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Microsoft Zune in US stores by Xmas

But no confirmed plans for UK yet

The first Microsoft Zune offerings will hit US retailers in time for the busy Christmas season, with a 30GB digital media player and a Zune Marketplace online service the first to reach consumers, Microsoft said yesterday.

The details of what Microsoft is offering with its Zune line – which will compete with Apple's iPod device and iTunes software and service – sound similar to what Apple already offers, with a couple of exceptions.

In addition to allowing users to play music, videos and photos on a screen, the Zune player will include wireless technology and a built-in FM radio tuner. So far, iPods lack either radio tuners or built-in wireless technology.

Zune's wireless technology will allow users to share songs, playlists and photos between Zune devices, Microsoft said. A user can listen to any song they receive up to three times over three days, after which they must purchase it from the Zune Marketplace if they wish to continue listening.

The Zune Marketplace, like iTunes, allows users to purchase media and manage their own media libraries. Users can purchase music tracks individually or buy what is called a Zune Pass, a subscription service allowing users to download as many songs as they want for a monthly fee.

The Zune device will come in three colours: black, brown and white. In addition to viewing media on the 3in screen, users also can customise the screen with personal photos or themes, Microsoft said.

In another deviation from Apple's plan, Zune devices will come preloaded with content from record labels. Labels that are teaming with Microsoft to provide music for the players include TS, EMI Music's Astralwerks Records and Virgin Records, Ninja Tune, Playlouderecordings, Quango Music Group, Sub Pop Records and V2/Artemis Records.

After months of speculation, Microsoft confirmed in July that it was developing a music player and service to rival Apple's iPod and iTunes.

If other attempts to unseat the iPod are any indication, Microsoft will have a tough road ahead. Recently, Dell stopped selling its DJ Ditty music player on its site and ended development of its own line of music players.

Still, iPod market share has fallen in the past year, leaving room for rivals in the market. At one point the music player had more than 80 percent market share according to analyst estimates, but the latest reports give the iPod a little over 70 percent share.


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