Microsoft splits up Zune team, new hardware still coming though

zuneWhen Microsoft started laying folks off in January, we were afraid the Zune might be directly affected; it was. The big wigs at Redmond separated the Zune department into hardware and software teams. The bulk of the developers went into the software and services department where they are headed-up by the same suit that runs Microsoft’s Mediaroom and Media Center TV businesses. Interestingly enough, the hardware geeks are now working with the WinMo guys. We kind of figured it would have been the other way around.

The Zune has a great interface. The OS is really the only reason to buy a Zune. The hardware was sufficient enough, but the Zune has never been a looker. The software suite, both on and off the hardware, was always in a constant evolution in a good way.

In fact, most Internet know-alls have stated that Redmond needs to bring a bit of the Zune’s class into the stale Window’s Mobile platform. Thankfully, it seems some at Microsoft HQ have listened as the latest screenshots of WinMo 6.5 definitely have a Zune-ish feel.

The long term future of the Zune is unknown. Within a CNET interview however, Enrique Rodriguez who now runs the software side of the Zune, did state that new Zune hardware is coming this fall but also to expect the Zune service from other than Microsoft’s own line of PMPs.

Rodriguez wasn’t ready to offer details on when the Zune service would come, say, to Windows Mobile, but he did say to expect products within this calendar year that take the Zune service beyond just Microsoft’s own line of digital music players.

While E-Rod didn’t come out and say – or CNET didn’t reprint it – it sure sounds like the Zune OS will be licensed out to other hardware makers in a WinMo way. Smart move? It couldn’t hurt and only time will tell if it will work out. We have said time and time before that the software is the reason to buy the Zune and seeing the OS on different hardware could ensure that the brand sticks around in an iPod world a bit longer.