Microsoft Previews Music Store

Following the success of Apple's iTunes Music Store, Microsoft worked quickly to catch online music's rising star. After many months of development, the results are in: MSN Music, Windows Media Player 10, and Portable Media Centers have been formally launched.

Microsoft has launched a beta trial of the MSN Music Store which is integrated into the Windows Media Player 10 software. The trial features over 500,000 songs, but Microsoft is promising to break the one million mark by the time it cuts the ribbon on the service in October.

Pricing is on par with iTunes at 99 cents per song or a $10 USD flat fee per album. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has made the concession of permitting artists to limit MSN music sales exclusively to albums without offering singles.

Aside from some dramatic cosmetic changes and the inclusion of the MSN Music Store, WMP 10 is largely the vehicle for Microsoft's next generation digital rights management technology dubbed "Janus".

Janus is a secure clock DRM technology that permits content to be licensed under a subscription pricing model and transferred to portable devices. If a subscription lapses or is discontinued, playback is disabled.

Portable Media Center (PMC) devices are first among many devices with planned support for Janus. Portable Media Center, Microsoft's would-be "iPod killer", extends the Windows Media Center family beyond the desktop by offering up synchronization with desktop audio and video content as well as having integrated support for Media Center's photographic slideshows.

While the ability to playback rich media distinguishes the PMC paradigm from the iPod, Microsoft is focusing on another flashpoint: freedom of choice. PMC devices can purchase content from over 60 vendors who are independent of the software giant. Apple limits its customers to iTunes.

The software giant may be intending to capitalize on criticism that Apple recently faced from some of its customers for pulling the plug on RealNetworks controversial "Harmony" software. Harmony opened up the iPod to be controlled by RealPlayer, but did so against Apple's wishes.

In the aftermath that followed incident, numerous iPod owners signed online petitions protesting their lack of options and demanded Apple permit Real to continue to support the iPod as a portable device in RealPlayer.

Portable Media Center handhelds are now available from Creative and Samsung. Microsoft's Windows Media Player 10 may be downloaded from FileForum.

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