Microsoft this week revealed that it will no longer manufacture Zune hardware. But that announcement is a formality: As my sources at the software giant told me long ago, Microsoft disbanded the Zune hardware team just days after they completed work on the Zune HD in mid-2009 and have never intended to make another Zune device. Furthermore, Microsoft began laying plans for the dissolution of the Zune brand at that time as well.

But you know this, I hope. I've been discussing it for over a year on the Windows Weekly podcast and mentioning it liberally in my articles and blog posts here on the SuperSite for Windows.

In any event, Microsoft this week made it official with a note on its Zune web site.

"Going forward, Windows Phone will be the focus of our mobile music and video strategy, and that we will no longer be producing Zune players," the note reads. "Your device will continue to work with Zune services just as it does today. And we will continue to honor the warranties of all devices for both current owners and those who buy our very last devices."

OK, that's straightforward enough. But what about Zune as a brand? I've received a lot of pushback from readers and listeners about my assertion that Microsoft is killing the brand as well. But that's what's happening. The big questions, I suppose, are timing ("when?") and what brand Microsoft will use to replace Zune ("what?").

As to the latter, my educated guess--and it is a guess because, last I heard, the decision wasn't final--is that Microsoft will use the Xbox and Xbox LIVE brands to promote the former Zune services in the future. (And I think we can expect those services to simply continue forward.) Personally, I'd like to see Microsoft keep the Zune brand: It's a great name, and has a great logo. But I do concede that Zune has the stink of death about it, so I understand the decision.

As to the timing, the transition seems to be occurring now. I received an email from Microsoft about the "new" Zune Music Pass--which I previously discussed in Zune Pass Changes, Heads to Canada--yesterday, and the Xbox logo and imagery is as prominent as the Zune stuff in that email. And Microsoft is starting to promote the notion of "Zune + Xbox = Free TV" on the Xbox 360 console in sort of prelude, I think, to the coming IP-based Xbox TV stuff.

Overall, I keep coming back to the same two things. I'd like to see Microsoft keep the Zune brand. But I'm hearing that they will not.