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Debating iPod's merits at Zune's party

Plenty who attended launch party for Microsoft's Zune are iPod owners, although some sounded ready for a change.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.--Scanning the crowd of partygoers who on Thursday night helped Microsoft celebrate the approaching launch of the Zune digital music player, it dawned on me that there were likely more iPods in the room than Zunes.

OK, the iPods themselves weren't visible, but I suspected plenty of the devices were stashed in pockets and purses.

Do the math: Apple Computer owns 70 percent of the market for digital music players and Microsoft's Zune doesn't make its public debut until November 14. Also, Microsoft supplied the launch party with about only a half-dozen display models. I still wanted to know if I was right. Sure enough, most of party guests I interviewed acknowledged owning an iPod, even if some were embarrassed to fess up at a Zune party.

"Is that OK to say here?" asked Shana Halligan, singer for the band Bitter:Sweet, which performed at the event. "Anyway, I got it before the Zune came out."

This is what Microsoft is up against. So ubiquitous is the iPod that I suspect the company could find Apple enthusiasts within its own ranks. Nonetheless, plenty of those who attended the party see areas where the Zune could best the iPod.

Partying for Zune

British hip-hop star Lady Sovereign arrived at the party sporting her trademark ponytail, which she wears on the side of her head. She told me I had exactly two minutes to interview her. She then spent four minutes telling me how she blames Apple for two computer meltdowns that resulted in her losing thousands of songs.

The 20-year-old owns an iPod and knows her PC was running on Microsoft software, but blames Apple for not devising a better backup strategy.

"I can always replace the music but it just takes so long to load it into your computer," Lady Sovereign said. "There's got to be a way to protect the songs against that."

Halligan said that taste-testing music on iTunes can be dissatisfying. A listener gets to listen to only a song snippet at Apple's music store while Microsoft will allow users to hear a song in its entirety three times.

"You can think a song you hear on iPod is going to be fantastic," Halligan said, "but then you buy it and find out it doesn't have that great hook you expected."

Chip Hodge, an analyst with Lionsgate Entertainment, said he rejected owning an iPod years ago because of the price. He said he listens to the 200 songs he has stored on his Palm Treo 650 smart phone.

"But I'm thinking I want this," said Hodge, 26, as he hovered around a Zune display model. "This is nice. It might be time to upgrade."