The chairman of global software titan Microsoft and richest living nerd, Bill Gates, has decided to do something about that thorn in his flesh - Apple Computer.

In a bid to compete with Apple's all-conquering digital music player iPod and its download tunes service, Gates says his company is chewing over the possibility of a partnership with entertainment giant Sony.

Gates mused on this potential alliance at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, USA.

He also confirmed agreements with music TV broadcaster MTV, digital video recorder company TiVo and internet search engine Yahoo! to provide more music and TV through Microsoft websites and on equipment using Microsoft software.

In a declaration that might raise a few astonished eyebrows, Gates opted for the moral high ground to launch his assault on Apple, crying 'choice!' in digital entertainment, especially choice over Apple products.

Asked directly whether Microsoft and Sony are discussing a broad digital-entertainment pairing Gates says: "We're always talking about all sorts of mutually beneficial things with Sony but we have nothing specific to say about a particular discussion."

Sony has up to now been famously uncooperative in collaborating with other technologies and has flogged its own dead horses. But a humiliating lack of success in the digital music market is persuading it to change its strategy.

Says Koichiro Tsujino, co-head of Connect Company, a new Sony division dedicated to digital music [WAMN: 05-Jan-05]: "It doesn't always work to think only about our own interests. We have to be faster and more open."

Apple has itself unsuccessfully tried to seduce Sony in the past. It remains to be seen if Gates' approach proves more attractive.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff