Microsoft's much-heralded launch of Windows Phone 7 will be piggy-backed by the launch of its Zune music and video services across Europe.
As Windows Phone 7 handsets wash ashore in the UK and France, eventually bobbing up in the remainder of Europe, citizens of the Old World will be confronted with something called Zune... and they will put digit to chin and look upwards to the heavens for enlightenment.
Zune is Microsoft's digital content distribution platform. It includes a cross-platform Windows-Zune-Xbox-Windows Phone 7 media playing and storage client, like iTunes, that will share, sync, stream and download stuff. The other half of the formula is the subscription (Zune Pass) and marketplace features (music and video purchase/rental), which are far more complex in Europe than in the rest of the world.
If things work right, you can playback or stream content off your Windows Phone 7 smartphone directly to your TV, PC, Xbox etc etc etc.
The big "How do I get content?" question obviously kicks in right there. Microsoft will operate a subscription service (already available in the US) and a store (Marketplace) where you can get your content.
Zune Pass is the subscription part of the Zune music streaming service developed by Microsoft in an attempt to cash in on the mobile entertainment market. The system works fine, we hear, but the European model won't be identical to the one in use in the USA.
Zune Pass will offer an all-you-can-eat music streaming buffet at cost of £8.99/€9.99 - subject to users' bandwidth and traffic allowance on their data plans.
The groundwork has also been drawn up for music and video purchases, as well as video rentals. The difference between the European version and its US counterpart will be that in the US, users can pay $14.99 (around £7.50) and get to keep 10 songs for free, in addition to the unlimited streaming.
But there will also have a music purchase, video purchase and video rental service, here in Europe.
The music purchase deal will allow users in the UK, France Italy, Spain and Germany, to spend their hard-earned pounds/euros on the flavour of the month. As if to emphasise the chaotic nature of copyright restrictions, video purchases will only be available to UK, France and Germany, as each and every distribution label must jump on board.
A movie rental system will also be put into motion, with the UK, France, Italy, Spain Germany, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands and Switzerland having access to the service while the rest of Europe can suck on their thumbs until the appropriate legal documents have been signed.
Other European countries are expected to be announced before the end of October.
Now all we need is to have the mobile operators charge a flat rate for unlimited 3G/3.5G traffic... something Europe is usually much defter at doing than the US of A.