Back at devLink in August, I went to a few sessions by Jeff Blankenburg and he was a good speaker and seemed knowledgeable. He’s a Microsoft Evangelist, so you expect him to push MS products (that’s what he gets paid to do).

Anyway, the other day on Twitter, he kept talking about the new Zune software and how you could use it without having a Zune. I had never thought about this. I’d been using iTunes for so long – but I don’t have an iPod. Ever since version 5 or so of iTunes, it’s become more and more bloated.

Apple keeps adding features and using iTunes as the default program to manage them all. Meaning, if I just want it to manage my MP3s, I’ve got to install the iPhone management software and other stuff. It also has a few background services that always seem to run (iPodservice, AppleITunesService, etc) and they also seem to interfere with DVD/CD burning unless it’s through iTunes.

So, I downloaded and installed the new Zune software. I recently had to start over on a new computer and had to re-import my library anyway.

WOW! That’s all I can say. The Zune software found and recognized almost all of my 629 CDs and iTunes only found about 120 – the rest I have to manually add. The Zune software also has better artwork and metadata support. It seems to find artwork more often than iTunes and will easily correct your metadata or let you keep it the same.

So, if you’re looking for a nice music / media player and manager, I’d suggest trying Zune Software version 3. I think it’s time to uninstall iTunes.

Drop a new folder in your music folder and the Zune software will automatically add it. It runs faster just seems to be better overall – if you don’t need iTunes specific functionality.

One drawback, Podcast management is no good. You can subscribe, but it will show all episodes of a podcast. You can mark them as played, but they still show in your library, only grayed out. If you delete the file, the title is still in your library and it shows a “download” button. I want to be able to permanently remove it if I’ve already listened to it. Hopefully podcast management will improve in future versions.

Having worked in electronics retail for many years, I know that cutting edge products will always drop in price and that first gen. products will always improve with later releases. Even if I weren’t in the middle of a Sprint contract, I personally would have waited. Still, there were hundreds of thousands of people that purchased iPhone’s. The fact that Steve Jobs and Apple will offer customers who paid $599 for their iPhone a $100 credit is amazing. Kudos to Apple for listening to their customers and actually doing something about it.

Sure, I’d like to have an iPhone. However, since I don’t have $600 to drop on a new phone (and I’m indentured to Sprint for at least another year – or more). I’ll settle for playing with the Leaflets web based demo.

To get the full effect, you’ll need to be running Safari 3 on a Mac or PC. The idea of Leaflets is a great one. Provide a portal that formats a lot of the popular RSS based services for iPhone viewing. The RSS / Feeds view is very efficient and all the demos read very well on the small screen of the iPhone.

Still, the negatives on the iPhone (no MS Exchange, no high-speed data, etc.) make me want to wait for a later version anyway.

It’s been rumored for some time now that EMI would begin to offer DRM free music. It was announced today in London and it sounds like a win-win situation if you’re into downloading music from iTunes.

Songs will be encoded at 256kbps AAC (current is 128kbps) and sold at $1.29 per song, $0.30 more per song than the current price. These will be offered along side the existing lower quality, DRM tracks, and consumers can choose.

Entire album purchases will stay at the same price, but have the higher audio quality and will be DRM free.

I never liked iTunes download quality and the 256kbps will certainly solve that problem. The $1.29 per song is reasonable for per song purchases. The best part of the deal isn’t even highlighted. Entire album purchases will be the same price (usually $9.99), but will now be the higher quality (256kbps) DRM free versions.

I think iTunes and music downloads in general could look very different by the end of this year.