Microsoft’s MSN Music Will "Finally Bring Digital Music to the Masses"

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Microsoft announced today the launch of Windows Media Player 10 and MSN Music, the companyis answer to Appleis iTunes and iTunes Music Store. Sixteen months after Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, Microsoft announced today that the goal of MSN Music is to "finally bring digital music to the masses by offering what we believe is the largest and highest quality catalog of legal music on the Internet, available on the broadest selection of portable devices." Those comments come from Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president for MSN.

MSN Music is an online music store available through either Windows Media Player 10, or through a browser. The store is launching with 500,000 songs in what Microsoft says is a preview release. The company also says it has licensed more than 1 million songs that will eventually be added to its store. Apple currently offers more than 1 million songs for download.

Songs are priced at 99 cents per download, though the Wall Street Journalis Walt Mossberg reported this morning that some songs cost as much as US$4 per track (paid subscription required for the WSJ).

Similar to Appleis DRM restrictions, downloads from the store can be played on up to five PCs, and an individual playlist can be burned to CD up to seven times. Microsoft says that downloads can be transferred to an "unlimited" number of portable music players. Though the service does not support Appleis popular iPod, Microsoft is touting the fact that its online music service is supported by a wide variety of third-party music players.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft will have some selections that are only available as full-album downloads. Apple has heretofore resisted the desire of some artists to not have their music downloadable as individual songs.

Microsoft says that its downloads will have an average bit rate of 160 Kbps and a peak bit rate of 256 Kbps, which is higher than the 128 Kbps AAC files that Apple is offering. Itis important to note, however, that bit rate comparisons between different file formats are not always possible in that each format can use a different compression technology. Online reviewers quickly posted comparisons between Appleis AAC downloads and Sonyis ATRAC, and similar comparisons between Appleis downloads and Microsoftis are likely to appear on the Internet very quickly.

Windows Media Player 10 provides jukebox abilities, and the ability to sync your music from your PC to your portable music player. This version also sees the return of out-of-the-box support for MP3 files, something that used to cost Windows Media users more money for third party software.

The new store is available in the US only, and Microsoft says it is working "with industry partners in several international markets to offer music services that meet the specific needs and desires of the consumers in those regions."

You can find more infromation on Windows Media Player 10 and the MSN Music store at Microsoftis Web site.

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