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Microsoft's Zune to rival iPod, iTunes

updated 06:05 pm EDT, Fri July 21, 2006

MS takes on iPod, iTunes

Microsoft today confirmed that it will launch an iPod competitor branded as "Zune." The offering will include portable media players as well as an online service, similar to Apple's iTunes Music Store. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chris Stephenson -- Microsoft's general manager of marketing for MSN Entertainment Business -- said that Microsoft sees "great opportunity to bring together technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together." Stephenson said the first musical device will contain a hard drive as well as Wi-Fi connectivity, and that the company is looking at seven or eight different wireless scenarios, which range from enabling users to view as well as sample music from other Zune devices in the same hotspot to purchasing and downloading music directly to the device.

The Microsoft manager said users will be able to view each other's playlists, as well as recommend music and sample tracks. The capability will also reportedly extend to the Xbox 360, PCs, and mobile phones running Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft chairman and former CEO Bill Gates in February pledged to bring new iPod competitors to the market by working with hardware partners in developing new digital media products.

"I don't think what's out on the market today is the final answer," Gates said. "Between us and our partners, you can expect some pretty hot products coming out over the next few years."

The WSJ notes that Microsoft is shifting its music technology licensing strategy for Windows Media technology, although it worked successfully for PCs. "Until now, Microsoft has approached music much as it did the PC market, creating what it calls an 'ecosystem' by licensing its software to any and all hardware makers," according to the report.

"For media devices, Microsoft widely licenses an audio and video format known as Windows Media, in the same way it licenses the Windows operating system to PC makers. It has many partners making hundreds of music devices, and there are multiple services that provide music that can run on these devices. The ecosystem strategy worked well in PCs. But in music, instead of turning Microsoft's technology into the industry standard, the strategy has confused consumers with scores of different devices and services under different brand names that haven't always worked well together," the report said.

In contrast, Apple uses its own FairPlay DRM technology to offer songs, television shows, and short films from its iTunes Music Store. Rumors have also circulated that Apple is preparing to sell full-length films, although the movie industry is wary of Apple's growing clout. Reports have already surfaced that Amazon may be teaming with Microsoft on such a service.

Microsoft denies rumors

Microsoft in early June aggressively denied rumors that it had teamed up with several other companies to contest Apple's dominance in the Japanese portable music market, saying that the rumors stemmed from translation issues. In addition, the software giant flatly denied reports that it was developing a digital media player to compete with the iPod earlier this month, saying that such reports were based on rumor and speculation. Microsoft said it had nothing to announce, denying statements from unnamed music industry executives who said they received briefings about the product.

Other recent rumors suggested that Microsoft would lure customers from iTunes to its own service by offering iTunes customers free musical tracks to match those purchased from Apple's online store.

by MacNN Staff



  1. zwiebel_

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Is this...

    for real?

    I don't know what to say...

  1. rjrasch

    Joined: Dec 1969


    From A to Zune...

    Wow Microsoft, I am already impressed. I like the way you are already marketing this thing from the back of the pack! MS - "Let's give it a name that starts with the last letter of the alphabet"

  1. jarod

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Here's a piece of advice for some quick money... SHORT MSFT. For those that don't know what this means, it means bet the the stock will go down instead of up on this hilarious attempt by Microsoft to further self destruct,

  1. danibo77

    Joined: Dec 1969



    stupid name, stupid web page...

  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Z Z z z zzzzzzzzzz

    Zuny tunes.

    Zune, so you can get some zzzzzz and tune out.

  1. cebritt

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Vista distraction

    Microsoft ought to focus all of their resources on getting Vista out the door instead of expending energy in the music market. And whoever came up with the name Zune ought to have their nerd badge deactivated and their desk cleaned out.

  1. just a poster

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Hey, whatever happened

    to that other recently overhyped piece of c*** from Microsoft, the "origami project"?

    Nobody was interested when they saw the product? You don't say!

