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Ballmer: Zune Could Become Software-only

Steve Ballmer says that Zune’s future may not be in exclusive Microsoft hardware.

When it comes the the music player market, there is only Apple. Sure, there are the other MP3 and video players on the shelf, but the market is all about the iPod. That, however, will not stop Microsoft from trying to grab a piece of the pie for itself. Just as how Microsoft placed itself in the console market, it’s doing the same sort of thing with the Zune and PMP market.

When asked about the future of the Zune, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave the expected answer, “We’re going to keep going with Zune,” and added that it’s both a service and a device.

While the hardware is still a part of the plan, Ballmer said, “The question is whether even if we flog them heavily, is their profit upside. … I won’t say full steam ahead, because that implies acceleration of investment, but we’re going to sustain our investment.”

The interesting part comes in when Ballmer said that Zune could become just a software or ecosystem for other music players. In other words, and iTunes-like system for all the non-iPods out there.

A system such as that would look eerily like the PC market. Microsoft could operate Zune like Windows, allowing PC builders to tailor its hardware according to the operating system. And as it does presently, Apple operates iTunes with iPods in a closed system.

If Zune revenue continues to tank as it did during the later months of 2008, we could see some big changes. But one change that won't happen will be the acceptance of Apple products into the Microsoft leadership camp.

Replying to a question asking if he owned any Apple products, Ballmer said, “No. I don’t. My sons don’t. My wife doesn’t.” The same thing applies to Bill Gates' household.