Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has criticised Apple for not offering variety with its digital music strategy, but also congratulated the company on the success of the iPod, and for raising awareness of digital music.

He told CNet News: "They had a hit with the Apple II, they had a hit with the Macintosh, and they have a hit with the iPod, so this is a company that's had three hits, and that's very impressive. There are a lot of companies that don't have three hits.

"In the same way that Macintosh helped get people exposed to the graphical user interface, the iPod is doing a great job getting people to think about digital music."

But, he complained: "Apple is doing things the way Apple does – where it's the Apple hardware and the Apple store, that's great for them. We're doing it the Windows way… making it simple, having it work on all the devices, work with all the stores – that is important to us. The Windows ecosystem provides variety."

Relationship builder

Gates sees Microsoft's involvement in the digital music market as more of a relationship builder than a money-spinner. He said: "In and of itself, it's not going to be a big source of a profit because there will be lots of people with stores out there."

According to Gates: "Having the music platform there is just part of the overall online relationship that we want to have with these customers.

"In the long run, there will be a lot of people making digital music players, and we think that there will be a very different market share with dozens and dozens of companies. And other than Apple, all those player makers are signing up to work inside the Windows PlaysForSure ecosystem."