The following article was authored by Charles Jade.
After years of allying itself with third-party developers challenging the dominance of the iPod, Microsoft apparently has had enough. The failure of partners like Creative Technology, whose Zen players are a distant second to the iPod line, has spurred Microsoft into creating its own hardware.
While details are sparse—not even a name—the Microsoft player will be in the stores in time for Christmas. What is known is that it will boast a larger, "more advanced" screen than the current video iPod, and that it will have WiFi, presumably for downloading content directly to the player. There is also a pitch towards "Connected Entertainment" and social networking, possibly in conjunction with Xbox Live and/or Windows Mobile handsets. Adding web browser functionality would seem a more concrete feature and an obvious plus, but perhaps the biggest feature of this initial model isn't in the hardware.
To attract current iPod users, Microsoft is going to let you download for free any songs you've already bought from the iTunes Music Store. They'll actually scan iTunes for purchased tracks and then automatically add those to your account. Microsoft will still have to pay the rights-holders for the songs, but they believe it'll be worth it to acquire converts to their new player.
Considering the number of songs sold thus far through iTMS, that could literally be a billion dollar feature, and more than anything else shows how serious Microsoft is. Microsoft is also negotiating with music and television executives for content, though the latter have apparently not yet committed… but they will. As for Microsoft's current partners, such as Creative Technology, Samsung, Urge, Real Networks—who cares. They failed. The question is now whether Microsoft will fail. Probably. The iPod is entrenched and will be dominant for the immediate future regardless of what Microsoft does. However, Sony and Nintendo were entrenched in the game console market once too…