The world's largest software maker Microsoft Corp. will start selling the Zune portable music player and the Zune Marketplace in the United States on Tuesday, hoping to take a bite out of Apple's dominant iPod and iTunes powerhouse.
The rectangular "Zune" player is similar in appearance to the iPod with a round click wheel, but is slightly bulkier with a larger, 3-inch screen.
The 30-gigabyte Zune allows the device to locate other nearby Zunes and wirelessly exchange music and pictures with a few touches of the button.
The wireless sharing ability of the Zune is meant to overcome what Microsoft sees as the biggest drawback of portable players: the inability of users to share music and listen with others.
The Zune represents the software giant's most ambitious attempt to date to challenge Apple's iPod, which accounts for more than 75 percent of digital music players and legally purchased downloaded songs.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft has said it plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and market the Zune, which is merely a starting point for a new entertainment platform and a "Zune community."
Microsoft said it's grown interested in entertainment because technology now plays a bigger role in the way people do everything from watch television to listen to music. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, said that's a change that plays to Microsoft's strengths.
"We're moving from just a device that you use on your own to what we call connected entertainment," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told the crowd in downtown Seattle, before demonstrating the Zune's wireless song-swapping feature. "We'll be able to upgrade the software here, connect you up to the capability you'll have in your car, your PC, your phone."
Analysts don't expect the early effort to make a serious dent in Apple's market share.
"It's not even going to give the iPod a bad headache for the time being," said analyst Michael Gartenberg with Jupiter Research.