Tip o’ the Week 400 – Shake your Groove thing

clip_image001Streaming tunes has been covered by ToW in the past (#284, #350 and perhaps, most pertinently, #361) and if music be the food of love, then stream on. But Groove no more, sadly.

clip_image002The Groove app now offers an option of migrating your stuff over to new BFF, Spotify.

Groove Music Pass (which was Xbox Music Pass before that and originally launched as a service for Zune music players), is/was an arguably equivalent service to many others out there… but despite having similar catalog and pricing as other, newer services, never really got the momentum to be a big success, at clip_image004least in the eyes of the media and the general public.

The Groove app itself soldiers on, as the default music playback app in Windows, and it’s a great way of playing music that you’ve uploaded to OneDrive on a variety of devices. Rumours abounded a couple of months ago about imminent feature updates coming to Groove, so there may still be development to come – time will tell.

On the other side of the coin, the surprisingly successful Amazon Alexa gained a new skillcourtesy of Sonos, it’s now possible to control your Sonos kit using another device, like they entry-level Echo Dot.

Sonos also unveiled a new speaker which has a built-in mic for using Alexa with, so despite Amazon bringing multi-room audio to the larger Echo device, the two companies are working together for the benefit of their mutual end users. (applause)

You can still stream your Groove music collection and playlists to your Sonos, controlled by Alexa, at least until the end of the year, when the Groove Music Pass will cease to be. Spotify integrates into Sonos too, but only if you buy the Premium offering.

Amazon’s own Music Unlimited service is worth a look if you’re already a Prime customer, as you get money off every month, so it could be the cheapest of the main streaming services out there, and is the first (& only, so far?) streaming service that can be voice controlled using Alexa but played back on Sonos. Spotify support is supposedly coming soon.

Tip o’ the Week 361 – Music streaming choices

clip_image001Happy New Year! Fingers crossed, 2017 will be slightly less momentous than 2016, whether your measure of panic is political upheaval or celebrities ceasing to be. Some people even think 2016 was a real horror movie.

News just in, though, is that 2016 saw a resurgence in sales of vinyl LPs; in the UK, over 3.2m LPs were sold, up 53% from the previous year and the highest for 25 years.

Why? A few major releases from the likes of Bowie & Prince, but even new music is being released on vinyl at a rate unheard of a few years back. Amazingly, a high proportion of the LPs sold never get played – they’re objects to collect and to admire, while listening to the music in digital format. Maybe even bought by people who don’t own a record player.

Still, the burgeoning trade in big plastic discs is only 5% of the market and makes up the 41% of overall sales attributed to physical media including CDs. It seems streaming is the way most people consume music now, and the eventual outright demise of the digital download is being predicted in its favour.

But which of the many paid-for streaming services to use?


clip_image003Well, Microsoft fanpeeps will turn to Groove for the Music Pass offering, which is slick, cross-platform and reasonably priced, has great integration with OneDrive for roaming your own media around, hugely improved Xbox and Windows apps, integrates well with Sonos (if that’s important to you) etc. But still, it gets little attention from the media, it seems.

  • Fastcompany’s analysis of how streaming is changing, ignores it outright
  • Most of the comparison lists of which is the best streaming don’t even mention Groove, or list it as one of a few other options or at best an also-ran – eg. here, here, here.
  • Although the catalogue is more or less the same as the others, there are gaps in functionality – like the Family Plan idea, where you could have multiple users all tapping into a family subscription. Calls have been made (MSPowerUser here, Paul Thurrott here) to hurry up and offer such a thing. Time will tell.

Amazon Music Unlimited

clip_image004Recently launched, but will tap into the huge subscriber base already addicted to free next day deliveries and some fat old men on Prime (as it can be had for a discount if you’re a Prime user already), and no doubt enjoy stickiness through the ease of integration with must-have techno-toy, the Amazon Echo (there’s even a £3.99/mo subscription that works with just one Echo device).

If you’ve an Echo or Echo Dot device, ask Alexa if she’ll open the pod bay doors. And many other stupid things.

There’s an app for some mobile platforms (not Windows Phone, obvs) and a fairly decent Windows desktop app, too. Integration with Echo/Alexa is great, and there’s a promise of being able to use your Echo to control playback of Sonos devices, later in the year. This opens the somewhat tantalising prospect for existing Sonos users, of having a relatively cheap Echo Dot providing basic Alexa type services while controlling the music on the better-sounding Sonos.

The Amazon Music desktop app plays back local music and stuff that’s streamed, even offering the ability to upload your own tracks to the cloud service so you can consume them when mobile, though you need to pay extra if it’s more than 250 tracks.


clip_image006King of the hill as far as streaming goes, Spotify offers a free ad-supported but otherwise limited service. It says that 40m of its 100m users pay for Premium, which offers a richer feature set – it also supports Amazon Echo and Sonos playback (which is generally more pleasant than using Sonos’ awful desktop controller app).

