So I've installed the new Zune desktop software, and updated my brown (yes, I have brown and I like it, thank you very much!) Zune 30GB to the new 2.2 firmware, and having had most of a day to use both, I'm pretty pleased, particularly given that the improved functionality and ease-of-use cost me nothing other than a few minutes of my time to download and install the new bits.

I'm finding the most improvement in the desktop software, which is far more useful for my purposes. I'm a Zune Pass subscriber, so one of the things that I like to do is find music that I'm interested in to download. Often this comes from looking up artists I like and seeing what their influences were, etc. In the previous Zune desktop software, I'm not sure if this was even possible.

The first time I opened the new Zune software, the main screen was highlighting the recent collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Not only was I delighted to find that it's available on Zune Pass, but clicking the related tab above the album info linked me to influences from The Beatles to Howlin' Wolf, and related artists from Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos to Steven Tyler and Ozzy Osbourne. No lack of interesting folks in that list.

There's also a bio page for each artist, often including photos. This is a nice addition, particularly since one consequence of downloading music digitally is the lack of liner notes. The artist tab lists the artist's discography, and can display either just the albums that are available in the Zune marketplace, or all albums, with the albums that are not available clearly marked as such. This should save a lot of frustration by avoiding having to click through to an album to determine its availability.

On the device, the interface has been cleaned up and the animations improved. Two of the major additions most people will have heard of are the ability to sync via WiFi and the addition of native podcast support. Both features work fine, but my favorite feature is much smaller, but more important to me, "go to artist". With "go to artist" you can quickly and easily jump to the full listing for the artist currently playing, so if you're shuffling all, or shuffling within a genre, and then decide you want to hear more from the current artist, you can do so without a lot of navigation. Just click the center button, select "go to artist" and click again. Boom! Done!

I'm still figuring on picking up a custom Zune from ZuneOriginals.net at some point, but I haven't decided yet whether to get a Zune 4GB/8GB, or wait until the Zune 80GB are available for customization, which is supposed to be in December. Since my Zune 30 still works fine, and has enough capacity for my whole music collection (for now, at least), I may go the Zune 8GB route, both for size and for the broader color choices (leaning towards Green).