But there are a few key differences: Microsoft plans to use the same transaction system as Xbox Live, its video game console's online service, which will allow consumers to pay for music using prepaid cards they can buy in retail stores -- saving some the hassle of needing to use a credit card.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I see those iTunes prepaid cards everywhere, and you can buy virtual ones to send to your giftees via email as well. Paypal is another iTunes option.

The Zune is interesting, and I like the FM tuner, I suppose, but I'm still not seeing many reasons it's an iPod "killer," other than marketing, of course. The possibility of a subscription service, an idea I don't like a whole lot, is a more important distinction, which Playlist covers a bit later in the piece. That the Zune will do both -- subscription and the "song-in-hand" iTunes model -- is the most remarkable take-home message.