Microsoft, the world\u2019s leading producer of software, on Tuesday is expected to release its much-anticipated Zune digital media player in the United States, but despite the Internet hype surrounding the device, it still remains to be seen whether the software giant\u2019s offering will prove to be a legitimate iPod challenger or just another failed attempt to steal away some of Apple Computer\u2019s market share.\n\n\n\n\nMicrosoft ZuneIt\u2019s more than clear that Microsoft has a tough time ahead of it if it hopes to take a bite out of Apple, which currently owns the digital music player and download space in the United States. So far, the Redmond, Wash.-based firm isn\u2019t attempting to challenge Apple by offering a comparable product at a lower price; rather, it\u2019s banking on Zune\u2019s \u201cconnected entertainment\u201d features that aren\u2019t available via iPods to build its user base, according to The New York Times website.On the outside, Zune doesn\u2019t stand out among the iPod and the many other comparable MP3 players on the market today.\u00a0It has\u00a0a display that\u2019s a bit larger than most digital music players, and it\u2019s available in an uncommon brown casing\u2014as well as white and black\u2014but there\u2019s not much more that visually sets it apart from the other offerings already available from such firms as Apple, Creative and SanDisk.\u00a0Its circular navigation button even resembles the iPod\u2019s famous click-wheel, though its actual functionality differs from the iPod staple.The 30GB Zune is priced similarly to Apple\u2019s 30GB video iPod\u2014both sell for $250\u2014and Microsoft plans to sell songs via its Zune marketplace for $1 apiece\u2014the same price Apple charges for songs via its iTunes Store.So what is the software giant offering in hopes of compelling loyal iPod users to lay down their earbuds? First off, Zune comes with a built-in FM radio tuner, which enables users to receive some radio stations on the device without purchasing any add-on mechanisms.\u00a0Apple users can purchase such add-ons to enable their iPods to receive FM radio, but none of Apple\u2019s iPods comes with such functionality built in.Second is Zune\u2019s wireless content-sharing ability, which is currently unavailable via any iPod on the market.\u00a0The Zune will be able to locate any other Zune device within its range to wirelessly share music and photos\u2014and possibly video in the future, according to the Times.\u00a0Zune users will need to name their devices, so other users can identify Zunes within their range, Scott Erickson, Microsoft\u2019s senior director of product management, told the Times.\u00a0They\u2019ll be able to send single songs, complete albums\u2014including album art and related information\u2014as well as playlists to other Zune devices, and all users will have the option of accepting or blocking any wireless transfers.\n\n\n\n\nSounds interesting, right?\u00a0The only drawback: Songs transferred from Zune to Zune will expire after three plays over three days\u2019 time, and they\u2019ll disappear, according to the Times. Photos sent from Zune to Zune, however, will have no expiration date, the Times reports. This drawback alone has caused a number of pundits and tech websites to trash the device\u2014Forbes.com on Thursday published a piece titled "Zune Stinks"\u2014though few news outlets seem to have actually gotten their hands on a Zune.\u00a0 Typically, MP3 player users have been drawn to\u00a0players with the largest storage capacity, and those with the easiest-to-use manager software.\u00a0Though the added functionality makes Zune a bit heftier than a comparable iPod\u2014and makes it consume more power\u2014Microsoft\u2019s banking on the device\u2019s Wi-Fi capabilities to set it apart from the iPod and other MP3 players on the market.\u201cWe\u2019re adding that aspect of people sharing music,\u201d Chris Stephenson, general manager for global marketing of Microsoft\u2019s entertainment business, told the Times.\u00a0\u201cWe\u2019re adding to the digital music model what was fundamental to music.\u00a0People love to share music.\u201dOne additional interesting fact from the NYTimes.com article: The Zune will not function with Mac computers upon its release. When Apple first introduced the iPod, its associated software worked only with Macs, but it shortly after tailored the program to PCs.In related news, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs in October downplayed Microsoft\u2019s entry into the digital media player and download space, saying he\u2019s not worried about the challenge it will present.Related Links:\nApple CEO Jobs: Microsoft Zune No iPod Threat\nMicrosoft Unveils Zune Site, Changes MSN Music\nApple iPod Hits 5 Years Old\nMicrosoft Zune 30GB to Sell for $250, Songs for $1\nMicrosoft, Universal Team in Zune Music PactThis article is posted on our Microsoft Informer page.\u00a0For more news on the Redmond, Wash.-based powerhouse, keep checking in.Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.