I love the Microsoft Zune Pass, since to me it’s the most economical way to discover and enjoy music.  Currently with a single Zune pass for $15 a month, you can connect 3 computers, and 3 Zune devices, with unlimited downloads of music.  It allows you to have separate music libraries on multiple profiles on a single PC, or multiple PCs.

This is a much improved model over the Apple iTunes “Buy” model which seems to lock you in to pay more, and get less ability to consume media how you may want too.  However, with the addition of the Zune Social community some issues are apparent with sharing a Zune Pass that I think MS should rectify to promote the Zune pass.

So in my family of 2, (me and my wife), we have 3 Zunes, and multiple PCs.  Having been early adopters of multiple Zune’s and the Zune pass it was “ok” to share between us.  This worked quite well until the really cool features of the Social were added.    So now, when we “share” our Zune Pass,  the music my wife listens too shows up on my Zune Social page.

I saw a comment by Aaron Linne which said “iTunes is for people who like certain musicians. Zune is for people like music.”, since with a single fee you get access to really explore music, without penalty for listening to new music you have never listened too.  iTunes really only allows you to choose to spend money on music you know you may already like, instead of being able to take a “risk” on downloading something obscure because someone recommended it to you.

I am still not convinced “owning” a version of compressed, DRM’d music that limits how you can use it, via the iTunes model, is something that is “better” than, just renting the same music, but getting much more for your money.  Music format’s will change, so why own something that you will have to re-buy at a later time?   The CD’s I spent so much money on in 1995, I rarely listen too now, as my music tastes have changed over time.  Subscription services really allow you to add and remove music from your collection as your usage changes, without the additional cost.

Sharing the Zune Pass is Kludgy

Anyway, to “share” a Zune pass, you are essentially are sharing the same LiveID associated with the Zune pass between multiple people.

  1. Install the Zune software on PC-1
  2. Sign into Zune Software with LiveID-A (associated with Zune Pass)
  3. Be sure to check the Save Password, and uncheck sign in automatically
  4. Download the music you want from the marketplace
  5. Sign out with LiveID-A
  6. Sign in with LiveID-B
  7. Play/Sync music to Zune to allow play counts to appear on LiveID-B’s Zune Social page
  8. You need to repear this process on PC-2 or PC-3 as well.

The problem with this workaround is that it is kludgy and not very user friendly.  It is easy for UserB, to forget to sign out of LiveID-A before playing or syncing the Zune which messes up how the play counts are distributed on the Zune card.  This greatly de-values the social aspect of trying to track your listening habits, since it’s not a true representation of a person’s listening habits.

I assure you I’m not a listener fan of Petula Clark or Mariah Carey, but by looking at my Zune card you would think I am compared to my wife’s:

Now as 2 adults, this is not a horrible problem, since the Social is not going to make us lose sleep at night.  Yet, if I had been paying for a Zune pass to share with my wife, and teenage daughter/son,  I could see this being more of a problem.  I don’t think your child would like to see mom/dads music on their social, or vice versa.

You also lose the ability to share Zune Cards amongst your family and have the Zune card listening habits auto-download played music to your Zune collection since not every Zune card is tied to the Zune Pass when syncing.  I don’t think you want to share the same friends as well in a common liveID as well.

Sharing LiveID’s are a security risk

There is also the security aspect of this.   In order to make it as painless as possible, you need to save the LiveID/password in the Zune software so you can download music.  Doing so allows the user to “break out” of the Zune software and browse the web with that LiveID.  Since you save the password in the Zune software, to facilitate being able to switch LiveIDs it can be used to access other web properties secured with this Live ID  This means due to Single Sign On, you can now access the billing details/credit information,  Live Mail,  Microsoft Money, or even worse Health Vault information you have tied to this Live ID.  I would not want to share such abilities with my children for obvious reasons.

You could decide to create a 3rd liveID to associate the Zune Pass with, and share that amongst your family, but this doesn’t stop that ID from accessing the billing information.  This also degrades the Social features such as auto-syncing friends listening habits since none of the friends would be tied to that account.  Having to create multiple liveID’s per service also de-values the whole liveID concept as well.

MS should enable Zune Pass Live ID assocation

To easily rectify this problem, all MS would have to do is give the ability to associate multiple liveIDs to a single Zune pass membership.  I should be able to designate my wife’s liveID as being connected to my Zune pass so that all the features are available.  Otherwise MS is shooting themselves in the foot by crippling how a family can use the service., making it less likely to be used.  I suppose MS would like you to purchase a Zune pass per individual person, but this is unrealistic for the cost to value ratio.   One of the selling points over the iTunes model is that it is very affordable for a family to subscribe to the Zune pass, and expecting families of 3 to have 3 separate subscriptions at $45 a month is too high of a price.  Of course if you have a family greater than 3 people who want to share the Zune pass, you will need to purchase separate subscriptions anyway.  I could see having a single subscription fee which includes 3 Zunes, and an additional $1-$2 monthly fee per Zune/liveID associated to the master Live ID to allow this.

You could also choose to allow or disallow an associated liveID from purchasing MS Points, so parents could control the potential for their children to purchase content on the associated Zune Pass’s credit information.  The master liveID holder could purchase MS points, and allocate them to the associated secondary account if they wanted to allow the purchases of songs or video content.  Today if you have the liveID, ,there doesn’t appear a way to restrict this ability.  I know parental controls exist in liveID’s but this type of associations should be on a service based scope since you may not be sharing with a “child” liveID account, which is the case with sharing with a Spouse, or sharing with your own parents, etc.

Even Zune Staff members are having issues with this, and I really hope Microsoft is working on a safe, secure, and user friendly way for multiple people to share the same Zune pass subscription.  This is one of the key benefits Zune offers over iTunes regarding it’s subscription model, so MS should bolster it’s strengths to make it stand out for the consumers.

So if you could share a single Zune Pass account with multiple people in your family, but keep your listening tastes separated with little effort, would you be more likely to purchase a Zune pass subscription?

With the recent 2.5 Zune release, they added TV shows to the Marketplace, which may make it possible to include video content in the Zune pass in the future.  Would you purchase a Zune pass for your family if you could download/view unlimited Music and TV content for a single monthly fee for your entire family?

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