Microsoft to join the digital music scrum:
- A spokeswoman for the Redmond, Wash., software company confirmed that Microsoft’s MSN Web site will offer such a service in 2004, but declined to provide further details. Microsoft executives previously have said the company was considering selling music online; the company’s latest comments represent the most concrete statement yet of its intentions. A person familiar with the matter says Microsoft has been in regular contact with major music companies to discuss plans for a service.
Microsoft is in the process of hiring key personnel for its music site. A job listing posted on the Microsoft corporate Web site last week advertised an opening for a senior-level marketing position for the service. [Dow Jones]
- The plans also represent a change in direction that has left some of Microsoft’s own customers feeling betrayed. When Apple’s store launched last year, Microsoft publicly stated it had no plans to compete directly, preferring instead to let other stores use Microsoft technology for their own efforts.
But those assurances changed over the course of the last few months, rivals said.
“They called up and said they were going to do it themselves, but the person on the phone said, ‘You know us, it’s going to take us more than a year to get it up,'” said one executive at a rival music service, asking not to be named. “It was a bad news, good news kind of thing.”
….While Microsoft tries to soothe customers’ bitterness over its store plans, it also will have to negotiate a tricky legal landscape. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are already asking hard questions about the software giant’s music plans and will certainly watch closely to see how tightly the company links the store to its Windows operating system and the Windows Media application.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer does a handy review of the existing services:
Tech specs: for Windows XP
Cost: Burn directly to CD or download to hard drive, at between 79 cents and $1.14 per track. Can only burn or download the same track five times within the same playlist. Some labels allow copying a track to only three portable devices. Can stream a free 30-second sample of most tracks.
Experience: This site is somewhat user-friendly. But if you veer from mainstream fare, you’re left out in the cold (no Skinny Puppy, no Bishop Allen, no Fugazi), despite a promise of music from “thousands” of independent labels….
Tech specs: Windows 98SE, 2000, ME, XP
Cost: $4.95 per month for “Internet radio,” which plays a programmer’s choice of music. $9.95 per month for unlimited “conditional downloads” — tracks remain playable from hard drive only as long as subscription is active — or 99 cents per track and can then burn onto a CD only five times, make unlimited copies to portable devices, make copies to three computers.
Experience: What do Blondie, Marc Anthony and A-ha have in common? According to MusicNow, they’re all alternative rock artists. Boneheaded attempts at categorization aside, this site is easy to use and functional if you want entire albums on your hard drive…..
Tech specs: for Mac OS X; Windows XP or 2000
Cost: Downloads 99 cents each, albums $9.99 and up. Burn tracks onto unlimited number of CDs for personal use, copy to unlimited number of iPods players and to a maximum of three computers.
Experience: Despite Apple’s rep for being the guru of all things user-friendly, this site is a pain in the mouse. Users can’t see the music database until they register and install iTunes onto their desktop…..
Tech specs: for Windows XP, 2000
Cost: Downloads 99 cents per track, $9.99 per album. Each track can be burned without limit. Maximum five burns per track in a given playlist. Copy to unlimited number of portable devices, except iPods. Copy collection to as many as three computers. Optional subscription service, $9.95 a month, offers unlimited streaming, downloads and professionally programmed radio stations.
Experience: Launched on Oct. 29, this legit (read corporate) Napster — formerly pressplay — is sure to draw a big chunk of online downloads…. A very cool looking site.
Tech specs: for Windows 98SE, 2000, ME, XP
Cost: 99 cents per downloaded file, $9.99 per downloaded album. Each track can be burned to a CD or transferred to a portable device as often as desired, with some limitations. Free online radio service allows click to buy the current track.
Experience: Same deal as iTunes: Register and download first, then check out the goods. Overall, a reasonable mainstream selection that’s easy to navigate and download. Virtually bug-free.
Tech specs: Windows only
Cost: $9.95 per month for unlimited streams. Burns to CD are 79 cents each with no restrictions.
Experience: Easy to register, navigate and download. Love it. Mostly major record-label fare, but any selection that includes the spoken words of Lenny Bruce and the sounds of the Postal Service can’t be all bad….
Tech specs: for AOL members/Windows users only
Cost: $23.95 a month for AOL, plus $3.95-$7.95 per month depending on the number of streamed tracks, non-burnable, non-copyable “tethered tracks” and permanent downloads.
Experience: With help from an AOL member, we tried to sign up but to no avail. We tried and tried but only got as far as “Already an AOL member? Click Here.”…
Tech Specs: Windows 98/98SE , ME, 2000, XP, Mac OS 9.x, OS X
Costs: Three options: basic service provides 40 songs per month at $9.99; eMusic Plus gives you 65 songs a month at $14.99 and the premium service buys 90 songs each month for $19.99.
Experience: By far the easiest system to deal with — no stalls, no crashing, no rebooting. This could be love… Pigface, Cat Power and Yo La Tengo were on the top-20 list. Also, members can download, play or burn unlimited MP3s. The songs are yours, even after you’ve canceled your subscription.