Microsoft has released the next generation of its Media Player software, its latest attempt to take on Apple in the digital music market.

Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP features a buffed-up user interface custom-designed to work with MTV Urge digital music catalogue.

With 2 million songs from more than 110,000 artists, Urge is part of Microsoft's plan to combat Apple, which to date has been the dominant player in the digital music market. Urge costs about the same as Apple's iTunes - typically US$0.99 per song and $9.99 per album - but unlike iTunes, the service also offers unlimited downloads for $9.95 per month.

Urge songs will not play on Apple's iPod, and with Windows Media Player installed on the vast majority of PC desktops, analysts say that Microsoft could finally give Apple some serious competition - provided that the Urge network integration works as well as advertised.

Media Player 11 also has a few new bells and whistles for Windows users, including an audio fingerprinting capability that can recognize mislabeled media files, better search capabilities, and an easier-to-use navigation system.

The software can be downloaded for free from Microsoft's website.