Microsoft's Zune HD portable media player has been sitting in a sealed box on my desk for two weeks now. Don't worry, I haven't lost my professional fascination with portable media players. The only reason the box has stayed sealed is because the Zune HD is little more than a $219 paperweight if it doesn't have the Zune 4.0 software client to connect to.
The wait is finally over. As of this morning, Microsoft's free Zune 4.0 software is available for download. Perfect timing, too, since the Zune HD officially goes on sale today and with any luck, preorders will be dropping on the doorsteps.
So what's new in version 4.0? Well, there's a new look, a new opening Quickplay page (shown above), an updated store stocked with new HD movies, rentals, and TV shows, a Genius-like Smart DJ feature that can leverage your Zune Pass subscription for an unlimited on-demand music-streaming experience that makes Pandora look like child's play.
But perhaps the biggest part of the new Zune 4.0 experience is that Microsoft is giving Zune Pass music subscribers a way to stream music over the Web by logging into their Zune.net accounts on any Mac or PC. We're still a far cry from being able to sync a Zune with a Mac, but at least Zune Pass users can now dig into the Zune Marketplace's deep catalog and stream music wherever and whenever they want.
To see more of what the Zune 4.0 software has to offer, head over to our CNET slideshow.
Update: Some users are encountering software installation problems with the download package from Zune.net. For a more comprehensive software download (and larger file) you may want to try downloading from Microsoft's Download Center.