“Last year, when Microsoft Corp. introduced its Zune music player to take on Apple’s iPod juggernaut, the software giant struck out,” Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret report for The Wall Street Journal.

“But Microsoft is nothing if not persistent, and this week, the company is back with a second, improved round of Zunes,” Mossberg and Boehret report.

“Unfortunately for Microsoft, Apple hasn’t been standing still, either. It now has its own large-screen, wireless model, the iPod Touch, with a radical ‘multi-touch’ interface like the iPhone’s. The screen on the Touch is larger than the one on the bigger Zunes and is much sharper. Its Wi-Fi allows you to browse the Web, watch YouTube videos and even buy music without a PC — none of which is possible on a Zune — though the Touch is $50 more and holds much less content than the new full-size Zune,” Mossberg and Boehret report.

“Microsoft’s new Zunes are directly aimed at the iPod Classic, Apple’s full-size, high-capacity model, and the iPod nano, its compact version. But, here again, Apple has been on the move. The 80-gigabyte Classic, which costs the same as the 80-gigabyte Zune, is slimmer than the Zune and has a flashy new interface, if a smaller screen. And the eight-gigabyte nano, which costs the same as the eight-gigabyte Zune, now plays videos and is much smaller — yet has a larger screen,” Mossberg and Boehret report.

“In addition, Apple has spiffed up its iTunes software, adding various features, including the addictive Cover Flow, which allows you to flip through all your albums with just a flick of the mouse. Cover Flow also shows up on the nano, the Classic and the Touch. Even the new Zune PC software has no interface as compelling,” Mossberg and Boehret report. “And Apple still trounces Microsoft in the selection of media it sells. The iTunes store offers more than six million songs, about double what the Zune Marketplace offers, and dwarfs Microsoft’s selection of Podcasts and music videos, as well. Plus, Zune Marketplace still doesn’t sell any TV shows, movies or audiobooks, while iTunes does.”

“Microsoft has greatly improved the Zune hardware and software this time. But it seems to be competing with Apple’s last efforts, not its newest ones,” Mossberg and Boehret report.

Full article here.