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Microsoft announces Zune music player, service

blog Finally goes public with rival to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes.

After many fits and starts and rumors and much speculation, Microsoft has apparently decided to pull back the curtain on its plans for a new music player and service, ala the iPod and iTunes model, called Zune.

According to a posting Friday on the Zune Insider blog, the announcement came today in an article (registration required) in Billboard.

"So what's Zune?" writes Cesar Menendez, the author of the blog, who says he recently began working on the project. "It's Microsoft's new, holistic approach to music and entertainment. And yes, this year, we'll be releasing a device as part of the project. Under the Zune brand, we're looking to build a community for connecting with folks, all to discover new music and entertainment.

So should Apple be worried? Well, if Microsoft's history of entering markets controlled by other companies is any indication, the iPod/iTunes franchise should be dominant for at least a couple more years. But after that, after Microsoft has had a chance to iron out the kinks in the system? I'd be a little nervous up in the executive suites in Cupertino.

This is not Microsoft's first attempt to go after the iTunes and iPod. Until now, though, the company has largely relied on partners to make the players and software that use its Windows Media digital rights technology and tie into the Windows Media Player software built into its Windows operating system.

More recently, the company had tried to modify that strategy. While remaining open to other players and services, the company had been focused on promoting more heavily certain products, such as iRiver's Clix player and the Urge service it helped develop with MTV.