I've had a chance to play around with Zune 2.5, the latest software update to Microsoft's iPod-competitor, and I'm happy to report that all of the basic fixes Microsoft promised, such as the ability to edit song information and sort songs by genre, are there and work as promised. They also fixed a number of other niggling problems--for example, you can now update album art by copying a file (say, an album cover you find on the Web) and pasting it immediately into the Zune software in the appropriate spot; previously, you had to save the file in the file system and then navigate to that spot from the Zune software. (Just typing that wore me out.) They also got rid of the weird "list" and "browse" views--they don't need "list" view anymore because you can edit song information from within browse view, which is the only view, and isn't called anything anymore--it's just the interface. Phew.
With those fixes, the Zune software is no longer a show-stopper, and I can recommend the Zune as a credible alternative to the iPod. I still like the wireless sync, although other reviewers seem underwhelmed by it, and some of the new social features seem pretty cool--you can now see your friends from within the Zune software, play 30-second samples from their playlists and buy the songs with one click if you're interested, and add new friends by entering Zune tags or e-mail addresses. (Of course, recipients will have to have the Zune software and will have to register and sign in to "Join the Social.")
There are still a few issues--the software is a resource-hog, slowing down other apps on my 2006 Dell XPS Gen 2 laptop. (Task Manager in Windows XP shows it taking up more than 85MB of memory--and I've got the window minimized as I'm typing this blog entry in Firefox!) And I got a couple of error messages when trying to play songs on my friends' song lists, although that appears to have been worked out.
I can't really comment on the TV programming because (a) I don't watch TV regularly except for NFL football, (b) I can't imagine a situation where I'd want to watch a TV show on a Zune or iPod or any other portable small-screen device and (c) this blog's about music, innit? But apparently the Zune Marketplace has some shows from NBC, which pulled their shows from iTunes a while back, so a good checkbox feature for those of you keeping track.
Overall, though, a much-needed update that I think will make Zune more competitive than it's ever been, and I see a lot of promise if they keep updating the social and wireless features. Now if they can just figure out how to bolt a touch screen onto the device....