Apple, its partners, and Microsoft technology-backed services are preparing to enter a gruesome format war – but music industry leaders want compatibility between products and services.

Billboard reports that hardware makers and digital format developers are in private talks in an attempt to deliver harmony between competing devices by 2005.

Warner Music VP strategic planning and business development Paul Vidich claimed: "There's substantial discussion going on about interoperability." The report suggests the focus of such efforts is the development of solutions that let secure formats – such as Apple's implementation of AAC and Microsoft's Windows Audio – be transcoded from one to the other, securely.

The report concedes that Apple controls much of the existing market, but ends with comment from Microsoft's Windows Media leader Dave Fester, who has been stymied so far by Apple's huge success in this market.

"We collectively need to do the right thing for the consumer," he tells Billboard.