Hacking the Zune

A few tweaks can turn Microsoft's MP3 player into the device it was supposed to be

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Until it went on sale last November, Microsoft's Zune was heralded as the first true iPod-killer. But with its overly aggressive copyright protection and the odd, self-imposed limits to its most innovative features (like built-in Wi-Fi), it has so far failed to make even a dent in the iPod's shiny white-and-chrome armor. It's likely the Zune will improve with version 2.0 and beyond, but until then, here are three easy Zune tune-ups to ease the pain of waiting for a better model.

UPGRADE THE HARD DRIVE

The Zune's 30-gigabyte drive could be a little roomier.

  1. Buy an 80-gigabyte Toshiba drive ($160; welovemacs.com) or harvest an iPod's.
  2. Open the Zune (see ipodmods.com for directions). Remove the battery, the hard-drive casing and the new drive's label plate, and install the new drive.
  3. If you still don't love your Zune, at least hold on to the battery-as with the hard drive, you can use it as a spare for the latest video iPods.

USE IT FOR STORAGE

Unlike almost all other players, the Zune can't be used as a USB drive out of the box.

  1. Install .NET Framework 2.0 from microsoft.com.
  2. Download the ZuneHDPatch at cppworld.com/Zune/ZuneHDPatch.exe, and run it on your PC with your Zune unplugged and the Zune software closed.
  3. Plug your Zune into your PC, and it should appear as an external hard drive.
  4. To copy files, make sure the Zune software is running and set to "syncing."

KEEP SHARED SONGS

You can beam songs to other Zunes, but they are deleted after three plays.

  1. To avoid this, do the storage trick [previous], then change the song files' extension to .jpg. Place the files, along with a real image file, into a new folder in your Zune's "received pictures" folder (only noncopyrighted songs!).
  2. Send the "pictures" folder to a friend's Zune.
  3. On that Zune, sync the folder with a PC. Change the extensions back, and move the songs to your Zune.

MORE TRICKS:

Watch YouTube
Use the Internet Explorer add-on ZuneMyTube (tinyurl.com/y2oomb) to download videos automatically.

Free Up Your Music
Go to Options > Rip > Format > MP3 to set your Zune software to encode files in MP3 format instead of Microsoft's WMA so you can still play your songs if you pawn your Zune for an iPod.