A senior Microsoft executive was so frustrated by his experience with digital music players made by global partners that he proposed turning to Apple's iPod for salvation, documents made public as part of an Iowa antitrust case reveal.
The outgoing head of the Microsoft division in charge of Windows, Jim Allchin, was so distraught by his user experience with partner digital music devices on the market in 2003 that he considered calling Steve Jobs, the documents show.
"I think I should talk with Jobs. Right now, I think I should open up a dialogue for support of the iPod. Unless something changes, the iPod will drive people away from WMP [Windows Media Player]," he said in a 13 November, 2003 internal email that was marked 'highly confidential' and carried the subject line "sucking on media players".
The email was one of three made public that begin with a message from Allchin to Amir Majidimehr, currently head of Microsoft's consumer media technology group, documenting Allchin's thoughts and experiences using Creative's Nomad Jukebox Zen Xtra.
"I have to tell you my experience with our software and this device is really terrible," he wrote in the email. "I expect you already knew this but I had not personally experienced it. Now I spent last night really playing with it. My goodness it is terrible. What I don't understand is that I was told that the new Creative Labs device would be comparable to Apple. That is so not the case."
The email continued to list eight complaints and observations by Allchin.
The first was concerned with industrial design - "the physical device is not even in the same league as the iPod. I mean it is ugly" - while the rest regarded the software and usage. Among his complaints were that Creative shipped its own software and encouraged use of that over Windows Media Player.
Wynne Leong, a Creative representative in Singapore, declined to immediately comment on the Microsoft emails.
In response to Allchin's email Majidimehr wrote of Microsoft's lack of success in convincing its partners to use Windows Media Player over their own applications with their media players.
"Tomorrow we have an entire crew descending on Creative and after that Samsung and Rio to get them motivated to build the 'right' device," Majidimehr wrote. "We are putting incentives on the table in the form of cash, technical support, direct interface to developers, early access code for [Windows Media Player] 9.1 etc. In other words, we are going all out and hoping that at least a few of them will listen. If none do then it is time for us to roll-up our sleeves and do our own hardware."
Exactly three years after that email was written, Microsoft was holding launch parties for its own hardware, the Zune player. It hopes to sell 1 million players by June this year.