Sony sets Walkman free at last

Sony's Walkman presentation 'borrowed' some iconic imagery from the Apple iPhone

Sony has finally bowed to the inevitable - and is making the Walkman 'open source' in a bid to compete with Apple's all-conquering iPod.

Instead, Sony's new S-Series and A-Series Walkman audio-video players will work with a wide range of audio formats including WMA, MP3, AAC and linear PCM. Sony is dropping support for its proprietary ATRAC format entirely and has said that the failed Connect online digital music store will close next March in Europe as well.

Sony is also dropping its widely criticised SonicStage software in favour of something that's much more user-friendly. Walkman owners will now be able to use Windows Media Player 11, the Media Manager software used for the PlayStation Portable (PSP), or can simply drag 'n' drop files on to the player icon which appears on the desktop.

Walkman goes iTunes

The sea-change in Sony's attitude towards music is reinforced by support for Microsoft's PlayForSure and support for non-DRM tracks now available from a variety online music stores, including Apple's iTunes Store. Sony said it was also planning to forge alliances with online music stores across Europe to help reinvigorate the Walkman brand.

The Walkman announcement - made during Sony's keynote at the IFA consumer electronics show this morning - marks the end of a sorry chapter for Sony. The last five years have seen the company marginalised to the edge of the portable music player space, an area it once dominated.

However it remains to be seen whether the move to make the Walkman more open will be enough to finally turn things around.