As Apple Computer prepares for what seems certain to be a bumper Christmas of iPod sales, its competitors are fighting back by teaming up to invent their own dock connector.

Apple's dock has helped third parties generate an army of add-on products to extend the features of the music player.

However, competing devices based on Windows have no such common standard, meaning no such deluge has taken place. This may be set to change.

The Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA's) Technology and Standards Mobile Electronics Committee has announced a new working group to develop an industry standard for a common portable device connector.

"To safely enjoy today's portable information and entertainment products in the car, you must be able to securely connect the portable devices in the car via cradles and other similar mechanisms," said Brian Markwalter, CEA's vice-president of technology and standards.

"To accommodate this need, the portable device industry has so far invented a variety of proprietary docking connectors that are not generally interoperable. This new working group will create an industry standard docking connector specification that could be adopted by any host or portable device manufacturer regardless of the format or protocol that it supports."

Increasingly desperate for a toehold in the market, Microsoft has jumped aboard.

"It is important for the industry to create an open, industry-wide standard for docking connectors that will give consumers greater access to the digital entertainment they have stored on devices," said Jai Jaisimha, lead program manager of the Windows digital media division at Microsoft.

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