After internal complaints that Microsoft's hardware and software partners weren't doing an adequate job competing with Apple's iTunes Store and iPod in the digital music market, the company released its Zune player and software. But Zune wasn't a foregone conclusion, according to internal Microsoft email messages that recently came to light. Microsoft had also considered a partnership with its rival, Apple.
This development came to light when evidence was introduced at Microsoft's class-action antitrust trial in Des Moines, Iowa. Many had long understood that Microsoft was unhappy with its digital-media partners, a fact driven home in a 2003 email message named "sucking on media players" sent by then-Microsoft President Jim Allchin. He was unhappy with the quality of MP3 players from companies such as Creative Technology and Dell.
"My goodness it's terrible," Allchin wrote of a particular Creative MP3 model. "What I don't understand though is I was told the new Creative Labs device would be comparable to Apple. That is so not the case." Amir Majidimehr, a Microsoft corporate vice president who oversees the company's Consumer Media Technology group, replied
"Now you feel our pain."
Majidimehr told Allchin that Microsoft was providing cash prizes to its hardware partners in an effort to spur them to improve the designs of their devices. Microsoft also later helped hardware developers co-design digital-media devices. For example, the iriver clix players were largely designed at Microsoft and even include a Windows Vista font. Majidimehr told Allchin that if Microsoft's efforts didn't pay off, the company might need to "do our own hardware."
Allchin suggested that he could talk to Apple's CEO Steve Jobs about making the iPod compatible with Windows Media Player (WMP). He feared that the iPod's success could "drive people away" from WMP. Microsoft, of course, is now doing just that with the Zune.