Goodnight Zune

March 18, 2011: 5:43 PM ET

After five years of false starts, word is leaking out that Microsoft is giving up on its much-maligned portable music player.

By Mark Horowitz, contributor

Microsoft Zune HD

Microsoft Zune HD

Dear Zune:

I gave you the best years of my life, and this is how you repay me, by breaking up? And I had to read about it online. You didn't even have the decency to Skype.

But who am I kidding, Zune, I'll always forgive you, because I always have before.

I remember when you launched, way back in 2006. Sure I was skeptical. But I liked your style, and your "all-you-can-eat" subscription model. iTunes looked like an old spreadsheet program, but your interface was sophisticated, and your recommendation algorithms really got my taste in music. Apple (AAPL) never really understood me, Zune. Together, we were going to teach those smug little Apple fanboys a lesson, because a Mac version was just around the corner. (That turned out to be your first broken promise, but not your last.)

Still, I stood by you during those difficult early years: You weren't the prettiest piece of hardware, at first, and your software was a little bloated and slow. But you slimmed down and sped up eventually, and I never doubted that given more time you might someday have stopped crashing all the time.

I swelled with pride when you finally figured out how to work with my Xbox. You promised and promised, and I was patient and I forgave that it took forever. Why should Microsoft (MSFT) products work well together right out of the box? These things take time. Until you were ready, I worked around the problem by hooking up an extra PC to my Xbox and running Windows Media Center. Boy, setting that up took days, and eventually I was able to stream the music in my Zune folders through my Xbox, unless it was music I'd bought with my Zune subscription. Windows Media Center couldn't play them. It seemed strange, but I knew you had your reasons. Didn't you?

I know what you're saying. Just the Zune hardware is being deep-sixed, not the software. You're just killing the Zune HD, the very model that proved Microsoft could occasionally get it right. But even without the actual Zune, the Zune Marketplace will live on in PCs, Windows phones and Xboxes everywhere.

But how dumb do you think I am? Some people might still be willing to keep eating the "dog food," as Steve likes to say (Ballmer, not that other Steve) but let's face it, why would people stick with Zune software when they can use Rhapsody or iTunes or (eventually, I hope) Spotify? Microsoft never really believed in Zune, so why should we any more?

I need a new brand to call my own, so I've been thinking about replacing you with a tablet. In fact, I've already got my eye on one. You've probably heard of it. She's a real beauty. So goodbye, Microsoft Zune. And hello, Motorola Xoom…

-- Mark Horowitz is looking for his old iPod. It's in this drawer somewhere.

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Paul Smalera
Paul Smalera

Paul Smalera is a senior editor for Fortune.com, guiding the website's coverage of tech, finance, investing and the economy. He has written about a wide variety of topics -- from the inner workings of the Google search engine, to the biodiversity protecting Svalbard Global Seed Vault, to the economics behind online dating websites and the impact of the Fed's policies on the national and global economy. A true generalist, Smalera believes every story is a business story if you follow the money.

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