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Microsoft hopes to sell Zune using brown, not green

Software maker won't replace tracks bought on iTunes as rumors suggested, but the Zune will come in a unique color.

Microsoft does hope some iPod users will become Zune buyers, but it has no plans to bribe them.

Rumors that the company would pay to replace a user's iTunes store purchases with Zune-compatible tracks are not true, Microsoft said Thursday.

The Zune will be able to transfer music ripped to iTunes from CDs, along with information such as user-assigned ratings and playlists, said Scott Erickson, Microsoft's senior director of product management for Zune.

"The vast majority of what people have on their PCs is ripped from CDs," Erickson said in an interview on Thursday. Earlier in the day, Microsoft showed off the Zune for the first time, but declined to say just when it will go on sale or how much it will cost.

Although the Zune will play videos, Microsoft won't be selling TV shows or movies this holiday season. Nor, Erickson confirmed, will the device be able to play programs recorded on a Media Center PC, a type of Windows computer that has TiVo-like recording abilities.

"We're focusing on the question of what people are doing with these devices," he said. "By and large the main answer there is music."

Solving another mystery, Erickson explained the thinking behind the choice of brown as one of the Zune's color choices. It's part of the image Microsoft is trying to build.

"Who would create a brown device? Well, artists would and musicians would," he said. "I think it is going to be the sleeper hit."

Erickson said that the colors of the Zune are actually a "double shot," with a second more subtle tone added to give the device a richer color. The brown device, he said, has some green, while the black has a slight blue.

Microsoft has an uphill battle in chasing Apple Computer, which has sold 60 million iPods and dominated the market for legal music downloads and MP3 players. Apple stepped up the pressure on Tuesday, introducing an updated iPod that--while lacking wireless abilities or a larger screen--does offer a brighter screen, longer battery life and a lower price than prior models.

Microsoft is hoping the Zune's ability to share music will help it stand out.

"There's good technology out there, but we haven't really tapped into the human angle," Erickson said.

One of the questions though, is whether Zune owners will have enough fellow Zune owners to share music with. "We are going to be doing some activities in the next few months...that target that question specifically."

Among the events on tap, Erickson said, are Zune-backed concerts, as well as programs to make sure college students are among the early Zune owners. "The reality is the people on the streets and the groups of friends, and the community will be the best promoters of the device," he said.

Microsoft has said it expects Zune to take years to reach its full potential and it expects to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the effort.