Microsoft yesterday unveiled its own digital music distribution store and strategy, aiming to use its desktop OS dominance to unseat market-leader Apple under the banner of "consumer choice".

Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, together with a selection of key partners, announced a range of new devices - music players, Media Centers, Smartphones and digital audio receivers. It also took the wraps off its Windows Media Player 10-based music stores, which offer over one million songs at 99-cents each.

Subscribers gain usability

Napster is among the first major online music-selling partner to employ the new Windows Media Player 10 support that lets music fans with subscription-based access to music collections to carry that music on portable devices. The company hopes to build its 11 per cent of the digital downloads market by allying itself with the world's largest software company.

Napster chairman and CEO, Chris Gorog, said: "We developed Napster To Go, the world's first portable music subscription service, so Napster fans can now put thousands of Napster songs on their players without having to pay for each individual track."

Microsoft stressed that, because its desktop OS has insidiously come to dominate most of the world's desktops, its services offered consumers accessibility and a level of choice (between Windows Media-compatible devices) that no other vendor can match.

'Choices matter, choose the same'

MSN lead product manager, Christine Andrews, told CBS MarketWatch: "iTunes has done a great job of helping to elevate the digital music market." She also articulated Microsoft's logic that, because it does not license its digital rights management system, FairPlay, to third parties, Apple is denying consumers their right to choose.

She said: "We're different because Apple is a closed system. If you want Apple, you have to use the iPod. A lot of people want choice and we offer that."

Apple bites back

Apple immediately issued a furious repudiation of Redmond's logic. In a statement released to multiple media outlets, Apple said: "Ninety-two per cent of customers buying hard-drive based music players are choosing iPods, and over 65 per cent of customers buying any type of portable digital music player including flash-based players are choosing iPods."

The statement continued: "This means iTunes Music Store works with 65 per cent of all MP3 players and 92 per cent of all hard-drive based music players being sold today."

In a stinging rebuke, Apple showed its teeth: "There is a lot of customer choice happening today, it's just that Microsoft doesn't like the choices customers are making."