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Originally published January 1, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 1, 2009 at 9:16 AM

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Original Microsoft Zune confounded by leap year, shuts down

A leap-year glitch shut down thousands of 2006-model Zune music players Wednesday. Microsoft says the problem should be resolved on New Year's Day.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Zuned out

A WIDESPREAD OUTAGE affecting 30-gigabyte Zune media players from Microsoft hit early Wednesday morning. The company blamed an internal clock that didn't handle leap year correctly.

What to do: Allow the battery to fully run out before recharging, then turn your Zune back on after 4 a.m. today Seattle time. If you're a Zune Pass subscriber, you may need to sync your device with your PC to refresh the rights to the subscription content you have downloaded to your device.

More information:

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft's original Zune digital music players popped the cork on 2009 a day early, leaving uncounted thousands irritated and locked out of their tunes for New Year's Eve.

Reports of frozen Zunes started flooding blogs and user forums early Wednesday. Beginning at 12:01 a.m., Pacific Time, players in use stopped mid-song and others seized up when their owners turned them on. People spent the day trying to coax their Zunes back to life — some performed "Zune surgery" at home — to no avail.

By Wednesday afternoon, Microsoft had its culprit: "a bug in the internal clock driver related to the way the device handles a leap year," according to a company statement. The clock failed to recognize that 2008 was a leap year with 366 days instead of 365.

It's not clear why that caused the devices to fail. Microsoft, which was short-handed for the holiday week, would not elaborate on the details.

The glitch is in a specific component used in the original 30-gigabyte device introduced in November 2006 and manufactured by Toshiba. Microsoft sold upward of 1.2 million 30-gig Zunes before it discontinued them to make way for larger-capacity hard-drive players in 2007, which it designed and manufactured itself. The rest of the Zune product line appears unaffected by the problem.

Zune users should allow their batteries to run down and look for the complication to resolve itself today, the company advised.

"We expect the internal clock on the Zune 30GB devices will automatically reset" on New Year's Day at noon Greenwich Mean Time, Microsoft said, or 4 a.m. local time today.

But that would be too late for Zune owners building playlists for their New Year's Eve parties.

"The New Year's Eve party I was going to tonight is relying on my Zune for music," wrote KCBosox19 on the Zune forum, a complaint echoed by dozens of others, some of whom lamented having to explain to friends the glitch in the product that has never quite achieved the level of cool associated with Apple's runaway leader, the iPod.

The timing is particularly poor on another front. This glitch comes a week before Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach, president of the Entertainment and Devices Division, take center stage at the Consumer Electronics Show, the nation's largest tech conference, in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

"If they're going to talk about the Zune at CES, this certainly gives detractors a lot of ammunition," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Kirkland-based Directions on Microsoft.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or

Information in this article, originally published Jan. 1, 2009, was corrected Jan. 1, 2009. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the internal clock on the Zune 30GB would automatically reset at 4 p.m. local time. The correct time is 4 a.m.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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