Donna Murphy is no fan of the ubiquitous iPod music player, so on Tuesday she became one of the first to buy Microsoft's (MSFT) new rival Zune device.

"I just needed a new MP3 player to play my music and watch videos," said Murphy, who bought a Zune at Best Buy's (BBY) midtown Manhattan store. "I'm not an Apple fan, not an iPod fan. So I wanted to try something different."

Microsoft on Tuesday hit store shelves with Zune, touted in the media as the most likely candidate yet to challenge Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL) market-dominating iPod.

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The world's largest software maker hopes to capitalize on consumers who may have wearied of the iPod, which has sold nearly 70 million devices and commands about 75 percent of the portable music player market.

But initial shopper interest suggested the Zune media player — heavily promoted in gadget reviews and television talk shows — was in for a slow building process.

An employee at the Best Buy store said two shoppers entered the place as it opened and purchased Zune players, and that about 20 were sold within the first three hours.

Customers touched and tapped Zune players on display, asking employees about the differences between Zune and iPod.

However, at the Virgin Megastore in New York's Times Square, two circular displays sporting Zune players with earphones attached were unmanned that morning, save for store employees restocking supplies.


Microsoft itself has acknowledged that the Zune investment may take years to bear fruit, and analysts upheld the expectation.

"Apple will not feel any bit of discomfort from Zune, certainly this holiday season and a good part of next year," said IDC analyst Danielle Levitas.

"Microsoft is going to put tons of money in this over time, much like they did with the Xbox" video-game console, she said. "It's not about the first generation [of devices]."

Digital music players, also called MP3 players, let consumers save thousands of songs to a pocket-sized device. Models with color screens also display snapshots and play television shows and movies that are loaded from a computer.

Zune comes with a 30-gigabyte hard drive for saving music files and connects to an online music store called Zune Marketplace, which will compete with Apple's iTunes. The player sells for $249, the same as an iPod with a similar-sized memory.

Gadget reviewers have criticized the device for being larger and heavier than the iPod, as well as describing its song download service as more complicated than iTunes.

Daily newspaper USA Today said the Zune simply failed to match the iconic status of its rival with the headline phrase: "It's no iPod."

Others like the Zune's larger screen and the hand-held device's ease of use, something shopper Murphy agreed with.

"It's the size of the screen — that's the main reason I bought it," she said.