop).

Other than that, I love it! All you can eat music + being able to keep 10 + channels and wireless syncing with my Zune HD (which I wished they'd keep refreshing, but I'll just grab a bigger Zune HD as I don't believe in having everything in one basket).

As a Zune pass member, I haven't even borrowed a CD from a friend to rip it in a couple of years.

There is no reason to dig through illegal and questionable rips like a few friends I know do.

There also isn't a reason to pay $$ just to get the new songs from the new episodes of Glee. (Which I have Gleek friends with iTunes that dump more money in a couple of months than I do for year's Zune Pass subscription.)

However, where it really shines, is when you have a non-technical friend or relative, as they don't even have to rip the CDs they own, nor try to figure out what a torrent site is, or spend tons of money at iTunes.

So, ya it should cut down on piracy, and also should be something that especially pirates consider as a new way to gain access to all the music they want, and not have to worry about breaking the law.

Why download a few CDs of stuff you like illegally, when you can download 100s of CDs of stuff you like legallly.

This has been tried before. People just download a bunch of tracks, strip the DRM, and then drop the service. An unlimited service such as this will just accelerate piracy, and besides, it won't eliminate the traditional avenues.

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