April 4, 2007 12:04 PM PDT

Microsoft sees DRM-free music in Zune's future

Microsoft plans to follow Apple in selling unprotected songs from EMI, though the company won't say just when such tracks will appear on the Zune Marketplace store.

When CEO Steve Jobs issued his open letter calling for an end to DRM, Microsoft said the total abolition of such protections would be irresponsible, since they are needed for subscription music and other new business models. However, the software maker said Wednesday that it does plan to offer DRM-free music from EMI and others.

"We've been saying for a while that we are aware that consumers want to have unprotected content," said Zune marketing director Jason Reindorp. Reindorp said he did not have a time frame for when unprotected songs will be added to the store.

EMI announced plans on Monday to start selling unprotected songs, at a premium, through online retailers, with iTunes being the first to offer such tracks.

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Reindorp said the move could help Microsoft's effort, loosening the tight bonds between the iTunes store and the iPod.

"This does open things up a little bit," Reindorp said. "It potentially makes the competition more on a device-to-device or service-to-service basis. It will force the various services to really innovate."

Microsoft, meanwhile, is set to kick off a second wave of advertising for the Zune, which has grabbed the No. 2 spot among hard drive-based music players but has seen its share slip slightly in recent weeks. The company had an 8.8 percent retail share of the hard drive-based market in February, according to NPD, down from 9.9 percent a month earlier.

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Singing a new tune on Zune CNET News.com's Ina Fried on Microsoft's apparent about-face on DRM protection.

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Reindorp said that the first ads were mostly about establishing the brand, while the new advertising, which includes a TV spot, focuses on features that make the Zune stand out from the iPod, such as its support for subscription music, larger screen and built-in FM tuner.

The software maker is also expanding its palette of hues for the Zune. A baby pink Zune shade is set to debut early next month, while a watermelon red version is slated for summer.

"People are responding so well to the colors," Reindorp said. "We're having a lot of fun playing and experimenting with them."

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Microsoft Zune, EMI Group Plc., software company, digital-rights management, song

 

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