Being an iTunes user for several years, I never thought much about its search capabilities. Until, that is, I experienced the elegance of Zune software's search.
When searching for a song with iTunes, you enter a search term or two (example: “Van Morrison"), and press the Search button to see a list of matching results.
Simple enough. But if you spelled ‘Morrison’ wrong (with one r, perhaps, or two s's), iTunes won't return any hits. At best, if you're lucky, you'll see a “did you mean. . . ?" message from iTunes.
And don't try partial searches, either. If you try to save time and avoid errors by entering “van mor", you likewise won't get any Van Morrison hits in your iTunes search results.
Another scenario: enter “Eddie Cochrane" as your search term, and iTunes returns no matches. Why? Because the artist you're looking for is Eddie Cochran. . . you have to lose the trailing e, otherwise iTunes won't help you.
iTunes search is simply unforgiving of typos or incomplete words, and returns only songs that are exact matches to your search terms.
Zune software, on the other hand, is much more forgiving, and much more effective as a tool for finding music. Most noticeably, it provides dynamic searching. As you enter your search terms, a filtered list of search results appears in the details pane. Every letter you press further filters the list - so as you spell your song name or artist name, you can see the results changing dynamically. You get immediate feedback on what you're looking for.
Because of the dynamic search, you can use partial spellings in your search. Enter “van mor", for example, and you'll see all Van Morrison songs appear as you key in the letters.
Zune software lets you mix and match partial search terms for artist and song name, too. This can be a very quick way to filter your results down to a desired song. Enter “van mor moon", and you'll get an idea of how quickly you can filter down to see Van Morrison's track Moondance.
Another useful trait of Marketplace search: it returns everything in that artist's catalog - even items that may not be available for download. This actually facilitates search - by providing a positive hit on your search terms. With iTunes, you have to scroll through search results to be sure you're not missing it, buried among the tribute albums and cover versions by other artists. Or, that you haven't missed it because of iTunes’ lack of forgiveness about typos and partial search terms.
On the flip side: While iTunes search is primitive, it is responsive. Press enter, and the results come back faster than the dynamic search of Marketplace.
The benefits of Marketplace search really hit home to me recently during our Rock'n'Roll research, where I and a small team searched for 500 rock and roll songs in each of iTunes and Marketplace. The efficiencies of Zune's Marketplace really stood out in that research project.
Zune software may not be perfect, but when it comes to helping you find the music you want. . . it blows the doors off of iTunes.
Harvey Chute is webmaster of http://www.Zunerama.com , a Microsoft Zune resource center that provides one-stop for all things Zune, including Zune user forums, Zune specifications, documentation, FAQ, and a daily blog providing analysis and commentary on Zune news.