Microsoft mulled Apple partnership, iPod rival in 2003

As far back as 2003, Microsoft Corp. considered introducing its own rival to the iPod or seeking a partnership with Apple Inc., according to evidence introduced Friday at a Microsoft antitrust trial in Iowa.

Microsoft was extremely unhappy with the Windows-based digital music players built by partners such as Dell Inc. and Creative Technology Ltd., according to an e-mail exchange between Windows Vista development chief Jim Allchin and Amir Majidmehr, a Microsoft consumer media executive in charge of development for the Windows Media Player software.

"I have to tell you my experience with our software and this device Creative's Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra is really terrible," Allchin wrote in a Nov. 13, 2003, e-mail. "Apple is just so far ahead. How can we get the [independent hardware vendors] to create something that is competitive with the iPod? I looked at the Dell system and that is not close either."

Microsoft had worked with partners on MP3 players as early as 2000. But Apple released the iPod in 2001 and immediately jumped to the top of the market.

Majidmehr, now corporate vice president for Microsoft's consumer media technology group, replied, "Now you feel our pain. ... Of course, some are better than others but none are a match for Apple."

Majidmehr wrote that Microsoft planned to offer incentives to partners to improve their products, including "cash, technical support, direct interface to developers" and more. "In other words, we are going all out and hoping that at least a few will listen," Majidmehr wrote. "If none do, then it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and do our own hardware."