Competing firms are teaming up in an attempt to whittle away Apple's market share.

Microsoft chief software architect Bill Gates yesterday revealed an alliance between MTV and Microsoft in the digital music distribution space - and news this morning hints of a deal between Microsoft and ailing Japanese consumer electronics giant, Sony.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Gates told it that both Sony and Microsoft could benefit from a broad partnership in digital entertainment, with "a lot of incentive" to work together in sales and rights-protection technologies.

Digital Music News reports Gates' statement that the new MTV deal will see cooperation on several different initiatives, including TV programming (the MTV network's channels include MTV, VH1, CMT and Comedy Central).

Apple holds at least 80 per cent of the music player market, and at least 70 per cent of the online music market.

Microsoft and partners continue to repeat a mantra based on consumer choice: because Apple's technologies only work on Apple-made products, they argue, consumers should choose Microsoft-made technologies distributed within products from Microsoft's partners.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs however counters the argument with his own: There is consumer choice. Consumers are "making choices", he states, "Microsoft just doesn't like the choices consumers are making".

A rueful Sony meanwhile is staring defeat in the music player market - a sector it made its own in the 80's with the Sony Walkman.

Speaking in October, Sony executives said they "fell asleep" in the market, warning of their intention to fight back.

Apple meanwhile has already announced its own partnerships designed to maintain market share, with HP and Motorola already known to be in the frame.

Gates refused to disclose any detail of the purported Sony/Microsoft alliance.