Las Vegas The "Great Apple Battle" has begun.
At stake is your living room. And your car. And your pocket or purse, where you carry your mobile phone and personal media player ... and even how you get music and video on them.
After standing on the sidelines for the past few years as Apple Computer built a buzz through its iPod and iTunes music and video downloads, Microsoft - the world's richest and most influential tech company - has launched its first major salvo against Apple with a dizzying series of announcements this week at the Consumer Electronics Show.
"Over the past two years, Apple has clearly been winning the battle for red-hot buzz in the industry," says Pete Snyder, founder and CEO of the New Media Strategies consulting group. "No doubt, Gates and Company are sick of it."
The opening shot was launched Wednesday night by Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect. He used his keynote speech to announce alliances with a wide range of powerful tech partners that will be leveraging Microsoft technology and new hardware to try to contain the inroads Apple has made in personal technology during the past few years.
The software and new devices he showed off go directly to the core of Apple's momentum: digital entertainment.
Even the new Windows Vista operating system upgrade to the Windows XP platform planned for late this year had a hard-to-miss resemblance to parts of Apple's well-received OS X system.
The Apple assault continued Thursday when Microsoft President Steve Ballmer joined with Verizon Wireless to announce another far-reaching partnership, downloading and sharing music directly over the air to mobile phones that use the Windows Media Player and a Verizon service called V Cast.
It may just be the most significant challenge yet to Apple's dominance in the digital music arena with the iPod and its popular iTunes music site.
The V Cast service will download music directly to Verizon wireless phones starting Jan. 16. Those songs can be transferred to a personal computer, and music libraries already on the PC can be loaded on the mobile phone.
Gates brought out Van Toffler, MTV Networks' Music Group president, and singer Justin Timberlake to announce yet another music download service, this one called URGE.
This alliance marks another front in the battle, directly targeting the dominance of Apple's iTunes Music Store.
In yet still another hard-to-miss move against Apple, he held up a tiny new computer to be made by Toshiba that will run the Microsoft Windows Media Center operating system - a version of Windows optimized for digital entertainment.
Gates said the machine would sell for $499, the same as Apple's popular Mac mini computer.