Apple Computer hinted on Thursday that it may take legal action against RealNetworks as a battle over the technology standards used to download online music onto digital music players - including Apple's highly successful iPod device - boiled over.

In a scathing statement Apple said it was "stunned" by RealNetwork's decision to launch a version of its media player software that unlocks Apple's proprietary technology and makes it possible for people to listen to songs bought at RealNetwork's online music store on iPod devices as well as rival machines.

Apple accused its Seattle-based rival of adopting, "the tactics and ethics of a hacker" to break into iPod player with the release of its Harmony software earlier this week.

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