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Microsoft confirms Zune software, hardware family

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Microsoft has confirmed it is developing a "family of hardware and sofftware products" under the Zune brand in a bid to win a big chunk of the portable media playback market away from Apple's iPod and its competitors.

It's been alleged in the recent past that Microsoft's goal it to grab 20 per cent of the PMP business, though there was no such target stated in the statement sent out by email late last week. There's also been speculation the Zune range will not be compatible with all the Plays For Sure-branded WMA devices out there. If so - and given Apple's strong hold on the market - Microsoft's gains are more likely to come from its PFS partners than from the iPod.

The company didn't specific what Zune will encompass beyond "technology and community to allow consumers to explore and discover music together", but that certainly sounds like the kind of thing the rumours have hinted at: music shared between wireless devices and across the internet. Think P2P between gadgets and a MySpace for music.

DRM and subscriptions will keep it all working: DRM to stop sharing content with folk outside the "community", and a subscription package to enable the licensed, all-you-can-eat music transfers the system implies.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft also equips the system to enable one-off downloads. If someone saves a shared track that they don't have a right too - because they don't have an unlimited-download subscription - will they be told to take out a sub, or have their account automatically billed the 99 cents or whatever?

Zune is expected to ship in time for Christmas. ®

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