There’s little more to say about Spotify other than it’s the service synonymous for most people with the act of streaming music, just like YouTube is for video or Skype is for video chat (unless you’re an Apple user, of course)…

One potentially infuriating thing about Spotify, though, is that its desktop app won’t play back local files encoded in anything other than mp3 / mp4 / m4p – so if you have a huge library of existing media all neatly encoded and tagged in FLAC, then too bad.

See comparison with the Amazon Music, here…

All the others

Meh. Some people like them, there are plenty of up & coming streaming services that think this is the year they’ll break through, but Tidal, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora; whatever. YouTube is still the most popular music streaming service, for copyright-dodging tightwads who don’t want to pay for content and are stuck in 2002.


One of the hardest things to do is to switch from one service to the other – what if you want to try out the new service but don’t want to rebuild all the playlists you may have made already? Try Soundiiz, a free web-based playlist sync & export tool, which supports a lot of the popular services including Spotify and Groove, but unfortunately not Amazon, Google or Apple’s offerings. Still worth a look, though it’s been in beta for a long time…

Tip o’ the Week 360 – Seasonal online goodies

clip_image001If you’re still planning on completing your holiday gift-buying towards the end of the shopping period, you may want to turn your attention to some online offers that will go down well with some – if not all – members of your extended family.

EMEA-based ‘softies can get an online equivalent of the North American retail Microsoft Store “Doorbusters” and the now-finished online “12 days of deals”, through their online employee store. The shelves are looking pretty empty, if truth be told, but you might still snag a 12- or 24-month Xbox Live Gold subscription for a bargain; you just get emailed the code, and it can be added to either a new (free) Xbox Live account to upgrade to Gold, or can be used to extend an existing one.

If you’re not an Xbox Live subscriber already, you could get the first month for only £1, and then apply the above code later should you wish. The public-facing “Countdown” promotion (running as of 22nd December all the way through to the other side of the festivities) has a load of other offers available, especially if you’re also an Xbox Live Gold member. Remind yourself how rubbish 1970s arcade games were for only £3, for example.

clip_image002Various other goodies are available from the online Microsoft Store website, and the other Microsoft Store – the one with apps, games and entertainment – has a roster of daily deals and other discounts worth checking. Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen Hans Gruber fall off a skyscraper (act quickly – deal running out).

There’s a Countdown sale on digital content, too, for when you realise the Christmas telly schedules are full of stuff you don’t want to watch, and your Sky Q box is up the swannee and taking an hour to reboot.

clip_image003Sadly, there are no Groove Music Pass deals to be had this year, unless you’ve never used A Zune, Xbox or Groove Music Pass previously. You can try it for free (for a month), and you’ll be sent a promo code to grab another 3 months free – so well worth a go, especially since the Groove apps for PC and Xbox One have been updated with support for Music videos, and the iOS and Android mobile apps have been given a refresh to keep pace with the UWP versions too.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, see you all in January!

Tip o’ the Week #290 – get your Groove on

clip_image002It’s quite useful to have a catalogue of names that can be put to different uses. Codenames are frequently reused, and there was a time when every new product had to have a snazzy moniker – remember Daytona, Natal or more recently Spartan?

As well as the more public ones, there are all kinds of internal project and product codenames that never make it out into the wild. Nowadays, openly referring to old products exclusively by their pre-release code names is no longer a sign of authority and more an indication of being a wazzock.

Product names, on the other hand, sometimes get reused, though not often by the same company. Microsoft, however, took the original Surface name from the table-computer (now PixelSense) and applied it to tablet computers, and has also now renamed Zune Xbox Music to Groove (not to be confused with this Groove), featuring the Windows 10 app called Groove Music and a subscription service called the Groove Music Pass. If you already had Xbox Music content, you need do nothing – it’s a rebranding exercise and some fresh new app functionality. If you don’t have Win10 or a Music Pass, check out the web player to see what’s available.clip_image004

Great News! Groove Music Pass users can now play with Sonos, so there’s no need to keep a Spotify (… Deezer, et al) subscription if you’re already a Groove Music Pass user. If you’re tired of waiting for Sonos to release a proper controller app for Windows Phone or Windows 8/10, then check out Andy Pennell’s Phonos. Or take to Sonos’ forums to ask what’s happening, though be prepared for a wall of silence neither confirming nor denying if and when a Windows Phone app is coming.

Readers with long memories might recall where “Groove” came from – it was the product of Groove Networks, brainchild of erstwhile Lotus Notes inventor, Ray Ozzie, whose company was acquired by Microsoft 10 years ago, largely to get the man himself. Along came the baggage of the (frankly horrid) Groove 3.1 then Groove 2007, which begat Sharepoint Workspace and was subsequently deep-sixed as a separate product line. Or so you may have thought.

If you dig around in Task Manager (CTRL-SHIFT-ESC to jump there quickly, keyboardinjas), clip_image006or better still, use the excellent Process Explorer from SysInternals, you’ll see something interesting…


That’s right – the bones of Groove live on in OneDrive for Business, at least for now – the plan being to unify the OneDrive for Business and consumer OneDrive sync engines. Good thing too.