Microsoft to take on the iPod

It had to happen Zune-r or later: Microsoft has finally made an official announcement regarding its entry into the portable media player market.

The first player to be released under the Zune moniker is designed to revolutionise the industry and give the iPod a good licking. Sporting nifty features such as built-in WiFi, a three inch screen and support for most major video and audio formats, the Zune is off to a good start. Produced by Toshiba, the Zune also bears more than a passing resemblance to the gigabeat S, already hailed by many as an iPod-video killer. The Zune also comes in brown, which must be a first.

It's not only the hardware market that Microsoft are after though, as the company also launched the Zune Marketplace, an iTunes-style piece of software with a built in music store. In a move designed to appeal to download-hungry surfers, songs can be bought on a subscription basis with unlimited monthly downloads.

However, it's not all good news. A 30GB hard drive seems a little on the small size, and the wireless features aren't as good as we'd hoped for. Each Zune user can wirelessly connect to a friend's player, opening up the possibility for easy music sharing. Unfortunately, in a move presumably designed to appease the music industry, transferred songs can only be played for three times over the next three days. This is a big disappointment, as the ability to quickly swap a couple of hundred songs with a friend would be a big boost for the player.

There's no word from Microsoft of a launch date yet, nor pricing, beyond the fact that it will be "competitive". With Apple's recent cost cutting, we wouldn't expect to see the Zune retailing for much more than the 30GB iPod video's $380. And we reckon Apple ought to watch out. Many doubted Microsoft's ability to enter the saturated gaming market when it launched the Xbox, but Mr Gates' behemoth silenced most doubters. Whether he can pull off another coup remains to be seen.

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James Dickinson

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