  1. benhur

    Joined: Dec 1969


    be afraid

    I know the initial reaction among Mac fans here will be to discredit this attempt by MS to knock out the iPod but I'd be concerned.

    The iPod, right now, is by far the best music player and music download service but it's far from perfect. I would think both Apple and MS know this (would hope Apple knows this anyway)

    MS's first attempt might be a huge financial loss but they can afford multiple attempts and to buy marketing, partnerships, and exclusives (note: xbox) until they get what they want. The xbox, after many years and initial losses, is now considered a huge success.

    MS has the Media Center advantage (we're still waiting on Apple's home integration solution) and the tie in to the Xbox 360. If you don't think either is significant, well, you're missing the big picture. In some ways, MS is ahead with the broader infrastructure.

    Hopefully, Apple being as secretive as they are, they have something in the works. However, they don't wait too much longer.

    iTunes may soon allow us to be able to download movies which is cool but a tie in to a DVR would be awesome. Currently this exist for the iPod although for Windows users only.

    Higher res video downloads are long overdue. I even think there could be a more innovative format for music, include lyrics with all the songs, media, etc.

    I still think the iPods should include an FM tuner and voice recording. It's difficult to find a competing player that doesn't include those features at this point. How much cooler could Apple make these features anyway. Perhaps voice recognition to control your iPod "hands free".

    Bluetooth in the iPod - tons of possibilities. I would love a bluetooth headset that would automatically switch between my bluetooth phone and iPod for calls. As it is, I'm planning on making my next music player (I have two iPods) a music phone like the Sony Ericsson W810 (trust me, very slick phone though no iTunes support)

    Subscription and Download format - big debate but why not include both an be done with it?

    Sony PS3 integration! This is a just a dream but what a knowout blow it would be. The Xbox 360 has a huge head start but when the PS3 is realesed this fall, it will be insane. If Sony and Apple could work something out that would give Apple and iTunes so much more exposure. Would be cool if the PS3 included a dvr. Well, it would just be cool if Apple wrote the PS3's operating system.

    Anyway, I don't think we should count out MS yet. They've been watching quitely and waiting for an opportunity. Hopefully this brings out the best in Apple and we see some really great stuff.

  1. Terrin

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Microsoft Blows

    I wonder if it has ever occurred to Microsoft that it should concentrate on a few select businesses and come out with a few good products instead of trying to compete in every market created by somebody else.

    I have no doubt that the Zune or whatever it will be called will be a decent player. I also suspect Microsoft will be willing to lose money on either the music front, the player front or both.

    I, however, do not think it is worth comparing today's iPod to whatever Microsoft is coming up with. We all know Apple is working on its next generation iPod, which is over do. That is what we need to compare Apple's iPod to the competition.

    Also, I see no need for Apple to include a FM tuner or voice recorder. It already provides a connector where I can add these if I want them. Those things will raise the price, and as fair as Fm tuners go, they are not that good.

    I would like to see an Apple branded satellite radio connection for the iPod.

  1. chas_m



    good news

    First off, benhur's comments are pretty on-target IMHO. Yes, Zune is likely to be another MS failure, but MS can wait YEARS before pulling the plug.

    Secondly, I hope Zune will push Apple to improve. Competition is a GOOD thing.

    Third, unless MS has revamped their DRM to be as trouble-free as Apple's, they're going to have trouble. Apple's FairPlay is so successful because the average user NEVER bumps into any of the restrictions. Microsoft's efforts at DRM, so far, have not been so "invisible."

    Fourth, I notice with interest that features that used to be "part and parcel" of the forthcoming player are now just "scenarios" that MS "may" develop. This thing is sounding more like Vista every day.

    If anyone wants to kill the iPod, here's how in three easy steps:

    1. Offer oldies at LESS than 99 cents/song 2. Offer DRM-less versions (at higher prices if needed) 3. Offer higher-quality files (Apple Lossless?) for extra $$.

    Anyone who does all of the above has my biz. Until then, Apple's iTunes ain't too shabby.

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