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Jobs offered to let Sony into iTunes, report says

Apple Computer's CEO pitched a digital-music alliance to counter Microsoft at a golf tourney, according to a Japanese newspaper.

To counter Microsoft's planned entry into the digital-music market, Apple Computer offered to sign a strategic agreement with Sony, according to a Sept. 2 report in Japanese daily Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun, which quotes sources from Sony.

According to the sources, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made his offer to Nobuyuki Idei, head of Sony, in January during a golf tournament organized by the Japanese company in Hawaii. Apple, it seems, was ready to open up its iTunes Music Store and make the song downloads there compatible with Sony's digital-music players.

Apple and Sony representatives declined to comment.

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Apple has been reluctant to provide licenses to companies seeking compatibility between their digital-music products and iPod, much to the chagrin of other players in the sector. In July, RealNetworks drew strong protests from Apple on the launch of its Harmony software, which allows people to play songs bought from its store on the iPod and other players. The technology, which effectively recreates Apple's proprietary copy protection technology, was released without Apple's permission.

However, Apple has signed up Hewlett-Packard, which released an HP-branded clone of the iPod in August. And in the mobile space, Apple licensed its technology to phone maker Motorola to enable some handsets to play iTunes downloads.

Microsoft's music downloads, on the other hand, can be read by a far larger number of music players. Last week, Microsoft released a beta version of its online music download service, MSN Music, which lets people download tracks onto PC hard drives and onto portable devices that support the Windows Media digital audio format.

Sony has launched its own download service, Sony Connect, hoping to repeat the success of the iPod and iTunes by pairing the service with its digital music player, the Network Walkman NW-HD1. But the Walkman-branded music player and the service both depend on Sony's proprietary Atrac technology, and Sony is unlikely to want to loosen its grip. It also has a tool called Sonic Stage that lets users convert nonprotected MP3, WMA and WAV files into the Atrac format.

Christophe Guilleman of ZDNet France reported from Paris.