Just as the brand name Hoover became synonymous with vacuum cleaners in general, so the name "iPod" is fast becoming a general purpose term covering Apple's official iPods and other brands of portable digital music player too.

For years, Microsoft has lumbered behind Apple in this area, happy to push the features of Windows Media Player while ignoring (or turning a blind eye to) the runaway success of the iPod and iTunes.

Not any more, though. Microsoft's fight back has just begun with the launch of Zune, a rival music player device with a few important differences.

It's about the same size, shape and price as an iPod, and it does boast a much bigger screen and an FM radio.

Zune also includes wireless communication technology, something the geeks have been begging Apple to add to the iPod for years now. Just as most modern laptops come with a wireless wi-fi card to make connecting to the internet that much easier, so Zune includes a similar card. It can talk to your home computer without you needing to physically plug it into anything.

It can talk to other Zunes. This is the really interesting new idea, something even the Apple cultists hadn't considered doing.

The idea is that one Zune owner can share music with another, simply by wirelessly connecting the two devices and zapping the songs through thin air.

There's a catch, mind you. The zapped songs are subject to Microsoft's own Digital Rights Management (DRM), technology designed to stop people blatantly stealing music from record companies without paying for it.

When transferring music like this, the receiving Zune can only play each song three times, over a period of three days. Then they get the choice of either buying their own copy or simply deleting the trial copy.

This is controversial because it turns out that the DRM is wrapped around every file transferred from Zune to Zune; even the files that don't need it.

While it's true that most songs on most digital music devices are commercially released and therefore inevitably cloaked in DRM geekery, there's a small percentage of content created by ordinary people, or released on a non-commercial basis.

Some artists and podcasters even go to the lengths of deliberately freeing their work of any restrictions, using something called Creative Commons (creativecommons.org) to grant the works legal status as something that can be shared freely.

Zune's DRM-wrapping stamps all over Creative Commons licences, and CC users are pretty cross about it. They'd rather see a system that only uses DRM when necessary, and leaves "open" content alone.

None of which is going to affect Zune sales much. After all, it's a pretty cheap device aimed at the masses, it's bound to sell very well.

Apple doesn't seem to be worried, though. It has just announced a raft of new iPod products, including an even tinier iPod shuffle hardly larger than a couple of postage stamps, and a top-of-the-range eighty gigabyte black iPod priced at £259.

* Google's online RSS feed reading service, Google Reader (google.com/reader) has had a bit of a facelift and is looking much the better for it.

Plush with keyboard shortcuts and a very slick look, it finally has the kind of nice feel that Googlemail (aka Gmail) enjoys, and which attracts so many users. Go go, Google.